Blu-Jays up their game but can't stop Mustangs

The Blu-Jay offensive line creates a hole for running back Karsten McKee during Friday's game against Valley Heights. Both teams relied on the rush and determined defense to keep the playoff game closer than the score would indicate. (Photos by Roger Sims, Linn County Journal)

Although the Pleasanton Blu-Jays’ football season ended on Friday with a 14-29 playoff loss to Valley Heights, the team’s performance on both offense and defense demonstrated that a convincing win over Central Heights the week before wasn’t a fluke.

Coming from a two-game winning streak, the Blu-Jays got down early in the first quarter as the Mustangs put six points on the scoreboard in under two minutes. The Blu-Jays first drive was derailed and the Mustangs took over again on their own 20-yard line.

On the first play of the drive, Valley Heights picked up a yard, but on the following play Mustang running back Trenton L’Ecuyer carried the ball on a 79-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion was good and the Mustangs were up 14-0 with 5:31 remaining in the quarter.

Blu-Jay head coach Caleb Hendricks began using timeouts to rally his team, reminding them of what they had accomplished and charging them to keep their heads in the game.

On the next possession, the Blu-Jays worked their way up the field with rushing by senior Karsten McKee and passes by freshman quarterback Nate Johnson to Jeffry Cayton bringing the ball to the Mustang 43.

A 31-yard pass to McKee and the Blu-Jays had a first down in the red zone. A 12-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Johnson and a successful two-point conversion, and Pleasanton was on the scoreboard, 8-14.

In the second quarter, Valley Heights was able to put together another drive using nine plays to advance the ball from their own 41-yard line into the end zone. L’Ecuyer, who proved to be the Mustangs’ version of Karsten McKee, carried the ball into the end zone for six points. The two-point conversion was good and the Mustangs were up 22-8 with 8:31 left in the half

The Bu-Jays next drive, which included a sack after a bad snap and a fumble recovered by Pleasanton, stalled out on the Mustang 24, and Valley Heights took over on downs. The Mustangs drove to the Blu-Jay 44, but a sack by Pleasanton’s Zander Cox followed by a penalty gave the Mustangs a fourth down and 11.

Blu-Jay junior lineman Zander Cox, assisted by John Parks , pulls down Mustang running back Trenton L'Ecuyer. L'Ecuyer proved to be a rushing threat throughout the game.

On the next play, Hayden Johnson intercepted a Mustang pass, carrying the ball to the Valley Heights 19. With time running out in the half, two passes fell incomplete, but the Mustangs were able to intercept a third attempt and let the clock run out.

The second half saw both teams using a grinding rushing offense and stingy defense. Late in the third quarter, the Blu-Jay defense forced a turnover on downs on the Pleasanton 47. McKee took the ball on seven plays, working his way down to the Mustang 11. Nate Johnson passed to Cayton for a touchdown, but the two-point conversion was stopped and Pleasanton was down 14-22.

The Mustangs threatened again early in the third quarter, but Pleasanton made a determined stand inside their 10, denying the Mustangs a touchdown on three successive plays and taking possession of the ball on their own 6-yard line.

Freshman quarterback Nate Johnson rolls out looking for a receiver.

Passes to Judah Skipper and rushing by McKee brought the ball out to the Pleasanton 33. But an interception by the Mustangs and rushing by L’Ecuyer in six plays gave Valley Heights another touchdown. The extra-point kick was good, and with 1:13 left on the clock, the Blu-Jays were not able to score again.

Hendricks credited his team for playing hard against the Mustangs, a bigger, physical team. Despite the size difference, the Blu-Jays were able to keep pace with Valley Heights and the difference came down to a couple plays. But the main takeaways from the game was how his team responded.

“For the first time this year we got hit in the mouth and we got back up and responded,” Hendricks said, adding that the team was able to do what it needed to do to stay in the game.

“We played the way we knew we could play,” he said. “We went in knowing we could win.”

He said confidence gained in the win over ranked Central Heights a week earlier helped change the confidence his team had. “Central Heights was a huge step for us. They were a ranked team, they were 4-2 and we were 1-5.”

In looking forward to next year, the coach said the loss of seniors will hurt some. He credited departing wide receiver Skipper, who did not miss a snap this year, with being a real leader on the team.

“We’re going to miss his consistency and physicality,” Hendricks said.

However, he believes that the confidence gained at the end of this season and the return of all but a couple of seniors next year bodes well for the team. Most of the starting linemen were freshmen, and both they and sophomores on the team will gain size and strength over the next nine months.

“The future is looking bright,” Hendricks said. “There’s a lot to be excited about.”

Senior Judah Skipper turns a pass into a first down in a game earlier this season.

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