Tristan Lee

In this file photo, then-Mazama junior Tristan Lee looks for an open pass in 2019, the last time Henley and Mazama football met in front of fans.

More than bragging rights will be on the line Friday night when the Mazama Vikings travel to Henley to renew the latest edition of the South-Side football series.

“Right now, whoever wins this game is in the driver’s seat for the league championship,” said Vic Lease, Mazama’s head coach. “Both of us are two of the top teams in the conference.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Henley.

The Henley Hornets (4-0) come into Skyline Conference play ranked ninth by the OSAA in the 4A class, boasting the highest-scoring offense and stingiest defense through non-conference play.

Their opponents, the No. 6 Vikings (2-2), come into Friday’s game after slogging through a challenging non-conference slate where the defending conference and state champs grabbed two wins over 5A schools and suffered close losses to now-No. 3 Marshfield and No. 4 Cascade.

Based purely on non-conference results, only No. 7 North Valley may give either end of the rivalry regular-season fits after Friday.

“It seems like it’s kind of come down to us and them the last few years now,” said Alex Stork, Henley’s head coach. “So this is obviously a game that, as players and coaches, you look forward to.”

The game certainly mattered two years ago — the last time the two teams met in front of spectators. In 2019, Mazama would claim the conference crown after punching in the game-winning touchdown on 4th and goal.

Sizing up the Hornets

The Hornets’ offense has averaged 446 yards per game. The attack, which Coach Stork described as “really balanced,” is spearheaded by junior quarterback Shaw Stork (coach’s younger brother) and senior running back Tulson Higgins.

The younger Stork can burn you with his arm and his legs, as evidenced by his 13 combined touchdowns this year, seven of which have come through the air.

No team has really had much of an answer for Higgins either who has averaged at least 5 yards per carry in every game this season, including one romp over the Ashland Grizzlies where he carried the rock nine times for 147 yards.

“Our offensive line has just done such a tremendous job for being a young group,” Stork said, noting that the position group has no seniors.

On the other side of the ball, the Hornets have limited opponents to 40 total points on the season. Stork said the Hornets defense made it a goal this year to get at least 20 takeaways by season’s end.

“We’re already halfway there so that’s been a real pleasant surprise,” Stork said.

Defensive back Coltin Smith has a team-high three interceptions. Smith, who doubles as a wide receiver, has also reeled in four touchdowns.

What do the Viks bring to the table?

Mazama’s well-known triple-option attack has averaged 325 yards per game against stiff competition. Senior fullback Zeke Heaton has led the way with a team-high nine rushing touchdowns.

However during last week’s come-from-behind win over Eagle Point, Heaton was sidelined after the first quarter and Lease said he didn’t expect the punishing runner to be available against Henley.

If Heaton can’t go, then junior fullback Trevor Anderson will be the next man up, Lease said. Through three quarters last week, Anderson piled up 102 rushing yards and a touchdown.

“Zeke (Heaton) is a little bit more of a physical runner,” Lease said. “But I think Trevor (Anderson) is a little faster than Zeke. So, it’ll be interesting to see how he does on Friday night.”

Both coaches also praised Tyson Van Gastel, Mazama’s sophomore quarterback, for his on-field leadership and ability to run the offense.

“He’s going to be a big part of things on Friday night and I’ll just leave it at that,” Lease said.

Middle linebacker Daniel Yancey and defensive end Nate Tramp, who Lease described as big, physical leaders, really call a lot of the shots on the Mazama defense.

Back in front of fans

Both coaches said Friday’s game will be decided “in the trenches.”

“Whoever is the better line is going to win that game,” Lease said.

The 2019 South-Side game was standing room only. This past spring’s pandemic edition was crowdless as only coaches and players were allowed in. Both sides are hoping for a return to form.

“We didn’t have any spectators which, for this game, was especially weird,” Stork said. “I know that all the players and coaches and community are excited to come out and support.”

Henley leads the series all time with a 16-13 record. Mazama has won the past four meetings — which also included a playoff game. A win for the Vikings would give them the longest consecutive winning streak in the series for either side.