Emotions, Harrisburg get the better of Sutherlin
SUTHERLIN — Dax Bennett came to Sutherlin High with a chip on his shoulder.
Turns out, none of the Bulldogs were able to knock that chip off as the Harrisburg quarterback ran for 133 yards and three touchdowns in the Eagles’ 33-7 Special District 2 North victory.
“He’s a great player, he plays with a lot of fire,” Sutherlin coach Josh Gary said of Bennett, choosing his words carefully.
“I’m dealing with family stuff at home and trying to forget about all that and just play for my team and my coaches,” Bennett said. “It was definitely nice to pick them up in the second half and lead them to a W.”
Bennett was a lightning rod for both teams.
The Eagles (5-1, 2-0 SD4N) benefitted from his mercurial ways; Sutherlin (4-2, 1-1) suffered from his skills and from an emotional meltdown that followed his — and his teammates — antics.
“They just played dirty,” Sutherlin senior Will Singleton said. “I don’t know what to say, I’m trying to be good (but the feelings go) a lot deeper.”
Sutherlin lost its cool on defense and helped the Eagles — Class 2A state champions two years ago — pick up extra yards via penalties. Harrisburg was penalized as well, but somehow it’s penalties were never as harmful.
“On offense, we just did our thing,” Sutherlin quarterback Cade Meisner said. “But on defense, we have a lot of emotional players. They were flipping us crap and we started doing the same thing and it wasn’t good.”
And so the inner head games unsettled the Bulldogs and played into Harrisburg’s hands.
“Definitely (we got inside their heads), in the first half and me and a couple other teammates scored, they didn’t like that,” Bennett said. “But seeing stuff on film from us, I think they were trying to get in our heads, too.”
It was a closer game than the final score most of the way — two late touchdowns denied Sutherlin any hope of a late comeback — but Bennett may have sealed the Bulldogs’ fate during their second drive of the game.
That was when the 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior crashed into Cade Meisner after the SHS quarterback, who also punts, had booted away the ball.
“When that kid decided to smoke me after I punted the ball, it folded my hand backwards and it doesn’t feel too good,” Meisner said after he completed 2 of 10 passes for 65 yards with two interceptions. “We didn’t throw as much because I couldn’t do as much.”
And that eliminated a big part of the Bulldogs’ offense. Sutherlin is committed to running the ball, but Meisner’s passing has been huge in the start to the season.
It was 7-0 when Meisner’s hand was injured. The Bulldogs continued that drive, but had it come to an end on an underthrown ball on fourth down when receiver Mason Gill was flagged for offensive pass interference at the 5 and Harrisburg declined the penalty to get the ball.
Bennett wove through the Sutherlin defense on the next play to make it 13-0 after a missed PAT kick.
“They’re a pretty physical football team and I think we haven’t been in that kind of street fight yet, and they have,” Gary said.
Sutherlin’s defense stiffened in the second quarter, negating an interception deep in Bulldog territory and giving SHS opportunities to get back in the game as Jake Merrifield scored from the 6 after a protracted drive. A fumble recovery gave SHS the ball with a minute to go in the half, and it took incomplete passes on third and fourth down for Harrisburg to keep Sutherlin from possibly leading at the half.
“Our coaches weren’t happy and we made an adjustment in the locker room at halftime,” Bennett said. “Just playing our game, for our coaches, our teammates, for the our 13 or 14 guys. We’re playing with no subs, really.”
Harrisburg took the opening kickoff of the second half and pushed the margin to 19-7 on Bennett’s 8-yard run.
Sutherlin wouldn’t fold, though, and reached the 1 before a penalty and a bad snap left the Bulldogs with second-and-goal from the 18. Meisner’s pass was intercepted in the end zone, though.
“It could have been 19-14 right there if we get it in from the 6-inch line,” Gary said. “They’re a good ball club. They run the ball well.”
Very well. Harrisburg’s Jonathon Lettkeman ran for 153 yards on 20 carries and scored twice — on a screen pass in the first quarter and the final TD of the game on a run in the fourth — to complement Bennett.
The personal foul penalties were a particular concern to Gary and something the Bulldogs will look to clean up going forward.
“That bothers me more than anything else,” the coach said. “Our effort level was there. They got a few early and then we did some things. We didn’t act like a team that wanted to be 5-1 — we acted like a 1-5 team. We talked too much trash and I’m embarrassed about that, and that’s on me.”
Sutherlin will play Santiam Christian (5-1, 2-0) next Friday in Adair Village. The SC Eagles played for the state title last season.
“How do we flip it? We go practice harder and get ready for next week,” Singleton said. “We go beat a bunch of rich, spoiled kids.”
Harrisburg 13 0 6 14 — 33
Sutherlin 0 7 0 0 — 7
H — Jonathon Lettkeman 23 pass from Dax Bennett (Tristan Harris kick), 7:48
H — Bennett 69 run (kick failed), 1:06
S — Jake Merrifield 6 run (Bryce Olsen kick), 8:23
H — Bennett 8 run (pass failed), 9:02
H — Bennett 6 run (Harris kick), 9:36
H — Lettkeman 8 run (Harris kick), 5:33