Ridgeview junior Eric Pendergrass has rushed for 986 yards in six games. (Photo by LeAnne Asplund)
Ridgeview junior Eric Pendergrass has rushed for 986 yards in six games. (Photo by LeAnne Asplund)

Ridgeview's 4A football championship in 2013 – the program's second varsity season – has become a faded memory.

After that 12-1 season, the Ravens moved to 5A and won a combined 17 games in the next seven years, never winning more than four in a season.

But things may be turning around at the Redmond school. Ridgeview is off to a 6-1 start this season, and with a junior-dominated roster, the immediate future is promising.

“There's a growing confidence, which is awesome to see,” said Patrick Pileggi, a former assistant at McKay and Sprague who is in his fourth season as the team's coach. “They've got a lot of talent, it's just a matter of them believing in themselves and understanding they can compete with anybody.”

Pileggi sensed something was building in the team's second game, a 33-12 nonleague win at Crescent Valley. The game was moved from Ridgeview on short notice due to poor air quality, and the Ravens overcame the adjustment and transportation issues to pick up a road win against a team from the tough Mid-Willamette Conference.

“That was a big confidence-builder for us,” Pileggi said. “There was a lot of adversity before the game even started. That locker room afterwards, you would've thought we won the state title that night. You could see the excitement in their eyes.”

Ridgeview's top skill position players are juniors in running back Eric Pendergress (144 carries, 986 rushing yards, eight touchdowns), quarterback Aidan Brenneman (48 of 85, 728 yards, 11 touchdowns, seven interceptions) and receiver Jeremiah Schwartz (22 catches, 433 yards, seven touchdowns).

The 6-foot, 185-pound Pendergrass, a transfer from Alaska who joined the team last season, is a workhorse, averaging 24.0 carries per game. In last week's 30-0 win over Parkrose, he rushed for a season-high 246 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.

“He had never played running back before, and he's learning from scratch,” Pileggi said. “We're excited about him. He's got a huge ceiling if he keeps up the hard work.”

Pendergrass runs primarily between the tackles out of the team's I-formation.

“He's breaking some initial contact and making some good yards,” Pileggi said. “I wouldn't say he's a slasher, but he's definitely a downhill runner. He's going to make a cut and go, and it's hard to bring him down. He's a big, thick kid.”

The strong-armed Brenneman (6-3, 175) “has come light years” from the spring season, according to Pileggi. The speedy Schwartz (6-2, 170) won the 400 meters (51.11 seconds) in the season-ending 5A track meet this year.

Senior right guard Joe Martin is the only returning starter on the offensive line. The other regular starters are senior right tackle Josh Kuhlman, junior center Ryan Bigelow and junior left tackle Damon Kernion.

“Going into the season, we knew we had the skill kids back, but our line was inexperienced,” said Pileggi, a former lineman at Regis and Western Oregon. “They're coming along each week. So far, so good.”

The defense is ranked sixth in 5A in allowing 14.2 points per game, a dramatic improvement from 27.2 in the spring, when the team finished 2-4.. The unit is led by senior Ryan Asplund at safety and Martin on the line.

Ridgeview's only loss is a 28-27 thriller against No. 7 Hood River Valley (5-1) in a Special District 1 game in Week 3. The host Ravens led most of the way before the Eagles tied it with a minute left in regulation. Hood River Valley took a 28-21 lead in overtime and Ridgeview answered with a touchdown, but the two-point conversion attempt failed when Eagles senior Trenton Hughes knocked down a pass.

“We were pretty gassed because we're pretty low on numbers with the linemen, so we went for the win,” Pileggi said. “Even though we didn't win, that was probably our next-best game because I think our kids realized, 'Wow, we can play with some really good teams.'”

Ridgeview (6-1, 3-1) is tied with Hood River Valley (5-1, 3-1) and Redmond (3-2, 3-1) in second place in Special District 1, one game behind No. 6 Pendleton (6-1, 4-0). The Ravens play host to The Dalles (1-4, 1-3) on Friday before finishing the regular season at home against Pendleton and at Redmond.

“Our kids are getting excited. It's going to be a flurry to the finish,” Pileggi said. “They're in the position now, in the final three games, take care of business, and we're sitting pretty good.

“You have to learn how to win, and I feel like they're starting to do that."