The moment is never too big for Sprague High School quarterback Spencer Plant.
In a back-and-forth home game last Friday against Sherwood in the second round of the OSAA Class 6A state playoffs, Plant tossed three touchdown passes, including the go-ahead score on a 21-yard connection to junior Max Long in overtime of a 48-47 victory.
Since winning the starting job during preseason practice in August, the junior signal caller has provided a steady hand in leading one of the state’s most high-powered offenses. Plant will need to deliver once again for the No. 8-seeded Olympians (10-1) in a quarterfinal matchup Friday at No. 1 seed West Linn (11-0).
Plant acknowledges being “a little bit” nervous heading into Sprague’s first quarterfinal appearance since 2012, but said it’s something that drives him and the entire team.
As for being underdogs against a West Linn team that has outscored playoff opponents Southridge and Lake Oswego by a combined score of 118-28?
“I think people outside of our team think we’re underdogs, but I can guarantee that everyone (on our team) believes that we’re gonna win and I believe the same thing,” said Plant, 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds. “We’re gonna practice and prepare like any other game we’ve had this season.”
That formula has served the Olympians well. Since a 36-29 loss to West Salem in Week 2, the Greater Valley Conference co-champions have won nine games in a row.
Plant said the early-season defeat helped Sprague.
“I think that might have helped motivate us a little bit and I think it kind of showed us where we need to improve as well,” Plant said.
And the biggest improvement may have come from Plant, who struggled in the West Salem game. He’s become more confident in the pocket, has the ability to extend plays with his legs and throw on the run, and stretches defenses with his long-ball accuracy.
There figured to be growing pains for Plant, who won a closely contested quarterback battle with senior Justin Culpepper, the incumbent starter who is also one of Plant’s closest friends. Culpepper, a co-captain, moved to a slot receiver/tight end role.
Their friendship remained intact despite the competition.
“He’s been absolutely great,” Plant said of Culpepper. “He showed so much support to me and the rest of the team has just stepped up and showed him a lot of support as well as me.”
Although Plant spent most of last season as the JV quarterback, he stepped up in the second half of last season’s 34-27 first-round playoff lost to Sunset, serving notice that he would be in the quarterback equation in 2016.
Plant has completed 66 percent of his passes for approximately 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns with eight interceptions, and run for two scores. He among three, first-team all GVC quarterbacks, joining offensive player of the year Jared Oliver (West Salem) and Wyatt Smith (McMinnville).
“He’s very selfless, super coachable. A big-time student of the game,” Sprague head coach Jay Minyard said. “He spends as much time as I’ve ever had with a kid watching film, watching football in general. He’s a football junkie.”
Plant is well aware that his success is predicated on strong offensive line play that has opened holes for the one-two punch of senior Dane McKinney and junior Noah Mellon, who have both rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season.
The Olympians, who are averaging 42.7 points per game, have a deep receiving corps as well.
“There will definitely be other areas where people can pick it up if I’m not performing at my best,” Plant said. “That’s a great testament to how tight of a team we are.”
That team concept was reflected in Plant’s comments after the Sherwood game. Although the Olympians gave up 47 points, he noted that “defenses win championships” after Sprague stopped a 2-point conversion attempt in overtime to seal the victory. Sprague also stopped a 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter of a 28-27 first-round victory over Sunset.
Plant is quick to deflect praise to teammates.
“He’s confident but humble. We love Spence,” McKinney said. “That’s a major mentality we have. We’re team-oriented.”
Plant is not a vocal leader, but he’s no wallflower either.
“He tries to encourage us a lot,” said senior Nick Brotton, the Olympians’ leading receiver.
The Olympians are a team with leaders at many positions, and a collective belief that they haven’t peaked yet.
It certainly helps to have a difference maker at quarterback.
“With our play-action stuff, we really like to roll him out and get him out of the pocket,” Minyard said. “He’s kind of the perfect guy to do that.”