Who needs experience when you’ve got speed.
Sporting a lineup full of players making their first varsity start, Columbia River raced past Heritage 33-21 in a non-league season opener Friday at McKenzie Stadium.
“We don’t have any returning starters, but we have some guys who played quite a bit on varsity late last season,” senior quarterback Jonathan Branson said. “And on defense, we have some young guys over there, but we also have some athletes.”
River opened the game with quick passes in the flat as Branson completed seven of his first eight passes for 88 yards.
“We wanted to get them thinking about the outside,” Branson said. “And once we got them moving, it opened up some plays for us up inside and the offensive line did a great job opening holes.”
Branson finished with 116 yards rushing and two touchdowns. His brother Jayson Branson added 57 yards rushing and another TD.
“We really wanted to find ways to use our speed,” River coach John O’Rourke said. “I thought how we were able to utilize that in our return game made a big difference.”
The Chieftains and Timberwolves traded the lead five times in the first half with River taking a 20-14 advantage into halftime.
After Vincent Daniels returned the opening kickoff 26 yards to the River 42, setting up Branson’s 51-yard touchdown, River’s lead was extended to 26-14.
Daniels had a 41-yard punt return later in the third quarter that set up Nathan Hawthorne’s 1-yard touchdown run that gave River a 33-14 lead.
O’Rourke was also pleased with how his defense played. A fumble led to a short field that set up Heritage’s first touchdown of the game. The Timberwolves’ second score was set up by a 41-yard pass play from Loren Standiford to E’Lon Mack on third-and-31.
“We made a couple of mistakes, but those things happen,” said senior Marcus Gaylor, who had a couple of interceptions. “But we just had to shake them off because we knew we could play with these guys.”
Standiford finished with 154 yards on 13-of-25 passing for Heritage. Mack had three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, but all in the first half. Victor Duran scored two touchdowns.
COLUMBIA RIVER 33, HERITAGE 21
Columbia River 6 14 13 0–33
Heritage 0 14 0 7–21
CR — Nathaniel Hawthrone 44 pass from Jonathan Branson (run failed)
H — E’Lon Mack 14 pass from Loren Standiford (Bailey Thomason kick)
CR — Jo. Branson 17 run (pass failed)
H — Victor Duran 9 pass from Standiford (Thomason kick)
CR — Jayson Branson 16 run (Hawthorne pass from Jo. Branson)
CR — Jo. Branson 51 run (run failed)
CR — Hawthorne 1 run (Garrett McKee kick)
H — Duran 25 pass from Standiford (Thomason kick)
RUSHING — Columbia River, Jo. Branson 12-116, Ja. Branson 24-57, Hawthorne 1-1. Heritage, Duran 4-21, Jay Allen 6-15, Standiford 14-13, Mack 4-13, Nick Somboun 2-9, Jarod Luedecker 1-0, Kalani Umiamaka 6-5, Carson Calhoon 1-3.
PASSING — Columbia River, Jo. Branson 13-23-0-122. Heritage, Standiford 13-25-2-154.
RECEIVING — Columbia River, Hawthorne 4-67, Marcus Gaylor 3-30, Rory Menegat 3-13, Dante Coleman 2-9, Jacob Ringold 1-3. Heritage, Mack 3-58, Duran 3-46, Calhoon 1-2, J. Luedecker 1-9, Somboun 3-27, Allen 1-6.