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Panthers eyeing another OOL title
IMBLER — The Imbler Panthers were one win away from playing for a state championship last season. And while the team lost a few key players from that squad, it returns enough to be favored for another Old Oregon League title this season.
Imbler went 5-0 in the OOL last year before winning its first two playoff games. But the Panthers saw their season come to an end in a 40-12 loss to eventual champion Camas Valley in the semifinals.
But this year’s version of the Panthers are hungry to get back to where they lost last year.
“‘We have quite a few kids who have quite a bit of experience,” said head coach Lee Lowe, who is entering his 34th year at Imbler with a record of 203-127. “It’s just a matter of filling in at some of the spots we lost from last year. It’s kind of the same scenario every year. Some years you have less spots to fill than others.”
The Panthers lost four players who were all-league players last season. But that’s not to say the Panthers don’t have talent back.
First-team running back Joe Griffin returns after rushing for 1,669 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago. First-team quarterback Kyle Johnson is also back after throwing for 1,187 yards, 25 touchdowns and three interceptions. Senior Cole Campbell, who was a first-team selection on both the offensive and defensive line, is also back this year.
“I don’t think we’re going to have the team speed that we had last year at the receiver position and tight end position,” Lowe said. “But we have some skill people on the line of scrimmage and we have our quarterback and running back coming back. So, hopefully we have some skill people who will be able to fill in next to them.”
Lowe said young players like Austin Insko, Rustin McDonald and Luke Sabernagle are likely to play a role in the offense this season at various skill positions.
But even with all the losses, Johnson isn’t too concerned entering his senior season under center.
“We’re definitely going to miss those guys (we lost),” Johnson said. “There are definitely some holes to fill. But most of our offensive line is returning. That’s real nice to have in front. The skill positions are tough to fill, but I think we’ll be good there.”
The Panthers averaged 56 points per game last season and only allowed 21. Lowe said the Panthers will have to expect more from both Johnson and Griffin this season.
“I think we’ll have to,” he said. “You have to go where your experience is at. But again, I can’t rely just on two people. So, we’re going to have to do a lot of different things to keep people off balance.”
Lowe said the OOL is a tough league year-in and year-out, and he expects the same this season.
“Powder Valley has almost everyone coming back,” he said. “Cove always puts together a great team. Pine Eagle, you never can look past them. You gotta play every week.”
The Panthers hope that it all adds up to a playoff spot and an eventual spot back in the semifinals.
“This year, we’re trying to get to that same spot and hopefully a little bit further,” Johnson said. “As a senior, you’re definitely trying to push your team to be as much as they can be and put out all the effort. Hopefully we can get there.”
Imbler hosts Adrian today at 2 p.m for the season opener. Last year, the Panthers defeated the Antelopes 58-36 in the season opener.
Badgers welcome back talent, experience
POWDER VALLEY — The Badgers finished second in the Old Oregon League last year with a 4-1 record while going 5-5 overall.
The team lost to St. Paul 66-20 in the first round of the playoffs.
This season, Powder Valley will have to find a way to replace first-team all-league running back Colton Eubanks, who was the focal point of their offense last year and graduated in the spring.
“You don’t replace a Colton Eubanks,” Powder Valley head coach Dan Townsend said. “You have to fill his shoes with a couple different people.”
While the loss of Eubanks hurts, the Badgers do return a lot of experience and playmakers this season.
Townsend said he has 23 players out this season, up from the 12 he had last year.
“Going from 12 to 23 players is quite a bit different,” Townsend said.
Senior Quin Stephens will be the likely candidate to try and replace Eubanks.
“Quin has football all over him — he’s just a football player,” Townsend said. “He’s gonna have to run the ball a lot for us. But he’s a different type of back than Colton.”
Senior quarterback Chace Dixon will also likely be relied on more this season. Dixon was a second-team all-league selection at quarterback last season.
“I always say Chace should get half of my paycheck,” Townsend joked. “He’s another coach on the field for us. Chace gives us so much. When he’s out there, I don’t have to worry about what we’re doing.”
Dixon will also have some big targets to throw to this season. Tyler Robinson is a 6-foot-4 receiver who was second-team all-league last year. Brock Jones is 6-foot-2 and adds speed at the receiver position.
The Badgers also got a key transfer student who Townsend hopes will contribute on the field this season. Senior Jake Grammon suited up for the Baker Bulldogs last year and will add another veteran presence for Powder Valley.
Townsend thinks the Badgers will be a better defensive team this season as well.
“I’m excited about our defense,” he said. “The last couple of years we’ve really had to rely on our offense to score 60 points and hope to only allow 50.”
The Badgers will have a chance to find out just how much they have improved right off the bat this season, as they open with the team that eliminated them last year — St. Paul.
“Our expectations are always high,” Townsend said. “We get our feet wet early this year to see where we’re at.”
He said his players haven’t forgotten what happened last fall.
“That’s all they’ve talked about this summer, is St. Paul,” Townsend said.
Joseph looking ahead
JOSEPH — Coming off an 0-6 season, the Joseph Eagles are looking forward not backwards this year.
The Eagles have 17 players out for the team this year and return enough talent to have head coach Josh Harman excited.
“The team’s looked pretty good so far,” Harman said. “We have a lot of returning players. I’m really pleased so far.”
Some of the veteran players for Joseph this season are Wyatt Warnock, John Sten, Blair Beaudoin, Gage Jarman and Ben Smallen. Harman said younger players like Sam Beckman, Kayden DeLury, Aaron Borgerding and Raymond Seal could also make contributions to the team this year.
“The unique thing about this group is we have kids who can play multiple positions,” Harman said. “I think we’re going to be able to keep fresh legs out there.”
Harman said Beaudoin is in line to start at quarterback. Warnock and Beckman will line up in the backfield, and Jarman, DeLury and Smallen will play wide receiver.
“We have a good mix of size and speed,” Harman said. “I think we’ll be pretty balanced this year.”
The thing Harman said has impressed him most so far is the team’s energy.
“I’ve already seen more effort this year than I saw last year,” Harman said.
The Eagles open at Condon-Wheeler Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m. Harman said the team is only looking at that game right now and not trying to get too far ahead of itself.
“We’re just going to focus on one team at a time,” he said. “We’ll just prepare for each week and each game.”
Cougars low on numbers
WALLOWA — The Wallowa Cougars struggled to put points on the board at times last season, managing just 20 points per game while going 1-7.
And with the loss of a couple key parts, Wallowa looks to be in a bit of a rebuilding season this year.
Head coach Bill Robb said 12 players are out for the team so far, but he was hoping to get to around 16 by the season opener.
He said he has two seniors and two juniors and the rest are underclassman. He said the shortage of players and experience has made setting a depth chart a guessing game to this point.
“We’re so short on numbers it’s hard to tell (who will contribute),” Robb said. “It’s kind of wide open. We’re still working on filling most positions.”
Robb said he has a three-way competition brewing for quarterback. Chandler Burns, Travis Haga and Spencer Shelton are all vying to start under center.
“It’s pretty evenly matched at quarterback,” he said.
Whoever wins the job will have the luxury of throwing to receiver Chaz Murray, who Robb said “could be real good.”
With all of the unknowns, Robb has had to alter his playbook from last year as well.
“We’ll tailor the offense to the group we have,” he said. “But one thing about this group is they are pretty smart. They are picking things up pretty quickly.”
Robb said he hopes to run the ball better this season and said he hopes to have a more balanced offense, opposed to the 70/30 approach they have had in previous seasons.
“We’re awfully young, but our goal is to be competitive,” Robb said. “Hopefully we can eek out some wins.”
The Cougars open the season against Echo Sept. 6 at 2 p.m. at Eastern Oregon University. Last year, Wallowa lost to Echo 56-14 in the season opener.
“Echo graduated a lot after last year, but I know they still have a lot back,” Robb said.
Leopards in rebuilding year
COVE — The 2013 season is looking like it is going to be a rebuilding year, according to head coach Shawn Parker.
The Leopards are forced to replace a number of all-league players including Cameron McCowan, Carl Gray, Beau Knight and Brandon Batty.
But Parker is optimistic he has a group of players who will compete in the Old Oregon League.
“We have a strong group of freshmen this year,” Parker said. “I’m excited about the underclassmen, both in numbers, strength and talent. Many of our freshmen and sophomores will be starting this season. Not out of necessity, but out of ability.”
The Leopards do return second-team all-league defensive back Tayt Duby and second-team kicker Sam Geckler.
Derrick Murchison, Jayden Moore and Chad Witty will also make an impact this season.
“Our junior and seniors are a little short on numbers but bring a lot of experience and strength. We expect a lot out of them,” Parker said.
The Leopards will be tested early on as they open the season at Dufur at the eight-man classic. They also face Rosalia, Wash., Adrian and Liberty Christian, Wash.
“Our preseason is one of the toughest I’ve seen,” Parker said. “Should be good preparation for league. We aim high and expect wins, but we know they won’t come easy. Our young men have been working hard and are excited to get in a game.”
Parker thinks the team’s unity will be key this year.
“This group is going to be a tight-knit unit. We won’t have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude out of this group. And that in itself is key to success,” he said.
The Leopards face Dufur Saturday at 7:30 p.m.