W-P brings new look to state Class 2B title defense

Working with his linemen, DeSales football coach Mike Speiss eyes the details of movements on specific plays during an afternoon preseason practice Friday, August 24, 2012.

Working with his linemen, DeSales football coach Mike Speiss eyes the details of movements on specific plays during an afternoon preseason practice Friday, August 24, 2012. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.

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Teammates on the Waitsburg-Prescott football team run a conditioning drill they call "firecrackers" during an evening pre-season practice Wednesday, August 22, 2012. Firecrackers involve sprints in a line to the first open 5-yard line a player can come to, laying down and being hurdled by the rest of the players until they are passed and then getting up and sprinting down the rows of players again, attempting to pass other players.

Waitsburg-Prescott’s 2012 schedule

Aug. 31 — Heppner, 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 — Pilot Rock, 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 — at Weston-McEwen, 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 — at Tekoa-Oakesdale-Rosalia, 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 — DeSales, 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 — at Dayton, 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 — Mabton, 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 — at Asotin, 7 p.m.

Oct. 26 — Tri-Cities Prep, 7 p.m.

WAITSBURG — Waitsburg-Prescott finished 14-0 in 2011 on its way to a state title matchup.

W-P posted a 33-7 win over Morton-White Pass to earn its first Class 2B football state championship.

Jeff Bartlow begins his 14th season at the W-P helm, knowing that his team has gone from the hunter to the hunted.

“It was new territory to win the championship and do what we did,” Bartlow said of 2011. “To get into it (the state playoffs) and win it was the (2011) goal. We got both of those accomplished, and the celebration is still going on to some degree.

“Now it’s a whole new team,” Bartlow said of 2012. “The challenge is not to be complacent, to be hungry to defend the league (Southeast 2B) title and what we earned in the playoffs. We can’t set around and wait, we’ve got to go out and get.”

W-P graduated a talented group off the 2011 state champions.

Linemen Eshom Estes, Cadman Donovan and Greg Stearns are gone.

Wide receivers and defensive backs Justin Zuger and Dustin Wooderchak are also now absent.

Place kicker Jose Barajas, likewise.

And, most notably, quarterback Zach Bartlow (who threw 33 touchdown passes and had 1,400 yards rushing last season) takes his game to the college ranks at Eastern Oregon University.

“When you lose that many seniors that were good, you have a lot to prove,” coach Bartlow said. “That (quarterback) is always the hardest position to replace. Especially with Zach, as he was so successful at winning, and in keeping his calm and (thus) keeping us from panicking.”

W-P has 15 seniors to build around this season, but they are an inexperienced varsity group, as only four saw prime time minutes during the title run.

Billy Brown (5-foot-10, 179 pounds) returns to running back and linebacker duties.

Dalton Estes (5-9, 161) returns as the top wide receiver threat and as an anchor in the defensive backfield.

Brendon Donovan (5-10, 164) brings his experience back to the linebacker corps.

Ben Shafer (6-4, 223) adds senior experience and leadership up front.

“The three-horn monster last year was Zach (QB), Billy (running) and Dalton (catching),” coach Bartlow said. “Billy had 1,325 rushing yards and Dalton caught 57 balls for 940 yards, so two of those three guys are back.”

Senior Sterling Eastman (5-11, 160) steps in to choreograph the W-P offense at quarterback.

“Sterling has a very good arm,” coach Bartlow said. “He has a good touch and will create things on the perimeter throwing the football to give Billy (Brown) some good yards running. He runs the option pretty well, but is not as physical (as Zach Bartlow), thus we won’t run him as much. But we’ll go to more two-back sets with Dalton or sophomore Danny Stansell (5-5, 192) back there with Billy.”

Shafer, Donovan, and fellow senior Tucker Alleman (6-1, 192) will anchor the trenches.

“Tucker will start on both offensive and defensive lines,” Bartlow said. “Shafer is big and is going to be good. Donovan is a returning starter and was excellent at linebacker.”

Senior Roy Ebong (5-7, 137) looks to start at wide receiver and corner.

Kevin Glover (5-7. 136) will be in the wide receiver mix.

Seniors Keanu Pang (5-6, 171), at linebacker, and Alex Dill (5-7, 136), at corner, are penciled into the starting defensive unit.

Junior Nick Pearson (5-11, 231) returns to his starting center position.

Junior Nate Bartlow (6-0, 205) moves into a starting guard spot, and junior Dalton LaRue (5-10, 159) looks to start on the line on both sides of the ball.

“Nick is a solid player and his snap is consistent,” Bartlow said. “Dalton is an undersized O-lineman, but is probably the fastest lineman I’ve ever had. Nate takes the guard spot that Chance Leroue (6-1, 191) held as a freshman, and allows us to move Chance to tight end.”

In addition to Leroue, sophomores Luke Alexenko (5-7, 143) and Stansell will be counted on for varsity minutes. Stansell as a running back and linebacker, and Alexenko at wide receiver and defensive back.

“Chance (Leroue) is a remarkable athlete,” Bartlow said. “He will give us a big target at tight end and block like a lineman, and he will be an all-league defensive end. Luke will be on the field all the time. He got bigger and stronger over the summer. Daniel is an outstanding middle backer. He’s tough.”

Sophomore Devin Acevedo (5-9. 193) had 33 catches as a freshman starting wide receiver, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

The coaching ranks lost offensive coordinator T.J. Scott, who has moved to Alaska to teach and serve as an athletic director.

Veteran assistant Troy Larson will provide a seamless transition to the offensive reigns for W-P, Bartlow said.

“Zach (Bartlow) and T.J. were on the same page,” coach Bartlow said. “Troy will run the same package, with a little two-back set to complement our running game. The coaching rollover will be a challenge, as it is Troy’s first year as varsity offensive coordinator, but Troy has been here for 12 of my 14 years.”

The hunted will begin a drive for a two-peat and a fourth consecutive SE2B league title knowing that nothing comes easy.

“DeSales could win it,” Bartlow said. “Their quarterback (Jeremiah Cox) is very good. The running back (Luke Fazzari) is back and he’s going to have a great year. So, you have a legit running back and a great quarterback, and then you have (Ryan) Baumgart (at receiver). Those three guys make you tough.

“Tri-City Prep lost two seniors,” Bartlow continued. “They have a huge turnout. They are very athletic. They are a top contender.”

But don’t forget W-P.

“Our kids come to play hard and they love football,” Bartlow said. “Our chemistry is good. We should be in the middle of the hunt. We feel honored to defend the titles and we’re going to do it to the best of our ability.”

Under new lights and with a new press box, W-P begins its hunted role Friday when Heppner visits for a non-league tilt.

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