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CENTRAL POINT — Mark Hodges isn't quite sure what all the fuss is about, and John Beck is just happy to be playing football again.
Yep, just your basic second-round matchup in the Class 5A state playoffs. If only it were that simple.
When No. 5-ranked Crater and Hermiston meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Dutch Meyer Field, there will likely be as many people with North Medford High ties guiding matters as when the Comets faced the Black Tornado earlier this season.
Beck and Hodges each served on Rod Rumrey's staff in 1999, and that relationship continued when Beck took over the head duties at North in 2001 until he transferred to Crater in 2004. Hodges went on to the head coaching position at Fernley High in Nevada.
Current Crater assistants Chris Parnell, Brad Eaton, David Douglas, Brent Bowker and Eric Persson also trace their roots back to those Black Tornado days. Hermiston's principal (Buzz Brazeau) and athletic director (Mike Kay) are also former North Medford High figures, along with Bulldogs assistant coach David Faaeteete.
"There's no secrets now," Beck said with a laugh Wednesday. "We told our kids when we had our meeting Monday, 'They know us and we know them, so there's no secrets.'"
Hodges downplayed the subplot as well on Wednesday.
"I think a lot of people are making more out of this than it really needs to be, to be honest with you," said the second-year Hermiston coach. "For us it's just a playoff game we've got to win. We just happen to be going to Crater to play a good football program that's gotten itself established."
"I really didn't think anybody paid attention as far as I was concerned once I left the Medford community except maybe a few people I coached with and some of my former students and athletes from there," added Hodges, 46. "I've been getting calls from everywhere all week and it's all kinda surprised me."
Crater won the last meeting between the teams, 35-14 in 2007, but that was before Hodges' arrival and the Bulldogs have steadily moved forward since then. Hermiston was co-champion of the Intermountain Conference in 2008, falling 30-27 to Glencoe in the state quarterfinals, and was a top-10 team this season until injuries slowed the Bulldogs' cause midway through the season.
"They're one of the best teams in the state, for sure," said Beck. "They stubbed their toe in some games but it wasn't that they got beat as much as they beat themselves with some interceptions and turning the ball over or costly penalties."
The Bulldogs (7-3) had to settle for the No. 4 seed in their conference due to a tiebreaker but have won three straight, including last week's playoff-opening 56-35 victory at Marshfield. Running back Stevie Martinez, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound junior, sliced through the Pirates with 340 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries.
"It gets pretty easy to call a game like that when your offensive line is playing pretty dominant," said Hodges. "Our offensive line just played great football and Stevie did a great job. Hopefully we can keep that momentum going."
Momentum is something that's been hard to come by for a Crater team that has only played two games since Oct. 9. The Comets (8-1) received a forfeit from Ashland the following week, then had their scheduled week off before back-to-back wins over Mazama (46-0) and Klamath Union (13-7 OT). As the Southern Sky Conference champions, they received a first-round bye in the state playoffs.
"We're just excited to play and have a lot of things to play for, especially our seniors," said Beck. "It's going to be a great challenge but our senior class has been busting it this week, so we'll see."
Given the nature of Crater's flowing spread offense attack, one might think the time off would be a concern but Beck said that's not the case.
"I thought it might hurt us earlier when we had that big layoff but we came out and were hitting on all cylinders against Mazama," said the coach. "It didn't bother them at all."
For Friday, the Comets expect to have their hands full with Martinez and senior quarterback Faafiaula Ena (5-11, 215). Ena was 5-for-6 passing for 87 yards and two touchdowns against Marshfield to help the Bulldogs amass 514 yards of total offense.
"Everything starts with our quarterback Junior Ena," said Hodges. "He's been one of the top quarterbacks around and he gets a lot of attention for his ability to throw and make decisions."
Ena was the league's offensive player of the year in 2008 and a first-team quarterback this time around. His two main targets are 6-5 first-teamer Mike Royer and 6-1 second-teamer Paul Lloyd.
On defense, Hodges singled out first-team defensive end Adam Von Arx and leading tackler Ethen Warren, who plays middle linebacker. The coach's son, Mark Hodges Jr., has also been a key performer at cornerback.
Hodges and Beck each pointed out the solid work done on the defensive side of the ball by second-year assistant Faaeteete, who was the state's defensive player of the year for North Medford in 2003.
"I wanted to get him in our system as soon as I heard he was available," added Hodges. "He's just such a quality person and is really able to build personal relationships with everyone in our program. People are naturally drawn to him and he brings that dynamic to our staff."
Crater hopes to confound Faaeteete's crew with its slick attack, spearheaded by junior quarterback Tyler Turituri and a bevy of fleet-footed weapons. The Comets are averaging 321 yards and just under 34 points on offense, with Turituri providing big-play ability with his arm and his feet. He has completed 60 of 105 passes for 1,013 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions while also rushing for 236 yards and three scores on 72 carries.
Running backs Devin Massey (78 carries for 568 yards and six TDs) and Derek Cartwright (46 for 370 and three TDs) help provide a balanced attack, along with dual threats on the outside in Kelley Beck, Jacob Ziegler and Christian Massey. Beck leads the Comets with 316 yards and five TDs on 10 receptions but has also run for 98 yards and a score on 13 carries. Christian Massey has 19 catches for 306 yards and six TDs, while Ziegler has 15 receptions for 203 yards and four scores.
"When I look at what they have on offense and how they play defense and special teams, I really don't see any weaknesses," said Hodges. "We've got to be on our toes and realize it's going to be a big battle and a game of ebbs and flows. We've just got to hang tough and try to put ourselves in a position to win the game at the end."
The Comets are allowing only 220 yards and just under 15 points per game, and Beck said it'll be incumbent upon his defense to help push the team into the quarterfinals for only the second time in program history.
"We've got to stop the run game, for sure," said Beck. "That's one of the big keys."
To help contain the passing game, Crater will look for even more solid play from senior Ryan Sonday, who plays much bigger than his 5-9 frame would indicate and has come up with 11 interceptions over the past two years.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org