COTTAGE GROVE – Jeremiah Heacock spent 21 years as an assistant coach at state powerhouse Thurston High School, playing in four state title games and winning two.
So when he took over this year as head coach at Pleasant Hill, everyone was curious to see if he could inject a winning attitude into a program that went 0-8-1 last season and had won only nine games over the last four seasons.
Heacock passed his first test with flying colors, as the visiting Billies scored 18 seconds before halftime on a 28-yard pass from Brasen Holiday to Kaden Fisher. They maintained their momentum in the second half to defeat Cottage Grove, 26-0.
“All year long we talked about competing and winning individual matchups and not giving up and playing for each other and the kids did that,” Heacock said moments after the victory. “They flipped the switch on their own.
“They were excited and they wanted it for each other. They believe in each other and play for each other. We’re a young team but we also have some seniors who showed some really good leadership. … I couldn’t be prouder of the boys.”
Meanwhile, Cottage Grove’s Joe Polamalu, beginning his third season as coach of the Lions, says he was mostly disheartened that his guys came out so flat in the second half when they had a chance to counterpunch the Billies after that late second-quarter touchdown.
“That’s the disappointing part,” Polamalu said. “That’s competitive time. That’s when the light needs to come on. We’re still working through that a little bit.”
Here’s the kind of night it was for the Lions. With Pleasant Hill driving deep into Cottage Grove territory in the third quarter, the Lions’ Vincent Gaquitt recovered a fumble at the 10-yard line to thwart the drive. But on the very next play, the Lions coughed it right back up, and Braedon Hazel scored two plays later from 5 yards out to make it 13-0.
“We need to understand the moment, and know that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. We can coach everything else, but you have to reach inside to pull that out. … We have to know those moments, and we as coaches have to help them identify those situations.”
The Lions threatened to score the game’s first touchdown late in the first quarter, but sophomore running back Clayton Dewitt’s 23-yard run down to the 2-yard line was nullified by a holding penalty.
Then, early in the second quarter, Cottage Grove made another push down to the Billies 12, but on 4th-and-1, Pleasant Hill junior linebacker Rissy Pulido burst into the backfield and stopped the play for a 5-yard loss.
The good news for Cottage Grove is that it was only one game and the Lions will have ample time and opportunities to improve upon last year’s 1-8 record. Their next three games are on the road – against Elmira, Philomath and Sweet Home – before returning home on Sept. 30 to face Cascade at 7 p.m.
Billies top performers:
Brasen Holliday 5-11, 54 yards, 1 TD; Braedon Hazel 13 rushes, 60 yards, 1 TD. Kaden Fisher 1 reception, 28 yards; Blake Richardson 3 receptions, 15 yards. Richardson and Ricky Pulido both had 5 tackles with 2 TFL, Hazel 4 tackles with 1 TFL. Colton Kaiser and Jacob Neely 1 INT each (Kaiser returned for TD).
Lions top performers:
Brayden Crump 4-19, 34 yards, 15 rushes, 63 yards; Hadyn Peterson 4 rushes, 15 yards; Ethan Peterson 3 receptions, 33 yards.