In the fall of 2017, I was working as a nighttime nozzle jockey at the Florence Fred Meyer.

Instead of going to watch Siuslaw High School football games, I got to see faces of despair as some of the players would come through after the games to get $10 worth of gas.

No matter how hard I’d try, there really weren’t any words of encouragement. It’s hard to lift a kid’s spirits after his team has given up at least 45 points in the games they did play and forfeited to a top-ranked team out of concern for it’s players’ safety.

The Vikings won the final game that season over Brookings-Harbor.

But every other Friday night that fall, a local contractor, Brian Lacouture, would come through to top off his diesel pickup. We’d talk ball, and he would tell me things were about to change. There was this group of eighth graders who were going to turn the Siuslaw football program around.

While “turmoil” may be too strong, the Vikings were on loose footing. They had had two head coaches in the span of 49 years, both of whom are in the Oregon High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Len Lutero led the program for 29 years, winning 192 games, and Tim Dodson won 150 games and the 2006 Class 4A state title during his 20 years at the helm.

I got the chance to go to the 2018 season opener at Hans Petersen Memorial Field when the Vikings played host to Elmira. Siuslaw was down 54-0 at halftime of a 74-6 loss. The Vikings lost all eight games that season, including a 60-16 home loss to Sutherlin in the finale.

“There was hope when we knew we were getting a new head coach,” Lacouture said this week. “It was the opportunity for a culture shift.

The following fall, the tide began to change.

Siuslaw brought in Dodson protoge Sam Johnson for the 2019 season. Johnson was the Vikings’ third head coach in four seasons. That group of eighth graders everyone was waiting for were now sophomores, and the “Siuslaw Revenge Tour” — as I like to call it — was under way.

“I was a high school youth leader in our church, and one of the kids called and said ‘Why don’t you come back and coach us,’ Johnson said. ‘Come back, and we can win a championship.’”

Lofty goal for sure, but the Vikings began delivering almost immediately.

Siuslaw started flipping the script on several teams it had been dominated by in previous years and reached the state playoffs. A first-round loss in the Class 3A state playoffs to eventual state runner-up Hidden Valley ended the Vikings’ 6-4 campaign.

The Vikings went 3-3 during the truncated winter/spring 2021 season, and this past August, those eighth graders were now seniors with a singular goal on their mind.

This fall, that “Revenge Tour” has shifted to a mentality of taking no prisoners.

Behind the offensive trifecta of senior running back Camp Lacouture, senior wide receiver Braydon Thornton and senior quarterback Beau Erickson, the Vikings have laid waste to their 2021 opposition. At 11-0, Siuslaw is the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A state playoffs, reaching Saturday’s championship game by gutting out a 28-23 win over No. 4 Cascade Christian in the quarterfinals and a 28-26 semifinal win over No. 5 La Pine.

“It’s a dream that you want your son, your local team to make it to the state championship game,” Brian Lacouture said. “All of the angst and the excitement and the realization of all of the hours these boys have put in, to have that come to fruition ...”

Two hours to the east, the South Umpqua Lancers have been on a similar trajectory, as a group of now seniors and juniors has propelled the Tri City school from a 2-7 overall record in 2018 to an 11-1 mark entering Saturday’s state championship game.

The Lancers have boasted one of Class 3A’s top scoring defenses, despite losing 40-0 in its regular season finale against Washington Class 2A powerhouse Kalama.

Through the first two weeks of the season, South Umpqua was largely off the statewide radar, but a 60-29 win over Corbett launched the Lancers to No. 8 in the OSAAToday coaches poll. The following week, South Umpqua pounded No. 6 Philomath 41-8, and from that point on, the rest of the state recognized the Lancers as a legitimate contender for the 3A crown.

The Vikings and Lancers will decide who shall sit on the Class 3A throne Saturday at Cottage Grove High School. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m.

Donovan Brink can be reached at dbrink@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4219.

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Cops and Courts Reporter

Donovan Brink is the cops and courts reporter for The News-Review.

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