By Dave Ball
ESTACADA – Estacada Rangers entered season No. 1 in SBLive’s 4A pre-season rankings. The team burst its bubble after losing at home, 26-14, to Mazama in Week 1.
“We came in thinking we were the big dog, and they beat us up,” Rangers quarterback Cory James said. “We gave up three turnovers early on and had a lot of penalty yards in that one. We’ve cleaned that up and are ready for another try.
Rangers bounced back in the weeks that followed with victories over Scappoose and La Grande – sides who also find themselves alive in this week’s 4A quarter-finals.
It was the start of the Rangers’ nine-game winning streak that saw them average nearly 50 points per game. To say Estacada’s offense has found its groove is like saying Damian Lillard is good at basketball.
“We know we’re a better team than what we showed in that Mazama loss,” Rangers running back Tucker Jackson said. “We train hard, our coaches push us and every week we work to improve.”
Rangers are back-to-back Tri-Valley Conference champions and are hungry for another deep playoff run after reaching the 4A semifinals last season.
The playoff race got off to a dominating start Friday night with a 44-8 win over Junction City in a game that ended late in the third quarter. Jackson had two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in the landslide victory.
“We wanted to show that we’re the best team in the state, and for anyone watching tonight, that showed,” he said.
James, in his third year under center, powers the Rangers offense. He threw for 11 touchdowns and rushed for 12, earning him honors as Tri-Valley Offensive Player of the Year.
“He’s got great attacking skills,” Estacada coach Andy Mott said. “He makes good calls and distributes the ball to our guys – he keeps our machine running.”
Another big chunk in the Rangers running game is the 5-foot-11, 220-pound wrecking ball of senior Waylon Riedel, who earned his nickname “Tank” for the way he smashes the goal line. He has 595 rushing yards with 13 touchdowns. Perhaps even more impressive are his 34 two-point conversions.
“Any time you can put eight points on the board, it puts a lot of pressure on the other team to respond,” Mott said.
Riedel is also a force at center linebacker, where he’s dropped running backs behind the line 13 times and intercepted four passes. He was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
James was also a force on the defensive end, leading the team with seven interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns.
The awards continued to roll in for the Rangers this season with 6-foot-5, 255-pound Dominic Nacoste being voted the league’s top lineman. He stopped opponents behind the line 20 times, in addition to five sacks from the quarterback.
Despite a tough non-league schedule, Estacada finds himself seeded No. 5 in bracket 4A, which means road trips for the remainder of the playoffs. Teams in the bottom half of the Tri-Valley are at the bottom of the 4A standings, which hurt the strength component of Estacada’s schedule.
“We’re happy to be in the playoffs and to get this win in the first round. I feel like we beat some of the best teams there,” Mott said. “We have bounced back well from week 1. The youngsters have confidence in them and I like where we are at the moment. At the end of the day, no matter where you sit, you still have to beat them all.
Estacada (9-1) plays Big Sky finalist Henley in the quarterfinals on Friday. Rangers’ senior class is focused on continuing that playoff journey.
“We’ve been playing flag football together since third grade. We continue to build on our success each year,” said James. “We’ll play anyone, anywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, snowing or blowing, we’re here to play.
Estacada 44, Junction City 8
City Junction — 0 — 0 — 0 — 8 — 8
Pier — 14 — 8 — 16 — 6 — 44
EST – Payton Matney Race 33 (run aground), 7:42
EST – Cory James Run 7 (Tucker Jackson Run), 0:05
EST – Tucker Jackson 5 run (James run), 0:19
EST – Jackson 1 run (Waylon Reidel run), 6:34
EST – Hunter Watkins Race 23 (James Race), 1:45
EST – Aaron Meraz 18 run (failed run), 10:45
JC – Gunner Rothenberger 1 run (Camden Lindsey race), 5:44