Clackamas defense stands tall, blanks Central Catholic, 40-0
Four weeks into the high school football season, there is no question that the Clackamas Cavaliers' high-scoring offense is one of the most dynamic Class 6A offenses in the state.
The offensive line led by senior center Dash Johnson is stellar, quarterback Mitchell Modjeski is a dual threat, tailback Nick Vaughn is a workhorse, and wideouts Braelan Bettles, Aric Bergers and Cole Turner are only the tip of a star-studded receivers corps.
There's also kicker Jeff Nelson, who is as close to automatic as it gets when it comes to kicking PATs and sending kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
But how about that Clackamas defense?
The Cavaliers' offense is exceptional, but the defense is bordering on extraordinary, proving it again Friday night when Clackamas overwhelmed Central Catholic 40-0 and grabbed the early inside track in the Mt. Hood Conference title chase.
Clackamas linebackers Jakobe Erskine and Justice Pagan each sacked Central Catholic quarterback Cade Knighton twice as the Cavaliers (4-0, 2-0 Mt. Hood) held the Rams to 141 yards total offense and registered a school-record third consecutive shutout.
Vaughn finished with 30 carries for 158 yards and scored on runs of 7, 3 and 4 yards, but the game was decided by a relentless Clackamas defense that turned back Central Catholic (2-2, 1-1) on two first-half drives inside the red zone.
"Hats off to our kids," Clackamas coach Joe Bushman said. "They really played well and executed the game plan. But, no, I didn't expect the score to be like this.
"It's a long road, though. It's a great win, but I'll be disappointed if this is the pinnacle of the season. Who knows, we'll probably play Central Catholic in the playoffs."
The Cavaliers set the tone early, scoring touchdowns on three of their first four possessions before adding a Nelson 21-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter to take a 24-0 halftime lead.
"That's kind of how we've done it the last few weeks," Bushman said. "We've really come out and made some big defensive stops and been able to move the ball efficiently on offense. But, yeah, we had a great start, no doubt about it."
Ready or not
Central Catholic struggled early on, going three and out on each of its first three offensive possessions while netting 9 yards total offense.
"Our kids were flat," Rams coach Steve Pyne said. "Clackamas wanted it more. They were more physical, they executed better, and I give them all the credit. We were not ready to play this game, and there was nothing during our week of preparation that would have made me think we wouldn't be ready."
Central Catholic threatened twice in the second quarter, but the first drive ended when Clackamas safety Kyle Kirsch broke up a pass in the end zone intended for Rams' receiver Silas Starr on fourth-and-goal from the Cavaliers' 2-yard line.
With two minutes remaining in the half, the Rams drove as far as the Clackamas 21, but that drive fizzled when Cavaliers' nose tackle Kelsen Hennessy sacked Knighton for a 7-yard loss on second down, and then Knighton threw incomplete twice.
So, what was it about the Clackamas defense that made it so difficult for Central Catholic to move the ball?
"There was nothing really schematic about it," Pyne said. "We didn't block very well up front, we were missing our counts, which is pretty critical to what we do, and we didn't finish on two red-zone opportunities.
"Not that those would have made a huge difference, but maybe it gives us a little bit of hope, a little bit of momentum. But, again, credit Clackamas. They whipped our rear ends. It was an old-fashioned, behind-the-woodshed spanking tonight, and we've got some soul searching to do."
By the numbers
Central Catholic finished with 162 yards passing and minus-21 yards rushing, with most of the negative yards the result of six sacks. It also was the first time the Rams were shutout since a 60-0 loss to Jesuit in 2007.
"It was just a team effort," said Erskine, the Cavs' senior linebacker. "We're a stop-the-run-first defense, and we expected Central Catholic to run more. But when we stopped that in the first quarter, they had to resort to passing, and our defensive backs have to be some of the best in the state."
Bushman refers to the unit as "the No-name Defense."
"We're not real big, but the whole defense is really fast," Bushman said. "Our defensive linemen are athletic, our linebackers fly around, the secondary is one of the strongest, if not the strongest secondary we've ever had, and our defensive coaches do a great job scheming every week.
"I think they really came together tonight. They really fed off one another tonight, along with the sideline energy and the crowd. I think they felt going in like that were pretty good, but I think this kind of solidified it and brought them together even more."
As for the offense, the Cavaliers racked up 514 yards total offense, led by Modjeski, the senior quarterback, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown.
Turner was the leading receiver with seven catches for 140 yards and a touchdown, and also had four carries for 39 yards. Bettles added four carries for 55 yards and scored on a 3-yard run that gave the Cavs' a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
Clackamas had plenty of motivation to draw from Friday, starting with last season's 35-28 loss to Central Catholic at Hillsboro Stadium. And even though the teams finished the regular season at league co-champions a year ago, there was something about that loss to the Rams and the way that game unfolded that had the Cavaliers looking for some payback.
There also was a friendly exchange between each school's cheering section at Thursday night's Clackamas-Central Catholic volleyball match that only added fuel to the Cavaliers' fire.
"The Central students started chanting 'Let's play football,'" Erskine said. "I think we played football tonight. I think we made our statement. We earned our stripes tonight, but we're not done.
"We're grinding to the playoffs, and we're going to grind until that state championship game, because we feel we belong there."
State championship? It's a nice thought, but Bushman is more concerned with getting ready for next week's road game against Barlow (2-2, 1-1) than he is about games in late November.
"Our approach all season has been to do what we do each week, and we aren't going to treat one team different from another," Bushman said. "We basically stayed with our same routine this week and we'll do it again next week.
"Our thought is we want to get better every week and be peaking at the end when hopefully we're good enough to be a playoff team. This is a great win and everything, but we know we've got some big games coming up."