2023 East-West Shrine Game Preview

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It’s Shrine Time.

It’s Estacada vs Mazama, Tillamook vs La Grande, Dayton vs Cascade Christian, and Kennedy vs Vale all on one field. A conglomeration of all the most high-profile matchups of the last four years culminating in this one charity event. Each year, the Shrine game takes shape as the closing act, the final stanza of the prior year’s stories and character arcs, and it gives closure to the high school careers of dozens of players. This year, just as the last, the game takes on added significance, not only because of the stories involved, but because of how long it has taken to get here and just how much there is to say goodbye to.

There is a laundry list of program-defining achievements the Shrine game will play final homage to: Estacada’s slow climb from the swamp to the stars, the return of Dayton as a perennial powerhouse, Tillamook’s improbable cinderella run through the playoffs last fall, and countless others spanning from 5A to 1A.

East Head Coach Vic Lease, who will be coaching in the Shrine Game for the third time and run the defense for the East on Saturday, likes the hand he’s been dealt:

Photo credit: Taylor Balkam/Scorebook Live

“We’re pretty dynamic offensively, pretty balanced run and pass. We have the talent to do both on offense. Defensively we’re going to be really physical and try and give (the west) more than they can handle. Size wise we’re not gigantic defensively, but we’re going to change fronts and change up coverages and stuff like that to help out”

“You’re going to see a controlled, solid base offense and a balanced, physical defense. That’s what we’re looking for”

West Coach Andy Mott, also coaching in the Shrine Game for the third time, appreciates the connections he’s able to make with players he has coached against in years past:

“It’s different because you don’t know them all, but within a practice or two you got all their names down and you kind of get to know them, especially the kids you coached against you know. There’s a couple Tillamook kids we played against in the state championship this year, just getting to share stories and meet the small town kids. It’s cool how the team builds that bond through the week just like your kids at home. By the end of the week everybody is buddies and you’ve got a real team.”

Looking ahead to Saturday, and the big question: Who’s going to win this thing?

Both coaching staffs have been around the block more than once, there’s experience all over the place. Neither side has a leg up in that regard. Coaches like Vic Lease (East) and Rob Kassebaum (West) have been coaching for decades, and in the case of Kassebaum winning state titles since before many of the Shrine game players were born. Add in Jeff Aldred (East) and Andy Mott (West), and there will be four state championship winning coaches on the sidelines Saturday.

On the line of scrimmage it’s easy to look at the West and think they might have a significant advantage with players like Dominic Nacoste of Estacada and Sam Diaz of Tillamook. But take into account East players like Brian Dally of Thurston and Meyer Whitmore of La Grande, and this part of the field seems like it may be a true tug of war.

The skill spots on both sides of the ball do provide a contrast: The West has beef, the East has speed. 

Waylon Riedel, Nolan Earls, Gunner Rothenberger, Nate Arce, and Brett Boen certainly make the West look like a team primed to play, and succeed in, a physical game. Products of the Diesel, Wing-T, and Power-I are abundant on this roster. 

Shaw Stork—who may be the single biggest weapon either side has in the game, Daniel Iwamizu, Eli Aldred, Trevor Anderson, and David Brown could make this game a track meet if given the opportunity. There’s a real chance for fireworks when the East has the ball.

Given the full pictures of each team—coaching and talent combined—there’s no major advantage for either side. The chance of this game being a blowout, though obviously there, is small. Here’s the prediction:

Give us the West 22-20. Tight back and forth throughout, a missed PAT or converted two-point try being the deciding factor.

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