For four weeks Roseburg High has tried to figure things out.
What does RHS do well on the gridiron, how it can improve in practice and where it needs to disguise its weaknesses.
Friday night, the season gets real serious. Roseburg opens Southwest Conference play at Finlay Field, hosting Grants Pass (3-1) at 7 p.m.
No. 26-ranked Roseburg (1-3) played an ambitious schedule for a rebuilding program — No. 14 McMinnville (3-1) was a Class 6A playoff competitor in 2017, while No. 5 Mountain View (3-1) and No. 11 Bend (3-1) were both in the Class 5A playoffs — with a home field shootout win over No. 32 Reynolds (3-1) the shining bright spot.
Early in the year, the Oregon School Activities Association’s power rankings are pretty fluid. By the end of Week 4 those rankings are taking a firm shape and it’s hard for teams to move up in any sort of dramatic fashion. That’s where the tough schedule served RHS well; it’s inside the top 32. At the same time, only wins will keep Roseburg there.
Grants Pass is No. 13 and has won three straight — including road wins over Summit of Bend and at Mountain View (49-41) — all in shootout fashion.
The Cavemen enter the contest averaging 44 points a game behind junior quarterback Chase Coyle, a 70.9 percent passer who has thrown for 298.8 yards a game, and senior running back Jaren Emptage, who is averaging 112.3 yards a game and a whopping 7.7 yards a carry.
High-scoring games like those GP has played have become the norm in Oregon football, especially among the top 10 programs in the state.
“That’s high school football at this time,” RHS coach Dave Heuberger said. “You look around the state of Oregon and a Clackamas and a Lake Oswego play each other and it’s (49-39). Those are two of the top schools in the state. Twenty years ago the score of that game with the top two teams in the state was 14-7.
“You can have two of the top teams in the state giving up 40 points. You look across the scoring in the state of Oregon — some of that is the disparity between the top 10 and the bottom 40, but look at Churchill and Wilsonville — it’s 59-58, going for two. The game has clearly changed. You have to score some points and it puts you in a bind.”
Scoring has been — aside from the Reynolds’ game — Roseburg’s Achille’s heel this year. At times it has moved the ball well, and it’s been competitive in the last three games (Mountain View rolled in the season opener).
Being competitive won’t be enough in the SWC. The conference has lost members over the last three years, and each time it has cost Roseburg as the teams that remain are the best of the best.
Top-ranked Sheldon (3-1) has won four state championships and been the runner-up twice since 2000. No. 6 South Medford (3-1) played for the championship last season. Grants Pass hasn’t missed the postseason since 2012 — which coincides with Roseburg’s most recent playoff victory — while RHS hasn’t seen postseason play since 2014.
Eleven teams in Class 6A have allowed less than 100 points through four games. Every team in the state is allowing at least 11 points a game (Jesuit has the best scoring defense, having allowed 47 points; McMinnville is No. 2 at 56). South Medford is the only team in the SWC to give up less than 25 points per game. The Panthers have allowed 69, or 17.3 per game.
Sheldon leads the state in scoring, averaging 51.5 per game. No other team is scoring more than 50. Roseburg, thanks to its 49-point outburst against Reynolds, averages 20.5 per game.
Getting the offense going against G.P. will be crucial. The Cavemen have proven their ability to score, and they’re reportedly figuring out their new defensive scheme as well.
“Defensively you have to take some risks, you might have to blitz more than you want to do,” Heuberger said. “With a spread offense, we can’t let a team go on a 10-minute drive because if we do, we just lost an entire quarter’s worth of series.
“Do you let a Sherwood run the entire third quarter out like I did my first year in Springfield in the playoffs? Here was my 14-year-old quarterback sitting over here — at the end of the game he was 12-for-17 for 318 yards — and here’s the dumb first-year head coach. We hold them, we hold them, we hold them, and then I look up and the whole third quarter is gone. The game has changed, you have to be able to score some points and the only way we’re going to do that is by spreading people out.”
Roseburg’s vertical passing game has improved — twice it hit for big-play TDs against Bend — but the short passing game is what makes the spread particularly dangerous. One more catch on each possession could be the difference between punting and putting points on the scoreboard.