Saxons run to victory

Saxons run to victory

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Saxons run to victory

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The game had been long past out of reach and with South Salem High School’s football team leading McKay 72-19, many of the fans had made their way out of Guido Caldarazzo Stadium.
Those who left early missed the play of the century, or at least it was for the player who made it.
With McKay driving behind back-up quarterback Sam Harris’ passing the Royal Scots drove deep into South Salem territory against the Saxons’ third and fourth-string defensive unit.
On first down from the 30, Harris dropped back to pass over the middle. South Salem senior safety Ryan Hopt, who has autism, intercepted the pass and returned it to the 30-yard line to all but finish the 72-19 win with 18 seconds remaining.
“I caught it and got it for like 16 yards,” Hopt said.
The South Salem sideline emptied in celebration around Hopt, and the Saxons were called for a 15-yard penalty.
It was worth every yard.
One kneeldown later the Saxons closed out the win, but at that point few on the South Salem side of the field were thinking about how the team dominated in the running game or how the Saxons got a needed win going into a bigger game next week.
“He practices with us every day,” South Salem coach Scott DuFault said. “He plays scout team safety part of the time. They threw the ball, he caught it. He’s an awesome kid. He’s been in our program for four years. He’s one of us.
“You saw the celebration. They went nuts. It’s been that ways since he was a freshman. He’s in my son’s class and so I’ve gotten to know him really well. He comes to all of the practices, all the workouts, and he’s one of our guys. Every time he gets a chance to play our kids are excited, and so they went nuts tonight.”
Despite being high-functioning autistic Hopt has been a member of South Salem’s football team all four years of high school.
He spends most of his school day in South Salem’s life skills classes. Hopt takes weight training and shows up at every practice like every other player in South Salem’s program, but he is lucky to get in for a few plays when games are out of reach.
“He’s told me he was going to work really hard and try to do something like that,” said Hopt’s mother, Jody. “I thought, okay. I figured it was him. It’s so important for him to be like everybody else because he has autism. To me it was a shock. I was like, oh my gosh.”
After the post-game huddle Hopt had endless streams of teammates, coaches and friends who wanted to hug him or congratulate him in some way.
“I’ll tell you, the South Salem football team has embraced him,” Jody said. “They treat him like … ”
“Like one of the guys,” his father Doug said. “It’s so important for him to feel, I guess normal is the right word for it.”
McKay coach Greg Mendez, whose team fell to 1-2 in the Central Valley Conference and 3-4 overall with its second straight loss, said he felt no ill will towards South Salem for the excessive celebration.
“I think at that point in the game, regardless of who it is, it’s usually kids who don’t play much,” Mendez said. “Whether it’s a freshman, a sophomore, it might be the toughest scout player they have for all you know.
“When something like that happens I would never look at it as excessive because they’re just happy for their team and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
South Salem’s strong running game put the Saxons up big early.
Jaylynn Bailey rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries and Josh Benton had 138 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries.
With the Saxons leading 18-0 in the first quarter, McKay quarterback Juan Ochoa sparked the team’s offense to life momentarily by completing some ridiculous passes – including a 25-yard pass to Lorenzo Sterling and a 24-yard pass to Nathan Carter.
A couple minutes into the second quarter hit Carter on a four-yard slant pass in the end zone for a touchdown to cut the Saxon lead to 18-6.
“They got up early, we dug ourselves a hole, we were in quicksand, man, we couldn’t get out of it,” Mendez said. “We had a good drive for a second. We thought at that point if we could get a stop and maybe put one more drive together we could make a game of it.”
Two plays into South Salem’s ensuing drive, though, Bailey broke pass the line and sprinted past the McKay defensive backs for an 80-yard touchdown.
In a span of 10 plays early in the second quarter – including a 22-yard touchdown run by Benton and a 40-yard interception return by Justin Campbell – South Salem’s lead ballooned to 39-6.
South Salem rushed for 402 yards in the game. Fourth-string running back Ismail Anderson rushed for 74 and two touchdowns in the second half.
Junior quarterback Sam Tweedt was 5 of 11 passing for 117 yards and a 41-yard touchdown to Kevin Martz.
Ochoa was 5 of 21 passing for 64 yards and Harris was 5 of 8 passing for 195 yards and two long touchdown passes to sophomore Kris Williams. Senior running back Tyler Gonzales rushed for 35 yards on 20 carries.
“We didn’t have a good taste in our mouth when we left out there last week (after a 38-7 loss to Sprague) and our kids practiced pretty well this week,” DuFault said. “I thought we played really well defensively tonight.
“I thought our front seven did a great job controlling those two guys (Ochoa and Gonzales). We gave up some passes on the first drive of the first half, but other than that I thought we were really good defensively. And then we ran the football. When you run the football you don’t need to throw it real well.”
South Salem (2-1 Central Valley Conference, 4-3 overall) moves on to play at No. 8-ranked West Salem Oct. 19.
That game will help determine the trajectory of the rest of the Saxons’ season.
“That’s good,” Hopt said. I think we’re ready for West. I think we’ll be ready.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at http://www.twitter.com/bpoehler

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