The thought of DeSales High School not fielding a football team in 2019 was a naysayers’ dream.
Would a coach step forward?
Would enough athletes turn out?
Both of those questions, among others, were met with an affirmative answer.
“It was up in the air whether or not we were going to have a team,” said Josh Richard, who guided the Irish to a 7-3 record in his first year as head coach. “We were transitioning to 8-man football and away from coach (Mike) Spiess.
“They were looking for someone with head coaching experience,” Richard said. “As the summer went, I felt I needed to step up and make sure the kids had a football season.”
Richard said it was nice to get things established, but commitments from student-athletes, organization, and getting a grasp on the 8-man style were hurdles that remained uncleared.
Seniors Bailey Lesko, Bobby Holtzinger, Matt Miedema, Ryan Rizzuti, Nate Anhorn and Tim Worden — despite a 2018-19 basketball injury — helped shape the Irish roster.
Lucas Hicks and Drake Scott were the lone juniors on the ball club.
Seamus Doohan, Frankie Worden, Aaron Kjeldgaard, Jaden Bingham, Ryan Chase and Eric Kregger represented the sophomore class while Luke Nelson, Jack Lesko and Joe Baffney suited up as freshmen.
“They were relieved,” Richard said of the seniors. “After the first couple of games, we fell into a little bit of a rhythm.”
DeSales fell behind Sunnyside Christian, 14-0, early in the first quarter of its season opener, but exploded for 30 unanswered points to end the period in a 62-20 romp.
A 3-and-0 start was completed following victories over Colton (62-26) and Pomeroy (52-44).
“It was not unsurprising that we struggled out of the gate,” Richard said. “We ended up finding our comfort zone in those games. If you get down early in 8-man football, it’s not difficult to come back from being down a couple scores.”
The Irish lost three of their next four games _ to Pilot Rock (44-0), Lyle-Wishram (48-44) and Tekoa-Rosalia (54-26). The lone triumph was a 64-6 rout at Sunnyside Christian.
“Pilot Rock was one of the better 8-man programs in Oregon,” Richard said. “They humbled us a little bit. They helped us prepare us for Lyle-Wishram.
“It went back and forth,” Richard said of the L-W game in which the winning tally came with one second on the clock. “It was one of the toughest losses I’ve ever experienced.”
Irish eyes smiled against Sunnyside Christian, but not the following week.
“I stressed (to the team) not overlooking a team you’ve beaten,” Richard said of the SC contest. “We didn’t leave any doubt behind after that game.
“Tekoa-Rosalia was good,” Richard remarked looking back. “It just wasn’t our night. We didn’t have it.”
DeSales closed out the year by defeating Yakima Tribal (42-34), St. John-Endicott (64-6) and Touchet (78-6).
“Yakima Tribal was tough, physical,” Richard said. “I was proud of our young guys. Seamus made his first start at linebacker and Joe Baffney made some big plays.
“We had a lot of offensive and defensive success against St. John-Endicott,” Richard said. “It was nice to see Tim Worden in for the last two games. It was nice to get younger kids into those last two games. That should help us moving forward.”
All in all, not bad for a season that almost wasn’t.
“Picking up seven wins was about as positive as you could expect,” Richard said. “The boys deserve a ton of credit. They played as hard as any group I’ve ever been around.
“In the grand scheme of things, it was great to have a season in the first place,” Richard said. “I’m glad the seniors were able to end on a positive note.”