Fans of defense and physical play can expect big hits, sideline-to-sideline hustle and relentless pressure this fall, because The Dalles football is bringing out its hard-hitting style under the Friday night lights.
“Last year, we had a strong defense and two kids who led the state in tackles,” said all-league defensive back Ben Nelson. “We have guys who are not afraid to play physical and make the big hit. That’s been a big thing about our mentality going into this season; we know that we have the guys to raise their level of play and get everyone else to follow that tough mindset.”
Defensively, the Riverhawks allowed 274 yards a game, 4.3 yards per play, and a 31 for 106 split on third down conversions.
No. 22 TD (2-6 overall, 2-3 league) also had 20 fumble recoveries, 15 sacks, seven interceptions, 15 quarterback hurries and 85 tackles for loss in eight contests.
Of those eight games, the Hawks allowed 22 points or fewer four times and posted a 2-2 record, as the offense averaged just 15.7 points in those contests.
Although without graduated seniors and leading tacklers JR Scott (defensive end) and Yordi Sanchez (linebacker), who combined for 135.5 tackles, 30 for loss, and eight sacks, this unit still can provide plenty of fireworks, especially with all-league, all-state and reigning Lineman of the Year, Dalles Seufalemua, creating havoc.
Along with Seufalemua, the returning all-league Riverhawk players include Mac Abbas, Ben Nelson, Steven Preston and Ophath Silaphath.
Seufalemua had 37 tackles, 14 for loss, with a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and added a blocked kick.
Nelson posted 22.5 tackles, six pass breakups, seven passes defended, an interception and a fumble recovery, and Silaphath, a defensive lineman, tallied 22 tackles, six for loss, and added 3.5 sacks, three hurries and two fumble recoveries.
Preston, a linebacker, filled in with 52 tackles, five for loss, with a half a sack and three fumble recoveries, and Abbas put up 32.5 tackles, seven for loss, and added a pair of fumble recoveries.
“We have some good experience coming back defensively,” TD’s first-year head coach, Andy Codding, said. “Our scheme may be a little bit different than what we have run in the past, but defense comes down to flying around and making plays, executing your assignments and getting to the ball. We have kids who are buying into that and a coaching staff that is doing a great job of teaching scheme and teaching excitement and energy, because that is what we are all about defensively.”
The six-team Intermountain Conference has five different offenses on display every week, as defending league champion Gladstone plays a run-based pro formation style, Estacada is a double-wing hybrid, Woodburn and North Marion come out with a spread attack, and Crook County uses a double-wing offense.
Gladstone, Estacada and North Marion averaged 42 points in victories, while TD held Crook County scoreless (31-0) and limited Woodburn to two touchdowns in a 14-13 victory.
The offensive variations have TDs defensive staff, defensive coordinator Rich Belanger and assistant coaches Gabe Wilson, Dan Telles, Bryce Belanger and Rick Wilson, in the film room devising plans to piece together a cohesive crew that will perform on a consistent basis, as the Riverhawks aim for a league championship and beyond.
“Last year, our defense was lock down and this year it is going to be lock down again,” said senior defensive back TJ Green. “We have some hogs down on the line, our linebackers can hit and the secondary can cover and tackle. The quarterback is not going to have any time to throw the ball. Our defense is so much better and it can be very intimidating. I feel bad for our opponents.”
Three years have flown by for the senior veteran Riverhawk players, and there’s no time to look back at what could have been.
The collaborative goal is to leave a final positive stamp on their legacy.
“Now that this our last season, we got to put everything on the line to get what we want to get done,” said senior Gabe Helseth. “We all believe that this is the year that we can put it all together and do something special and make our statement. We are going to be a lot better team this year and we all feel that if we can keep growing as a team, we can make it far.”
All final game stats are courtesy of John Frederick at www.sportsstatservice. com.