West Salem football coach Shawn Stanley doesn’t pay much attention to rankings.
Still, it could be argued that the 10th-ranked Titans (6-0 Greater Valley Conference, 6-1 overall) have been under the radar this season. They made their first appearance of the season in the Oregonlive media poll this week.
Following a 16-8 home victory Thursday over McMinnville in rainy and windy conditions, the Titans remain atop the GVC, one game ahead of Sprague, a team they defeated in Week 2.
“What we can control is the last two games,” Stanley said.
That’s a fact. The Titans will be at McNary next Friday, and conclude the regular season at home Oct. 21 against South Salem.
West Salem, whose last league championship came in 2012, is a lock to make the playoffs for the eighth year in a row. Since Stanley became head coach in 2005, the Titans have missed the playoffs just once, in 2008.
“I’m not gonna say we wouldn’t love a league title, but I’d love a postseason run,” Stanley said. “Two years ago we didn’t win the league title but we were in the state semifinals.”
The Titans, who are No. 6 in the OSAA power rankings, proved Thursday they can deal with inclement weather.
Playing in monsoon-like conditions to open the second half, the Titans extended a 6-0 halftime lead to 16-0 with a 35-yard field goal by senior kicker Nate Okada on their opening drive, followed by a 77-yard touchdown run by senior wide receiver Tyler Ballenger on an end around.
Ballenger, who caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jared Oliver in the first quarter, said “everyone executed” on the long scoring run.
Oliver tossed the ball off to junior running back Noah Whitaker, who was hit just as he handed the ball to Ballenger.
“Jared made a crucial block on the outside that opened up a hole for me to go,” said Ballenger, who raced down the left sidelines.
The defense certainly did his part.
McMinnville scored a touchdown with 2:03 left and converted the 2-point conversion to get within a touchdown, and recovered the on-side kick at West Salem’s 32-yard line.
But with momentum on the Grizzlies’ side, the Titans defense held to seal the win.
“I was proud of our guys that they knuckled down and won kind of an ugly, slugfest game,” Stanley said.
Weather made it difficult to pass, but Oliver had his share of completions and West Salem did not commit a turnover. Whitaker rushed for over 100 yards.
If the Titans are able to go unbeaten in the GVC, attention is sure to come their way.
“It doesn’t matter to us,” Oliver said. “Against Sprague, all the analysts through they were gonna win. But we showed up and we beat them, so we like being the underdogs.”
West Salem has won four games in a row since a Week 4 loss to Sheldon, which is ranked No. 3 this week.
When the dust settles on the 2016 campaign, perhaps West Salem will have produced a season to remember.
“We just go game by game. We don’t really focus on the rankings,” Ballenger said. “If people are sleeping on us then that’s good cause we’ll come out and show ‘em who we are.”
Reach Gary Horowitz at ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6726 or Twitter.com/ghorowitz
WEST SALEM 16, MCMINNVILLE 8
McMinnville – 0-0-0-8 – 8
West Salem – 6-0-10-0 – 16
West Salem: Ballenger, 12-yard pass from Oliver. PAT no good
West Salem: Okada, 35-yard field goal
West Salem: Ballenger, 77-yard run. Okada kick
McMinnville: C. Smith, 47-yard pass from W. Smith. Pass to C. Smith for 2-point conversion.