It was cold, wet and a big time Homecoming victory for the Taft 7-12 football team last Friday.
On Oct. 18, the Tigers doubled up their Homecoming and Senior Night festivities during the last home game of the season against Willamina. Facing a winless Bulldog team in rough weather, it would’ve been easy for Taft to collect an easy win and look ahead to next week.
But they decided to use this week to set the tone for how the rest of the season would go.
“We had two really good practices on Wednesday and Thursday where our offensive execution was better than most weeks,” head coach Jake Tolan said. “We felt going into Friday that we could run the ball against Willamina and spent most of the week preparing for that.”
The Tigers scored early and scored often in the first half. First on a long run on fourth down by junior JJ French to give Taft a 6-0 lead, then on a senior Logan Gilleo run after a drive that included long runs from him, breaking multiple tackles. Taft led 14-0 after the first quarter.
During stormy conditions, ball security is often the key to victory. Throughout Friday night, the Tigers made a point of protecting the football.
“Limiting turnovers was definitely a point of emphasis all week in practice,” Tolan said. “I really feel having two days prior to Friday in similar weather conditions up on the grass field really helped us prepare for Friday.”
Gilleo would find the end zone again in the second quarter after a long run, shaking off Bulldog defenders. As the offense continued to roll, the defense was a stonewall, giving up hardly any yards and forcing Willamina into tough positions.
“Besides getting a shutout, I was most impressed with how many three-and-outs we had and limiting Willamina to very few offensive yards on the entire night,” Tolan said. “Our entire defense played well Friday and the kids were aggressive and physical all night.”
Midway through the second quarter, junior quarterback Fco Ramos found senior Trenton Fisher for a long touchdown pitch and catch as Taft showed they could run and throw in any weather. Taft made the switch at quarterback a few games ago, given Ramos’ innate ability to control the offense, which was on full display Friday night.
“Fco not only knows our system, but he knows what everyone else is supposed to do,” Tolan said. “As a coach, what you need in your quarterback is a mental connection with them so he understands the ‘why’ of a play-call and what to read during that play.”
French would score once again late in the second quarter after the Taft defense recovered a fumble. The long touchdown run gave Taft a 34-0 lead at the break.
During the second half, the Tigers continued to pound the Bulldog defense in the running game, racking up 381 yards on 48 carries throughout the night. Doing the bulk of the damage was the tandem of Gilleo and French. Gilleo carried the ball 21 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns and French had 140 yards on 12 carries with three touchdowns.
Ramos not only passed the ball well, he also ran it effectively, tallying 104 yards on nine carries and a touchdown. Taft won easily 50-0.
Prior to the game Taft recognized its 13 seniors including Gilleo, Fisher, Jordan Hall, Tristan Beach, Trenton Hall, Arnaldo Ortiz, Micah Davis, Alec Bosworth, Elin Fitch, Jace Phippen, Tyrese Hellman, Bane Brown and Tony Garcia.
Although the Homecoming victory was one to remember, Taft still has work to do if they want to obtain their goal of making it to the state playoffs. Currently they hold a 3-4 overall record and 1-2 record in league play, which ties them with Rainier for third place in the Special District 1–West League. With the top three teams in each league getting an automatic bid into the playoffs, coach Tolan is looking at this next two games as must-wins.
That quest begins with Dayton this coming Friday.
“Traveling to Dayton, even though they are down a little this year, will still be difficult as we have not really performed our best on the road this year,” Tolan said. “This will be the most challenging thing, finishing our season… Can we go on the road twice to finish the season and get two huge wins?”
The Tigers will find out the answer to that question beginning Friday at 7 p.m. in Dayton.