Another high school football season kicked off in Forest Grove Friday night, Sept. 1, but while the Vikings didn't get the best of the visiting West Albany Bulldogs on the scoreboard, head coach Perry Herbst, his players and the stadium full of Forest Grove faithful were upbeat — not so much about the outcome, but more so about the potential they saw on the field.
"We had a lot of positive things out there," said
Herbst. "There's some young kids out there that got some experience and some first time starters that showed they could do it."
The Bulldogs grabbed an early 7-0 lead, took a 27-7 advantage into the locker room for halftime and ultimately won 37-13, but after suffering through a winless 2016 and dealing with a limited roster littered with first-year varsity players, Herbst understands it's about the journey right now and not so much about the result.
"I judge things based on how we did as the game progressed," said Herbst. "And I saw a lot of improvement out there in the second half."
Looking for some momentum to start the third quarter, the Vikings took the second-half kickoff and got a quick first down with the help of three strong runs by Drake Littlefield and Cole Smith. The drive stalled out on the next series of downs and the ensuing punt was blocked and returned for a score by West Albany's Caulin Leach.
On their next possession, Forest Grove again started strong when Smith and Littlefield pushed the ball up the field, gaining close to 40 yards on consecutive carries to move deep into West Albany territory before an Eli McSpaden fourth down interception ended the drive.
The Vikings continued to move the ball between the 20s, but struggled trying to finish drives, some of which could be attributed to youth at key positions. Overall, however, Herbst was pleased with sophomore quarterback Jarod Miller and was impressed by his poise playing in his first varsity game.
"Our quarterback is the coolest dude ever," Herbst said with an admirable chuckle. "I'm not kidding. He doesn't get rattled, he makes good decisions ... he's learning out there."
Miller agreed he had some things to work on, but overall was pleased with his and his team's performance.
"It felt good," said Miller. "I was a little nervous, but not too bad. I thought our offensive line got really good as the game went on, and I thought the defense did a nice job of not letting stuff get over the top of them."
Smith, his sophomore counterpart, agreed and could relate to the early-game jitters, but also understood it's all part of the process of getting better.
"I was very nervous," Smith said. "I missed a few holes out there, but I thought the line did well and I'm learning as I go. I feel like we can definitely improve."
And they did, holding the Bulldog offense to just three points in the second half and even putting together a drive late to put a second touchdown on the board as time expired.
"I was proud of our team," said the senior Littlefield. "The young guys are doing a great job and I thought we communicated really well. We've got limited numbers but we're trying our best and definitely working hard."
Herbst said the team as a whole needs to cut down on some mistakes and learn to play better with momentum, but also had perspective based on the current state of the program.
"I look at it this way," the coach said. "Did we get better as the game went on? Yes. Are we better than last year? I believe we are. I think we're going to shock some people this year."
And maybe Miller said it best. With his first game under his belt, the young signal-caller was already looking forward to his next opportunity. "We'll be ready for next week," he said. "I'm excited for it already."