SPRINGFIELD – Going into last Friday night’s game against North Eugene, the Thurston football team found itself in familiar territory. For the second consecutive year, the Colts were 0-2 with losses to Wilsonville and Summit. And for the second consecutive year, Thurston stopped the losing streak by beating North Eugene, this year with a 48-14 win spearheaded by a 27-0 second half.
“I’m proud of the second-half effort. It was pretty ugly there in the first half,” said Thurston coach Justin Starck. “But they’re a young group, and they’re growing. Now’s the time to improve, and we saw a lot of improvement from the first half to the second.”
Despite ugly moments, Thurston still went into halftime up 21-14 thanks to efficient offense. The Colts had scoring drives of 3, 2, and 3 plays, all ending in Noah Blair touchdown passes.
Blair got the scoring going with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Luke Newell, then connected on touchdown passes of 28 and 20 yards to Walker Bonar. Bonar made his return to the lineup after missing the opening two games with a collarbone injury.
“It’s great to have (Walker) back. I mean, he’s just that guy. He’s always open and you can always trust him,” Blair said.
Trusting Bonar with the ball is great, but he also provides an inexperienced Thurston squad with much-needed intangibles.
“To have an experienced leader out there on the field, with his maturity and how cool he is under pressure, it’s just great to have that calming presence out there,” Starck said. “And that confidence as well, it was just great to have him back out there.”
With Bonar, Newell, and fellow senior playmakers in WR Lombel Doreen and RB Ethan Burkhead, the Thurston offense is one to be feared.
“The potential for the offense is limitless. We have four really deadly players on the field at every given moment,” Bonar said. “I think the sky’s the limit, we just need to tighten in on some of the little things and I think we’ll be really good.”
As a product of the short scoring drives, Thurston ran only 14 plays in the first half. Meanwhile, North Eugene ran 42 plays – including a 15-play, 77-yard scoring drive that took almost 7½ minutes. The game suddenly was close when North Eugene scored its second TD with 38 seconds left before halftime to pull the game to 21-14.
“It was all about discipline, communication, effort, heart, and all those types of things for the defense. And the offense had two bad series at the end of the half, as well, so it wasn’t like they were perfect,” Starck said of the halftime message. “We just needed to get better, so we were just focused on ourselves and what we needed to do.”
Focusing on themselves worked magically for Thurston, which scored on its second possession of the half when Blair connected with Newell on a pass over the middle. Newell made a man miss and raced 69 yards down the left sideline for the score.
“(Luke’s) a playmaker, and he’s the heart and soul of our team. He’s the voice of the team, and he wears his heart on his sleeve. We love him, we absolutely love him,” Starck said.
Blair and Bonar connected on two more touchdown passes in the second half, and Newell had a pick-6 to secure the win. Blair and Bonar connected on 4 touchdowns in Bonar’s first game back, with Blair throwing for 311 yards and 6 touchdowns in the game. It’s the kind of game the junior quarterback said shows his growth from last season.
“I feel like I’ve grown more in reading the field and figuring out where to look. Just overall feel like I’m reading the field better,” Blair said. “We just gave the ball to our playmakers and let them go to work, so I can’t complain about that.”
While Thurston moved to 1-2 just like last season, it’s not the same vibe as last season’s team that was much more experienced.
“It is different than last year. I think their hopes and expectations were a little higher last year, because we were a more veteran ballclub,” Starck said. “Being as young as we are, they’re focused on improvement and just trying to progress each week. So they’re not as discouraged, they’re just trying to get better.”
With the rivalry game imminent, Thurston’s focused on the task ahead.
“We just need to keep preparing. Right now, we just need to focus on the next game. Then once we reach Springfield, we’ll focus on them,” Bonar said. “Everyone has to be on the same point, and we just have to get the little things right. The little things really matter, and we gotta get those right and continue to be very disciplined.”
Top performers: Noah Blair, 21-25 for 311 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT; Walker Bonar, 10 catches, 136 yards, 4 TD; Luke Newell, 4 catches, 124 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT ret for a TD.