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Football: Bucks move up, transition to 11-man game


New 2A Tri-River Conference will feature St. Paul, Kennedy, Central Linn, Regis and Santiam

Photo Credit: GARY ALLEN - Junior quarterback Carson Smith (left) got plenty of time under center last year after being thrust into a more prominent role due to injuries to starter Cody Southerland. The extra experience for Smith and the rest of the young Bucks should pay off this season as St. Paul transitions to playing in the 2A Tri-River Conference this fall.


Coach: Tony Smith

Last season: 7-5 (4-0 Casco League) lost 60-22 to Lowell in 1A state quarterfinals.

Key players: Carson Smith, Cody Faber, Joe Hiller, David Elias, Tyler Smith, Fernando Dela Cerda

Key losses: Cody Southerland, Keenan Wood, Mario Dela Rosa, Zach Adams, Max Coleman, Chris Petrjanos

Outlook: Only in St. Paul can a ‘rebuilding year’ end with a fifth-straight conference championship and a trip to the quarterfinals in the 1A state playoffs. Yet these were not the Bucks of old. Despite extending the team’s conference win streak to 31 games, dating back to the 2008 season, the Buckaroos lost five games in 2013 and were overmatched against the elite teams in the 1A conference.

Much of their struggles could be traced back to youth, with just six seniors on the team, and many players getting their first crack at significant playing time after sitting behind the talented class that guided St. Paul to the 2012 1A state championship.

While this year’s team will certainly benefit from having a year of seasoning under their belts, the Buckaroos will unfortunately be saddled with another transition year as the team moves up to the 2A classification to play in the revamped Tri-River Conference.

St. Paul will join four of the top five teams from last year’s Tri-River — Regis, Kennedy, Central Linn and Santiam — to form a new league in 2014.

The level of play won’t be a significant step up for the Buckaroos, who frequently play against 2A teams in other sports during the school year. But the style of play will certainly be different, as the Bucks will have a period of adjustment to 11-man football after dominating at the eight-man level in the 1A classification for so many years.

St. Paul is able to apply as a 1A school for the 2016-17 school year, but in the interim, the next two seasons will be an interesting test to see if the Bucks can consistently compete at the 2A level.

Leading them into the fray will be a talented stable of offensive players. After departed senior Chris Petrjanos suffered a season-ending neck injury midway through the 2013 campaign, junior Tyler Smith stepped into the starting role and led the Casco League in rushing, including an impressive 310 yards and three touchdowns to help clinch the conference title against Perrydale last season.

Sophomore Fernando Dela Cerda was the team’s change-of-pace back whenever the Buckaroos need to spell Smith, and junior Carson Smith was able to build experience in a starting role after stepping in due to injury.

On defense, senior Joe Hiller gives St. Paul a strong, athletic pass rusher able to sweep around the end and pressure opposing quarterbacks.

The 2014 season will be a big question mark, not just for St. Paul, but for most of the Tri-River Conference, after many of the league’s elite players graduated this past spring.

While the Bucks are the new team on the block, they have the skill and talent to make a name for themselves early and put their stamp on one of league’s playoff berths.