Defense wins championships, but having a big playmaker on the team sure doesn't hurt.

The old cliche, "big players make big plays in big games," holds true at every level, and it should hold true in Saturday's football playoff game at Warrenton High School when the first-round contest of the 2A state playoffs will feature a pair of big-time playmakers.

Weston-McEwen and Warrenton will square off in the first-round game at 1 p.m. The contest will be broadcast live on KSWB 840 AM, with the pregame beginning at 12:40 p.m.

"They're not one of the top five teams in the state, but they certainly can be very competitive," Warrenton coach John Mattila said of the TigerScots. "I would say Reedsport, then Amity and Dayton are the three teams that you'd look at as the potential state champions, and Regis is always good. We'll have to play well to get there."

Saturday's winner will head to either Oakridge or Reedsport next week.

The Warriors earned their first-round home field advantage with another undefeated league season (6-0), while Weston-McEwen (5-3 overall) tied for second in the Columbia Basin Conference, and won a coin flip with Sherman County for the trip to the coast.

The TigerScots are hoping to make a strong showing, but they've got their work cut out.

Warrenton, 9-0 overall, is averaging 42 points per game, and is outscoring opponents 128-0 in the first quarter. The Warriors' first-team defense has hardly been challenged all year.

But the TigerScots may have the player to at least put a dent in the Warrenton defense.

With 1,450 yards rushing on the season, Weston-McEwen tailback Eric Delph is averaging 181.2 yards rushing per game, highlighted by a four-touchdown, 291-yard effort in a win over Pilot Rock.

He gained 239 in a loss to Sherman County and rushed for 145 yards on carries in a win over Stanfield. The senior running back is coming off a 221-yard performance against Umatilla.

The 5-foot-8, 154-pound Delph got his first start as a freshman, when his brother Ryan went down with a sprained ankle in a game three years ago.

"(Eric) works harder, or as hard, as anybody else, he's always up and he's just got some great talent," said Weston coach Dale Peters. "Everything he does, he gives it every effort that he can. When you get those combinations of talent and hard work, the sky's the limit."

Warrenton's playmaker is Nick Smith, who has put up some mighty big numbers in 2002. Record numbers. Player of the Year numbers.

The senior receiver/tailback/defensive back/kick return specialist has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Warriors, scoring touchdowns and racking up all-purpose yards in record numbers.

Smith shattered the school's single season record for receiving yards with 714 (previous mark was 445, set by Smith last year), upping his career total to 1,752, also a school record. The second-most is Adam Neahring's 707 career receiving yards, from 1999-2001.

Smith also owns the school record for career receptions (69, Neahring is next with 42), and his 26 receptions this year is a new single season record, breaking Rip Puckett's record of 22 catches set in 1973.

Smith's 22 career touchdown receptions is a school mark that may stand for a long time. The second-most is 10, held by Terry Miller (1980) and Kelly Ray (1990-91).

The receiving statistics put up by Smith have also benefited Warrenton quarterback Nate McBride, is now the school's record-holder for TD passes in a single season (16), breaking the old mark of 13 held by Kelly Nordlund, Brian Bruney and Andy Horn.

With a year remaining, McBride has 18 career TD tosses, tied for second with Ryker Thornton. Horn is the career leader with 27.

The team record for passing yards in a single season was 1,330 yards (set in 2000 over 10 games). After nine games this year, the Warriors have 1,381 passing yards.

And don't forget the defensive stats put up by the Warriors: zero points allowed in the first quarter, only 22 in the second quarter; and 31 forced turnovers (17 interceptions, including a season-record nine by Nick Miller).

Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Smith just tries to keep it simple.

"I just try to score every time I touch the ball," he said. "I don't really care about the numbers. Our line is playing great. They're opening up huge holes, and I'm getting into the secondary every time I carry the ball.

"Nate (McBride) is doing a good job, too. He's had some really nice passes. And if they key on me, that leaves Zach (Gantenbein) open, and Zach's been catching a lot of passes."

Mattila said, "I could tell when Nick was a freshman that he was an exceptional player. We haven't used him a lot late in games, but had we needed him, he'd have even bigger numbers. He's a very good defensive player, and he's very versatile offensively."

Teams are just now beginning to realize what a scoring threat Smith is.

"I've been double-teamed a couple times, the last few games," Smith said.

But if you take one playmaker away, the Warriors always seem to have another waiting in the wings.

"If Zach or Tyler (McGrorty) or Nick has a good game, then usually the other teams would do something to take them away the next week," Mattila said. "Fortunately we've had the versatility where if one boy scores two or three touchdowns one week, the next game it would be somebody else. That's a luxury that a lot of teams don't have."

Smith has 38 career touchdowns, still well behind Dusty McGrorty's school record 65, and the 49 scored by Mike Konidakis.

With touchdowns in every game this season, it's a good bet that Smith will add to that total Saturday.

Still, "if I don't get the ball as much, it's all right with me," Smith said. "As long we're moving the ball. We're here to win, and that's the most important thing."

And while his name has been thrown about has a possible 2A Player of the Year, Smith said, "I don't really get caught up in that. It's nice, but whatever I can do to help us win, I'll do it. We're on a roll right now, and we'll try to keep that chemistry going.

"I didn't expect us to do as well as we have this year - there's a lot of people who didn't expect it," he said. "But our team's coming together, and we think we can do some damage. If we play like we are now, we could go deep into the playoffs."


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