Wells junior fullback Wyatt Andler has rushed for a team-high 723 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. (Photo by Elena Miller)
Wells junior fullback Wyatt Andler has rushed for a team-high 723 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. (Photo by Elena Miller)

When Keith Bennett took over as the football coach at Wells (then Wilson) in 2020, the program was in rough shape.

The varsity had won four games in four seasons, going 0-8 with a 5A schedule in 2019.

“It was really at rock bottom,” Bennett said. “The youth program had disbanded and the numbers were low. The first priority was to get the youth program established, then set a consistent offensive and defensive game plan.”

Three years later, the Guardians are flourishing. Heading into a 6A Portland Interscholastic League first-place showdown at Roosevelt (6-1, 5-0) on Friday, Wells (6-1, 5-0) is chasing its first league title since 2012. Friday's winner clinches at least a share of the PIL crown.

“The kids have been talking about it,” Bennett said. “As a program on the whole, just competing for a league title has been huge for us. Just coming from where we've been, to where we are now, just competing for it is really going to help our program grow.”

Bennett has laid a foundation for success. The Wells youth program is filled to capacity on all six levels. The high school program is the only one in the PIL to have three teams. The JV is undefeated.

“The future is very bright,” Bennett said. “When the freshmen come in, they hit the ground running. They're already two or three steps ahead of any team before them. It's definitely showing.”

The Guardians took a giant step last year, when they finished 5-5 and lost in the first round of the 6A Columbia Cup. This season, fueled by a deep junior class, they have built on that momentum.

“We were sophomore-heavy last year,” Bennett said. “It was a class that was very talented and understood the system better. We lost a lot of great seniors, but we have a pretty good mix of seniors and juniors now.”

Roosevelt coach Ryan McCants, whose team defeated Wells 62-22 in 2021 and 21-12 last year, said that Bennett has done a “phenomenal job” building the program.

“Each year they grow leaps and bounds as the kids get used to their system,” McCants said. “It's clear they have an identity. They play to that each and every game. They're executing at a very high level.”

Wells has won six in a row since falling to Hillsboro 46-24 in its opener. The stretch includes a 30-21 home win over Grant (5-2, 4-1), the first victory against the Generals since 2015.

Bennett said the loss to Hillsboro had a “trampoline effect” on the team.

“Losing that first game, our kids saw what they had to play up to, to be successful,” he said. “We competed. It was closer than the score showed.”

The Guardians are averaging a PIL-high 40.0 points per game with their wing-T offense. They gain 89 percent of their yards on the ground, throwing only 31 passes all season. Junior fullback Wyatt Andler (5-10, 185), who missed last week's game after undergoing stitches to close a laceration on his hand, has rushed for a team-high 723 yards and 13 touchdowns.

“He's kind of the engine that makes us go,” Bennett said.

Wells returned four starters on the offensive line, including 6-4, 290-pound senior Colden Carson. Other than the massive Carson, the Guardians are small up front.

“Most of our linemen are 175 to 195, but they move,” Bennett said. “That's the overall strength of our team.”

Roosevelt also has an outstanding running back in junior Dontrell Betts, who has rushed for more than 700 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Roughriders, who won a share of the league title the last two seasons, have become more run-oriented this year.

“We've had some good teams in the past, but with some of those teams, we kind of just wanted to run our system as-is,” McCants said. “But now we're focused on, OK, who do we have? And what are their strengths? And how can we put them in positions to succeed?”

The 5-10, 200-pound Betts is a load.

“Dontrell's been running hard, as he always has,” McCants said. “He's a kid that's tough to bring down. When he gets in a one-on-one situation, he tends to get positive yards.”

Roosevelt has won six in a row since losing at North Salem 35-6 in Week 1. The Roughriders, who play at Grant in the regular-season finale, have put themselves in position to win the outright league title.

“We talked about the goal of winning a PIL championship back in December and January,” McCants said. “But we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. I haven't even mentioned the word 'playoffs.'

“I haven't talked about anybody else this week besides Wells. We're excited for the opportunity to go against another undefeated team in league.”

A look at other top match-ups in Week 8:


6A No. 9 Jesuit (3-4, 3-0) at Mountainside (5-2, 3-0), 7 p.m.: First-year Mountainside coach Keanon Lowe goes up against his alma mater, and former coach Ken Potter, with first place on the line. The Crusaders have won three in a row since an 0-4 start against elite teams Skyview (Wash.), Central Catholic, West Linn and Tualatin.

4A co-No. 7 Tillamook (5-2, 2-1 SD1) at 4A No. 1 Scappoose (7-0, 3-0), 7 p.m.: Scappoose holds a one-game lead over Tillamook and Seaside with two games left. Last year, Tillamook defeated the Indians 17-14 in overtime for its first league title in 23 years. In overtime, the Cheesemakers' Tanner Hoskins kicked a school-record 45-yard field goal to win it.

2A No. 2 Lowell (6-1, 3-0 SD2) at 2A No. 8 Toledo (5-1, 4-0), 7 p.m.: The Boomers will take their shot against reigning league champion Lowell and star running back JaMar Thurman, who gashed them for 495 yards and five touchdowns last year as the Red Devils won 42-18. It's the final league game for Toledo, which plays Corbett next week.

1A-6 No. 9 Eddyville (5-1, 4-1 SD2 North) at 1A-6 No. 4 Alsea (8-0, 6-0), 7 p.m.: Explosive Alsea, averaging 48.0 points per game, goes against a stingy Eddyville defense, which is yielding only 8.2 points per game. Alsea, winless in the Special District 1 North last year, can wrap up the Special District 2 North title with a win.


6A No. 6 Lakeridge (6-1, 2-1 Three Rivers League) at 6A No. 1 West Linn (7-0, 3-0), 7 p.m.: So far, reigning state champion West Linn has easily swatted down all other contenders. Now the Pacers, who lost to West Linn 58-6 last year, will take their crack at the Lions.

5A No. 2 Silverton (7-0, 7-0 Mid-Willamette Conference) at 5A No. 6 West Albany (6-1, 6-1), 7 p.m.: Once again, the Foxes and Bulldogs meet in a high-stakes conference game. Last year, West Albany edged Silverton 21-20 by blocking two kicks in the fourth quarter – an extra-point attempt and a potential game-winning 25-yard field goal with 9.7 seconds left.

5A No. 3 Mountain View (7-0, 3-0) Intermountain Conference) at 5A No. 4 Summit (4-3, 3-0), 7:15 p.m.: Mountain View, with star sophomore running back Angel Valenzuela (1,183 yards, 17 touchdowns) and a defense that has four shutouts, gets a huge test against the reigning state champion Storm. Summit won 49-23 at Mountain View last year.

4A No. 2 Henley (7-0, 4-0 SD4) at 4A No. 4 Mazama (6-1, 4-0), 7 p.m.: The latest chapter in the South Side Series rivalry – which has decided the conference title the last four years – promises to be a good one. Mazama won 44-36 last year in a touchdown with 42 seconds left. The Vikings have won 27 consecutive conference games going back to a 22-21 loss to Henley in 2017.

4A co-No. 7 Cascade (5-2, 3-1 SD3) at 4A No. 3 Marist Catholic (6-1, 4-0), 7 p.m.: Marist Catholic needs a win over the Cougars to set up a league-title showdown in Week 9 with Junction City (6-1, 4-0), which beat Cascade 20-16 last week. The Spartans won at Cascade 27-22 in 2022.

2A No. 5 Heppner (6-1, 3-0 SD4) at 2A No. 1 Weston-McEwen/Griswold (6-0, 3-0), 7 p.m.: The winner between the Mustangs and TigerScots gets the league title. Heppner is coping with the absence of quarterback Landon Mitchell, who broke his collarbone in Week 5. The Mustangs have won 30 consecutive conference games, including a 14-6 victory over Weston-McEwen in 2022.

1A-6 No. 7 Elkton (6-0, 6-0 SD2 South) at 1A-6 No. 1 Powers (7-0, 6-0), 3 p.m.: The league title will be decided in the game between the Elks and Cruisers. Last year, Powers won 14-7 in a game that ultimately determined the league champion.