Surging sophomores fueling playoff run

By Paul Harder, The Observer November 25, 2013 09:21 am

Defense wins championships. 

Imbler didn’t live and die by that mantra, but during its three-game playoff push has found a new recipe for success.

“It’s been a process in the making,” senior defensive lineman Cole Campbell said. “We switched to a new system this season, and it’s been an adjustment for everybody to learn.”

Defensive coordinator Dustan Adams moved the Panthers to a 3-3 base defense, dropping more players into coverage. 

In the 8-man game, which already features a lot of running room for running backs and quarterbacks, it put more pressure on the Panthers’ defense.

But, the Panthers have been enjoying the steady growth of two sophomores — Calvin Shaffer and Tyler Tandy.

“Calvin is a force to be reckoned with,” Campbell said. “He’s so strong. He hits the offense right over the center and disrupts what they’re trying to do.

“Tyler does such a good job for the linebacker position. He uses his speed to get from sideline to sideline. Plus, he can hit you pretty good.”

The sophomores made a name for themselves during the Class 1A state semifinals, a 62-6 win for the Panthers.

Shaffer led the team with 10 tackles, including seven solo tackles, with 1 1 /2 tackles for loss. He also caused a fumble and recovered a fumble.  

Tandy’s impact was just as big, recording eight solo tackles and three pass breakups and a forced fumble. “It’s be a stretch to say that we expected them to come so far so quickly,” Imbler head coach Lee Lowe said. “But they’ve worked hard, and things have started clicking for them. The experience on the field has been a big part of their growing process, They’re reading the keys quicker, which allows them to make plays.”

That quickness came in handy during a 9-1 regular season run. But the playoffs have been even more impressive with each round.

A 59-14 win against Perrydale in the opening round. Then, a 74-22 win against Triad. 

Against Triangle Lake in the semifinals, the Panthers allowed 228 yards of total offense. Even that number is skewed. The Lakers picked up 80 of those yards on the final two drives of the game when the Panthers filtered the starters out of the game.

Kyle Johnson gets to view Shaffer and Tandy’s abilities from different points of view. As the quarterback it takes the pressure off the offense knowing the defense can make stops. As a safety, Johnson is the beneficiary of the errant passes from the pressure the force.

“It’s been fun to watch them grow as individuals,” Johnson said. “At the beginning of the year they didn’t have a lot of experience to go off of. But, throughout the year they have gained a lot more confidence and they’re people we can rely on.”

Lowe said the growth couldn’t have come without the great leadership of the seniors. 

Seniors Campbell, Riley Merrigan and Ben Kanoho help instruct Shaffer on the line. Johnson and Griffin help get Tandy in the right spot when needed.

“Those upperclassmen work them very hard in practice,” Lowe said. “They tell those younger kids to put their big boy shoes on. It’s been really great to see how they’ve taken that leadership role, and how the young kids have responded.”

The final test of their sophomore season will be a big one. 

Lowell will bring its high-powered offense to the championship game Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium. The Devils enter the game averaging 72 points per game, most at the Class 1A level, including a 66-44 win against Camas Valley in the other semifinal game.