High school students may have short attention spans, but they have long memories.
There wasn’t a player on Sprague High School’s football team who stepped on Bennett Field at South Salem Friday night that didn’t remember the humbling loss the Olympians suffered on the field a year ago to the Saxons.
With new faces emerging as stars Friday night, Sprague convincingly beat rival South Salem 48-7 in the Greater Valley Conference and season opener.
“Nobody forgot,” said senior Dane McKinney. “That was a lot of the drive coming in. Sometimes when you have bus rides going places with a group of football guys before a football game, you can get kind of rowdy.
“That wasn’t the case. We were all dead quiet. The bus was dead quiet. Nobody was talking. We were focused. We knew what we came here to do.”
Though Sprague is the favorite on paper to win the league before the season with a plethora of skill position players from last year’s 7-1 team returning, it was a lot of players who emerged Friday night who made the difference against South Salem.
Junior quarterback Spencer Plant supplanted incumbent starter Justin Culpepper, a senior, in the offseason and proved why with his decision making and footwork Friday.
The 6-1, 170 pound Plant was 11 for 19 passing for 158 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and ran for a 23-yard touchdown.
“Spencer’s done a really good job,” Sprague coach Jay Minyard said. “He’s matured. He spent a lot of time in the offseason developing the arm strength, developing his entire game.
“He’s gone to several quarterback camps over the summer, and he did a good job tonight. Some mistakes, some young guy mistakes, but one thing that makes him stand out a little bit is his speed. He’s got pretty good feet. He showed that on that last touchdown run.”
Plant connected with eight receivers against South Salem’s young secondary – including a 54-yard bomb to Max Long in the second quarter – but his connection with Teagan Quitoriano paid big dividends.
Midway through the first quarter, Plant found Quitoriano – a 6-6, 225 pound junior tight end and defensive end better known for his basketball prowess – on a mismatch against a smaller cornerback streaking across the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown strike.
After senior running back Dane McKinney ran for a one-yard touchdown on the next drive, Plant hit Quitoriano streaking down the left sideline for a 21-yard touchdown pass and a 21-0 lead.
In the first half Quitoriano caught two touchdown passes, had a pass break up, a sack, two tackles for loss and an interception.
“Teagan, that’s the thing is Teagan has developed so much in the offseason,” Minyard said. “He’s a lot different guy than he was a year ago. He’s put on 20, 25 pounds. He moves a little bit better. We got to work on his hands over the summer as well.
“We had him in the game plan last year, but he’s involved much more heavily this year.”
McKinney was solid in his first game as a starter, rushing for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, though he split time as the tailback with junior Noah Mellen, who rushed for 50 yards on six carries.
The biggest improvement for Sprague, though, was on defense.
A lot of players were moved around in positions – such as Seth and Nathan Rediger being moved to linebacker and Tyler Price emerging at middle linebacker.
But the secondary was largely unchanged and prevented South Salem from any long plays.
The defense was aggressive in its pressure up front, limiting South Salem running back Francisco Ramirez-Perez to 82 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries and holding South Salem’s new quarterback Harrison Broadus to 4 for 12 passing for 22 yards and one interception and was sacked three times.
“Every time he drops back to pass, we were told to go smoke him, go get him every time,” Quitoriano said. “We followed the game plan, that’s what we were trying to do the whole game.”
Though this game was effective in making a statement that Sprague is the team to beat in the GVC, the Olympians have more work to do.
Sprague’s tough preseason continues at 7 p.m. Sept. 9 when the Olympians host West Salem, a perennial league powerhouse that escaped with a 20-17 win against McKay Friday.
“It’s a great thing that we’re playing both those teams right off the bat,” Quitoriano said. “We’ll be ready. We’ll be ready against West.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6701 or Twitter.com/bpoehler
Sprague 48, South Salem 7
SPR 7 21 0 20-48
SS 0 7 0 0-7
SPR- Teagan Quitoriano 10 pass from Spencer Plant (Will Deloretto kick) 4:18.
SPR- Dane McKinney 1 run (Deloretto kick) 9:31.
SPR- Quitoriano 21 pass from Plant (Deloretto kick) 6:19.
SS- Francisco Ramirez-Perez 34 run (Tony Maldonado kick) 3:30.
SPR- McKinney 1 run (Deloretto kick) :30.
SPR- Alex Altringer 26 pass from Plant (Deloretto kick) 11:12.
SPR- Plant 23 run (kick fail) 9:37.
SPR- Michael Murphy 2 run (Hemmert kick) 3:10.