Preseason practice

Pendleton High School football players huddle up before running a drill in practice on August 19, 2019.

PENDLETON — A number of high school football teams in Northeast Oregon will begin 2019 with the respect of the state after debuting inside the top ten of the Oregon School Activities Association’s Preseason Coaches’ Polls released this week.

Pendleton checked in at No. 8 in Monday’s 5A poll and will start the season as the highest ranked team in the East of Special District 1. Last year, the Buckaroos went undefeated in league play on the way to an 8-1 overall record and No. 3 seed in the state playoffs, where they lost to eventual state champion Thurston in the semifinals.

“I think it’s appropriate,” Pendleton head football coach Erik Davis said of the ranking Tuesday. “The kids enjoy seeing it and we appreciate being recognized. But I’m pretty realistic, we’re going to have to play on Fridays to back that up.”

In the West, Scappoose is No. 9 and currently the only ranked 5A opponent on Pendleton’s schedule. Pendleton ended Scappoose’s season in 2018 with a 21-14 win in the state quarterfinals. This year, the two teams will play at Round-Up Stadium on Sept. 27 during week five.

“They have a tradition of being a football powerhouse in the state,” Davis said. “It’s definitely a game we’re looking forward to.”

But as cliche as it is, Davis said, with an inexperienced squad he and his staff want to take it one game at a time.

At the top of the 5A polls are last year’s state finalists, Thurston and Wilsonville, with Churchill, Silverton and West Albany rounding out the top five in that order.

While the 5A slate isn’t overly daunting, Pendleton is due for a cross-classification top-10 showdown in next Friday’s season opener at La Grande.

The Tigers open the season as the No. 5 team, according to Tuesday’s 4A coaches’ poll, and appear to be the favorites to repeat as champions in Special District 6. A year ago, La Grande won the league and earned the No. 7 spot in the state playoffs before falling to Gladstone in the quarterfinals.

“I strongly believe they’re a contender in 4A,” Davis said, emphasizing the experience on the Tigers’ roster. “It’s going to be a huge test, a huge barometer for us.”

Coming off the first state title in program history, Banks starts atop the 4A rankings with Gladstone, Mazama and Marist Catholic slated ahead of La Grande in the top five.

Also in 4A’s Special District 6, Baker begins the year on the outside looking in at the top 10 after receiving 12 points in the preseason poll. Estacada and Sweet Home sit just ahead of the Bulldogs with 15 and 13 points in the poll, respectively, while Cottage Grove and Woodburn shared the last spot while tied at 17 points.

Baker is looking to continue the momentum from the end of 2018, when the Bulldogs upset Astoria in the play-in round and then fell to eventual state champion Banks in the first round of the state playoffs.

From 3A, Irrigon and Umatilla have their work cut out for them with the remainder of the Special District 3 appearing in Tuesday’s poll. Vale leads the group at No. 5, with Burns and Nyssa tied at No. 8 to start the season. Neither Irrigon nor Umatilla will play any other ranked teams in their non-league schedules.

This is the second year OSAA has conducted a coaches’ poll, which is intended to “generate interest and discussion” for the sport but will not have any bearing on team’s RPI or Colley Ratings that are used to determine state playoff seedings.

While polls ranking teams, particularly in the preseason, have long been lamented and criticized as inaccurate and immaterial, Davis puts some stock into the recognition and is “all for” the efforts to engage high school football fans across the state.

“I think it’s awesome. It shows me that other programs look at your program in high regard,” he said. “And I love the discussions. Anytime you can discuss football as an entire state it’s a positive.”

The discussions will continue Wednesday, when preseason polls for 2A and 1A football will be released.

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