By Shawn Liverance
Local Sports Journal

The Oakridge Eagles have relied on their defense this season and that unit came up big in its Division 5 pre-district game against Buchanan at Jack Schugars Field at Russell Erickson Stadium on Friday night.

Oakridge’s stingy defense stopped Buchanan four times inside the 30-yard line in the second half as the Eagles earned a 16-8 win.

The victory sends Oakridge into the Division 5 district championship game where they will host Grand Rapids West Catholic, which beat Hopkins 19-13 on Friday night.

“Our defense played the type of game we have come to expect from them this season,” Oakridge coach Cary Harger said.  “We bent, but didn’t break tonight. That said, it is not the type of situation we want to be in every week with our defense.”

Oakridge, which allowed only six points a game this season, shut down a Buchanan team that averaged 37 points a game.

Holding a 16-0 lead at halftime, the Eagles surrendered a touchdown to Buchanan’s Doug Freeman on a 15-yard run to open the second half that cut the Oakridge lead to 16-8.

From that point on, Oakridge’s defense turned back potential Buchanan scoring drives that could have tied the game.

“They really didn’t do anything we didn’t expect,” Harger said. “They controlled the line of scrimmage in the second half, but we kept them from scoring on all but that opening drive in the second half.”

Buchanan had successive drives to the Oakridge 28, 24, 12 and and 23-yard lines only to be thwarted each time by the Oakridge defense.

The biggest stop came with 5 minutes left in the final quarter, when the Bucks drove to Oakridge’s 12-yard line only to fumble. It was  recovered by Joey Warren.

Buchanan’s final attempt at a game-tying score was stopped on a fourth down play at the Oakridge 23-yard line when Brock Gonyon broke up a Buchanan pass attempt.

“We didn’t play the way we are capable of tonight,” Oakridge senior Derek Masterman said. “We played well on defense, but gave up too many yards. We are going to have to look at some things and get ready for next week”

It was Masterman who supplied the game’s key play in the opening half.

After the Eagles drove 62 yards on 12 plays that culminated in Dan Shoop’s 1-yard touchdown run to open the game, Masterman and the defense made a quick statement.

Masterman stepped in front of a pass by Buchanan quarterback Lyman Thomas’ and returned the ball 36 yards for a touchdown giving the Eagles a 13-0 lead.

“We had watched tape of them and that play,” said Masterman, who along with Branden Jasso, led the team with seven tackles apiece. “I was ready for the play when they ran it. It was exciting as that was the first touchdown I have ever scored.”

A Beka Shepherd field goal of 27 yards increased the Oakridge lead to 16-0 early in the second half and looked as the Eagles would cruise to the victory.

Buchanan didn’t move the ball into Oakridge territory until there were less than 2 minutes left in the second quarter and that is also when the Bucks picked up their initial first down of the opening half.

Oakridge finished with a 316-283 advantage in total yards with the majority of Buchanan’s yards coming after halftime.

“It was good to get the win,” Masterman said. “Can we play better?. Yes, we can. We are going to have to play better next week. We will get in and watch tape on Sunday and start getting ready for next week.”

The Eagles finished with 222 rushing, led by Shoop’s 116 yards gained on 21 carries.

James Arbriatis chipped in with 71 yards rushing on six carries and quarterback Austin Wright completed 7-of-15 passes for 94 yards.

Francis Decker led the Eagles in receiving with five catches for 51 yards.
Oakridge will face a familiar foe in Grand Rapids West Catholic in next week’s district championship game.

The Eagles have faced West Catholic three times in the playoffs since 2007 with West Catholic winning two of the three games, including the last matchup in 2010 in the regional title game.

“Next week is going to be a test, that is for sure,” Harger said. “Coach (Dan) Rohn does a good job with that team and we are going to have to play a very good game to win.”