SUTHERLIN — Caj Simmons is a bad dude.
Two weeks after having his appendix removed, the South Umpqua senior fullback/linebacker came up in a big way for his Lancers, rushing for two touchdowns and recording multiple big plays on defense as third-ranked South Umpqua kept its undefeated season alive, whipping host Sutherlin 35-6 in a Class 3A Special District 2 South contest Friday night.
“That little man is probably the biggest guy on our team,” Lancers junior defensive end Tanner Dobeck said of the 5-foot-6, 200-pound Simmons.
Simmons ran for 108 yards and a pair of second-quarter touchdowns on 11 carries, and was involved in seven tackles that either went for no gain or a loss, including joining teammate Brendan Gosselin on a sack of Sutherlin quarterback Ely Palm when the Bulldogs had fourth-and-goal from the South Umpqua 5-yard line.
The showdown was expected to be a physical game, especially between the tackles, regardless of which team had the ball. Two players at the forefront of that battle were Simmons and Sutherlin senior running back/linebacker Thomas Mentes.
“This was a great game,” Simmons said. “They are really physical, and Mentes is a tough guy. We like these guys (off the field), but between plays we’re not friends anymore.”
Mentes ran for 117 yards on 24 carries but was held to just two carries of 10 yards or more. In fact, South Umpqua limited the Bulldogs to just four plays of 10 yards or longer, including a 68-yard touchdown run by Adan Diaz after the Lancers had jumped to a 35-0 lead.
“That’s as good a South Umpqua team that they’ve had in a while,” Sutherlin coach Josh Gary said. “They’re tough to defend. Their guys are very tough to block on offense. They’re very well-schooled, and Dobeck is as good a defender as we’ve played against.”
While South Umpqua’s offense was clicking, it was the defensive front of ends Dobeck and Brayden Reedy, nose tackle Luke Morris and Simmons at middle linebacker who dictated the flow of the game.
“We knew that if we were going to beat them, we had to be disciplined and read their keys,” Lancers coach Steve Stebbins said. “That takes sacrifice. That means you take on a block so that other guys are free to make the plays. Luke did a great job of just staying in there and being physical.”
South Umpqua (7-0, 2-0 SD2S), which has been prolific all season passing the ball with junior quarterback Jace Johnson, took the air out of the ball in the first half. The Lancers attempted just five passes in the first half, three of which came on the closing drive before halftime.
“We just thought based on some alignments we could shift some formations and run effectively on them, which we did,” Stebbins said.
Morris ended Sutherlin’s first offensive possession by recovering a fumble at the Lancers’ 49-yard line. Simmons opened South Umpqua’s first drive with a 31-yard run and, four plays later, Justin Jenks found the end zone on a 2-yard run to give the Lancers a 7-0 lead.
Early in the second quarter, Isaac Real intercepted a pass from Palm at the Lancers’ 10-yard line and returned it out to the 41. South Umpqua cashed in again, getting a 33-yard completion from Jace Johnson to Kade Johnson and a 20-yard run by Real to set up a 2-yard scoring run by Simmons.
With three seconds left in the first half, Simmons found paydirt again from 1 yard out, lifting the Lancers to a 21-0 halftime lead.
Sutherlin (4-2, 0-1) attempted an onside kick to open the second half, setting South Umpqua up at the Bulldogs’ 44-yard line. It took just one play — a 44-yard connection between Jace Johnson and Jenks — to extend South Umpqua’s lead to 28-0 just 14 seconds into the second half.
Gosselin’s 9-yard touchdown run with 9:20 to play in the game pushed the Lancers up 35-0 and instigated a running clock.
Adan Diaz ran for 91 yards on 12 carries for Sutherlin, while Kiki Diaz added 53 yards on seven carries. Sutherlin passed for just nine yards in the game.
Jenks finished with 80 yards on five carries for South Umpqua, scoring both on the ground and through the air.
For Dobeck, he’s having the time of his life being part of one the premier rosters in Class 3A football.
“I’m having so much fun,” the 6-4, 230-pound tight end/defensive end said. “This is my favorite thing to do out here. This is my happy place.
“We come out and get ready for a war, ready for a test. Then we play our asses off, look at the scoreboard and know we left everything on the field.”
The Lancers can clinch the SD2S title when they travel to Medford to take on perennial power Cascade Christian next Friday.
“They’re very good and they’re battle tested and experienced in big games,” Stebbins said. “It’s going to be a challenge for sure, but a challenge I think our kids are pretty excited for.”
Sutherlin can all but assure itself a spot in the 3A state playoffs by winning one of its final two games. The Bulldogs, who entered Friday night at No. 7 in the OSAA’s power rankings, will entertain St. Mary’s Friday in Sutherlin.
S. Umpqua 7 14 7 7 — 35
Sutherlin 0 0 0 6 — 6
SU — Jenks 2 run (Moros kick)
SU — Simmons 2 run (Moros kick)
SU — Simmons 1 run (Moros kick)
SU — Jenks 44 pass from J. Johnson (Moros kick)
SU — Gosselin 9 run (Moros kick)
Suth — A. Diaz 68 run (run failed)