An opening night win was just the tonic that Beau Lehnerz’s young Grizzlies roster needed to show they can get the job done.
Now, with one victory under their belts, they want to build off that.
Heading into tonight’s 7 p.m. game against Springfield, the theme Lehnerz and the rest of the Ashland High football team’s coaching staff have been preaching is one of consistency as the Grizzlies prepare to play their first game away from home this season.
It’s about consistency in how they want to try and play, but also consistency in how they approach it all.
“We’ve got some talented guys offensively and defensively, but if we can get consistent attitude and effort then everything will fall into place,” Lehnerz said. “We’re at a point, as far as being a young team, where every single game matters and they need it for their confidence. Even if we don’t win, we play well and the other team beats us because they were better, we can live with that. But anything we can do successfully is going to be huge for our confidence.”
Not only did the Grizzlies impress their second-year head coach with their 21-12 win over Willamette last Friday night, but it was the manner of how they did it that has Lehnerz feeling good about things.
Admitting that his team might not have responded the way they did last week a year ago, Lehnerz’s Grizzlies (1-0 overall) used a second-half rally to thwart Willamette’s third-quarter push and pick up the win.
Winning back-to-back games is something that the Grizzlies have yet to achieve since Lehnerz took over for Charlie Hall.
Ashland will get the chance to do so against a Springfield team that dropped 51 points last Friday night in a one-point win over North Eugene.
“I think it’s just going to be a good test of where both teams are at and what the first game really meant or showed,” Lehnerz said. “It’s hard not to see that (Springfield) gave up 50 points. Not having looked at North Eugene other than what I saw on tape against Springfield, they might be an explosive offense but we’re hoping to take advantage and score some points.”
Under the new configuration of the MWL — which is also referred to as 5A District 2 — the Grizzlies will play two more cross-divisional games before opening MWL South Division play on the road at highly-touted Churchill on Sept. 21.
“We want momentum and this is more of a traditional rivalry,” Lehnerz said. “We’re going on the road and we want to keep that momentum going. Last year, we had ups and downs — a lot of downs — but never had that consistency. If we can be successful here, hopefully that means we’re heading in the right direction. We also want to stay healthy, and going into actual division play we need to really make sure we’re working on keeping guys fresh, not have guys play longer than they need to and just get a good rotation going.”
As much as the combo of junior quarterback Rieger Sayre and junior running back DaMario Watson leading the charge as they did against Willamette will be key as the season goes on, Lehnerz is well aware that the Grizzlies’ young defense will be in for a test tonight.
Springfield (1-0) has its own threat at running back in senior Arturo Diaz. The 5-foot-10, 220-pound Diaz, described as “an absolute load” by Lehnerz, carried the ball 44 times for 320 yards and scored four touchdowns in the Millers’ season-opening win.
When it comes to who’s priority No. 1 for the Grizzlies defense, they don’t need to look much further than the guy who nearly hit the half-century mark in carries seven days ago.
Diaz will be a formidable test for the Grizzlies’ young defense, but not one that Lehnerz and Co. are shying away from.
Ashland was able to stop the run in the first half last week, limiting Willamette to just 30 yards before the break. The Wolverines, who face Crater this week, finished with 151 yards on 33 carries against the Grizzlies.
“Defensively, we need to stop the run,” Lehnerz said. “We’re young and we’re a little bit undisciplined. We have some guys who are new starters and just sophomores, so we were coming upfield and creating lanes. We need to be disciplined defensively, our line needs to eat up blocks and linebackers and safties need to make tackles.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.