Winlock and Mossyrock are set to enter year two of 8-man football after dropping down to the Class 1B Ranks in 2020. The Cardinals are only in 1B for football, while the Vikings have dropped down for every sport.
The six-team 1B Pac-5 Conference last season, which consisted of Winlock, Mossyrock, Naselle, Taholah, Ocosta and Northwest Christain (Lacey), has now expanded to eight teams with the addition of Oakville and Chief Leschi.
Oakville joins after not playing last season due to the pandemic. Last year’s seniors played on Rochester’s team. Chief Leschi has dropped down from the 2B Pacific League.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a couple more teams added to that in the next season or so,” Winlock coach Ernie Samples said. “It’s competitive. I think it’s going to be great for us.”
Four of the conference’s teams have already gotten a preseason jumpstart with Winlock hosting a jamboree Saturday that consisted of Naselle, Mossyrock, Northwest Christian and the Cardinals. Winlock surrendered just one touchdown to Naselle’s high-powered offense in the final set of the day compared to the three Mossyrock allowed in the second.
“It was really nice to actually scrimmage against somebody and go live,” Samples said.
The jamboree showed what everyone already knew: the Naselle is the class of the league and everyone else will be fighting for second, third and so forth.
The Comets, who went undefeated this past winter, haven’t lost since falling in the Class 1B state championship game in 2019.
“Naselle is just crisp and they don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Samples said. “They’re tough. I believe they’re probably going to be the team to beat again.”
Winlock is coming off a 1-2 season, having played just three games due to the pandemic. But having even just a shortened season in the 8-man ranks has helped the Cardinals get a better grasp of the game.
“I think we have a little bit better idea,” Samples said. “We’re not grasping, reaching for those three guys, asking where out d-tackle or linebackers are at when we don’t have them. We’re getting there. It’s an interesting little monster in its own. Football’s football. You’ve got to tackle and block.”
Overall, Samples is pleased with how his team looked in the jamboree. Really the only thing they’re lacking right now is conditioning, as they were a little gassed at times, he said.
The Cardinals have 17 kids on the roster, led by senior tailback Nolan Swofford, who is back from a season-ending injury. He ran over Northwest Christian in the jamboree for 81 yards and three touchdowns on five carries, then ground out 12 more yards against Naselle.
Senior Neal Patching, who was a first-team defensive back last year, completed one of his three passes to Collin Regalado. Junior Payton Sickles, an all-league honorable-mention QB last season, added 38 yards on the ground, while Patching scampered for 34 and hauled in an interception on defense against Northwest Christian.For Mossyrock, the Vikings are coming off a 4-2 opening season in 8-man last year, with both their losses to Naselle. The Vikings will have 20-22 kids on their roster, including a few all-league selections.
Returning is senior first-team all-league halfback Matteo Mendoza, who ran for 349 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries, averaging 7.4 yards a pop. Senior Kainen Zavodsky, a first-team all-league defensive lineman, tallied 22 tackles and three sacks. Senior Gunner Mulligan was a first-team all-league selection at both wideout and defensive back.
In Saturday’s jamboree, the Vikings saw two short drives against Naselle end in turnovers in the first set of the day, one coming on a bad snap on fourth down and the other coming on a fumble downfield after a long run. The Vikings had little trouble scoring at will against the Wolverines, punching it in five times in the 10-play set.
Mossyrock coach Eric Ollikainen also said having a year of playing 8-man under their belts will help the team be better prepared for the season.
“I learned a whole lot,” Ollikainen said. “There’s some things you need to be aware of going into 8-man football. I did my homework last year but you don’t really know what it’s like until you’re into the thick of it. It’s offensive-oriented and a fun brand of football.”
For both Ollikainen and Samples, they’re looking forward to having a normal season, at least one that resembles what past seasons have looked like before the pandemic.
“We’re excited to play and it actually feels like football season with starting in August and our first game being in September,” Samples said. “We’ll see where the season takes us. It’s going to be fun.”
Winlock earned a 49-8 victory over Toutle Lake in its season opener Friday night, and Mossyrock suffered a 54-24 loss to Lummi.