ELKTON — The Wallowa Cougars pounced on the Elks in the first half and held a 36-6 lead by halftime of Saturday’s first-round game of the OSAA Class 1A football playoffs.
In the second half No. 8 Elkton (7-2) kept No. 9 Wallowa (8-2) to one touchdown, but was unable to get its offense going and lost 44-6.
Special District 2 West coach of the Year Bill Shaw was quick to point out where it went wrong for the Elks.
“(Wallowa) did a good job on stopping the run on the interior and we’ve kind of built a living this year off of the run,” Shaw said. “I’m a little old school, I’m not a big pass guy, but you can tell we worked on it a little bit and did throw it a little bit, but it’s not our forte. We’re best when we can run the ball and be in control. It’s something we’ll have to take back to the drawing board.”
Elkton junior quarterback Austin Luzier completed 10 of 21 passes for 85 yards.
“We’ll probably build in some more passing routes next year,” Shaw said. “It kind of got exposed today that we need to have a little more of a passing game when they take away the run and attack the outside.”
Senior Jesse Abraham credits coaches Shaw and Mike Hughes for the positive changes that changed the team from having no wins in league play last year, to only losing one this year.
“They changed our offense completely and kept our heads up,” the senior tight end/defensive end said. “Whenever we were down they picked us ip. They don’t ever yell at us, instead they analyze and make adjustments to make the team better.”
In the first quarter Wallowa senior running back Patrick Ritthaler ran for two touchdowns. He scored again in the second period and finished the game with 16 carries for 256 yards.
Ramsden and Cougars junior running back Austin Brockamp were also able to get into the end zone in the first half to help their team to a decisive lead by halftime.
“Coach kept telling us to watch the pulling guards, but they still got us,” Elkton junior Jase Billman said. “I don’t think we played our game. We played better at the end, but I don’t think we were mentally ready for this game.”
Junior Trentyn Halstead scored the lone Elkton touchdown on a 7-yard run in the second quarter.
“We went into the locker room and coach gave us this big pep talk about how good we are and nobody put anybody down and we just came back out with a better mindset and played better football,” Billman said. “They caught us on our heels a little bit and once they started scoring we started putting our heads down and that was it.”
“We got a little frustrated early,” Shaw said. “We were having trouble reading where they were gonna go. But the execution on their offense is really good. Their quarterback (Gus Ramsden) does a really good job at misdirection and hiding the ball. They created some openings just because of misdirection.”
After the halftime the Elks were able to shut down the Wallowa running game a little better and kept the Cougars to just one more TD in the final half.
Billman was in on 18 tackles, Halstead made 13 and Luzier had seven tackles in the game.
Wallowa’s roster boasts nine seniors, something Shaw felt may have worked to their advantage.
It’s also something Elkton will get to experience next year as all eight of its juniors, including Luzier who had 11 carries for 104 yards Saturday, are expected to return.
Junior running back Spencer Moore was injured with about nine minutes left in the third quarter and junior Gunnar Lynn stepped in to take over. Lynn would finish the game and contributed 43 yards on seven carries.
This year’s Elkton seniors, Abraham and Bradley Doudna, were leaders on the field and by example.
“Abraham, our defensive end/tight end, he’s a great solid kid. He works hard and is our team captain and has been an emotional leader for the team,” Shaw said. “Bradley (Doudna) is a good kid and goes right in wherever we ask him to and tries to do anything, so we’re going to miss those two guys.”
Billman who, along with Abraham and junior Jaydn Woody is a team captain, echoed the successful turnaround of the program and was positive about the future of the program as well, as he noticed the younger players stepping up to do what was asked of them.
“I love the team and the freshmen are always motivating us older kids,” Billman said. “Jayce Clevenger is a little stud and he really motivates all of us.”
Wallowa will play top-ranked Triad of Klamath Falls in the quarterfinals next weekend.
Wallowa 14 22 8 0 — 44
Elkton 0 6 0 0 — 6
W — Ritthaler 31 run (run failed)
W — Ritthaler 4 run (Ramsden run)
W — Ramsden 9 run (Hilliard pass from Ramsden)
W — Brockamp 7 run (run failed)
E — Halstead 7 run (run failed)
W — Ritthaler 66 run (Brockamp run)
W — Brockamp 2 run (Ramden run)