PILOT ROCK — Mike Baleztena is down to 16 players on his roster, but he still feels his team can get the job done in the first round of the 1A state playoffs Friday night.
Pilot Rock/Nixyaawii (6-2) will host Days Creek, and Baleztena’s Rockets are determined to put their best foot forward, even if that means getting limited production from star running back Tyasin Burns, who has run for 2,234 yards this season.
“He tweaked his ankle last week and he’s still limping on it,” Baleztena said. “Willie (Sigo) twisted his knee in practice tonight (Tuesday). The whole practice was going that way. It was a bad practice.”
The Rockets will take on the Wolves, who are coming off a 58-14 win over Bonanza. It’s their first time in the playoffs since 2016.
“We watched film on them,” Baleztena said. “I saw a couple of small corners and a big quarterback (Gerritt Wentland). You give him time, he can throw on a dime.”
Wentland threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns against Bonanza, and ran for another, but the Rockets have a good secondary and a solid defensive line.
“We are going to pressure, pressure, pressure him and get him to scramble,” Blaeztena said.
The Wolves’ defense features inside linebacker Cauy Jackson and back Nathaniel Grimes, who combined for 21 tackles last week.
“Their linebackers are fast,” Baleztena said.
If Burns is limited, the Rockets will turn to Wyatt Stillman and Aaron Barkley, who also have been productive out of the backfield.
The Rockets also will implement their pass game, led by all-league first-team quarterback Tanner Corwin, and first-team receiver Logan Weinke.
“They are pretty quick,” Days Creek coach David Hunt said. “They have good team speed, and they are pretty aggressive defensively. We are going to have to play solid defense on him (Burns). He is someone who has been quite successful. We are going to have to keep an eye on him.”
While Pilot Rock has plenty of weapons, Hunt said his teams is not very flashy.
“We are who we are,” he said. “We don’t do anything tricky. When our offense has faltered, our defense has stepped up.”
Adrian/Jordan Valley and defending state champion Dufur are in the opposite side of the bracket from Pilot Rock and Days Creek, but that only offers a small dose of comfort. The winner of Friday’s game will get top-ranked St. Paul, provided they beat Elgin in the first round.
“They are all tough,” Hunt said. “We make it past Pilot Rock, we get St. Paul. We have to take it one game at a time.”