Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
CENTRAL POINT — Century's high-octane offense meets Crater's punishing defense in what stands to be an enthusiastic showdown Friday in the first round of the Class 6A football state playoffs.
The matchup will be the first game in a scheduled doubleheader at Hillsboro Stadium. Kickoff will be at 5:30 p.m., with Central Catholic meeting Lakeridge in the 8 p.m. nightcap.
Neither team is a stranger to the other when it comes to Crater and Century, who meet regularly during summer team camp at Linfield. Whether that's an advantage, and how much, is unclear but Comets head coach John Beck said it certainly doesn't hurt having some sense of your opponent during playoff preparations.
"I think it helps us," he said. "When we scrimmage we do pretty well against them but you know how that is, it's summer. But psychologically I think that helps our kids to know that we have scrimmaged against them and they kind of know what to expect."
Those expectations, mind you, are universally flattering for a Century team that finished third in the Pacific Conference and has averaged 46 points en route to a 7-2 record.
"They've got some really good skill kids, there's no doubt about it," said Beck.
The Jaguars feature one of the state's top quarterbacks in senior Sam Riddle. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder loves to air it out and the Century coaches have been more than willing to oblige. Riddle has completed 136 of 227 passes for 2,483 yards — ranking him third overall at the 6A level — with 33 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
Riddle is also an adept runner, making it a definite challenge for the defense to try to slow his dual-threat abilities. He has run 79 times for 358 yards and five scores.
"Riddle's really athletic and runs around real well and throws a good ball," said Beck. "He can really make things happen for them so we're going to have to get after him and try to get some pressure on him so he can't just sit back there and pick us apart."
Xavier Mitchell (6-0, 160) has been Riddle's primary target on the perimeter, hauling in all three of Riddle's TD passes and eclipsing the century mark in yardage during the regular-season finale against McMinnville. The senior wideout has 16 TDs and 890 yards on his 50 receptions. Vance Hamilton (5-11, 160) provides a nice receiving complement with 43 catches for 760 yards and nine TDs.
"If we can just keep their big explosion plays to a minimum and our defense plays like it has been then we should be OK," said Beck, whose team is 4-5 overall and finished fourth in the Southwest Conference. "They really try to get you on misdirection so you have to be disciplined and stay at home and take care of your responsibility."
The Comets' secondary of Andrew Horton, Taran Lewis, Kory Bennett, Davey McCollum and RJ Morgan expects to be on its toes all night but could get a huge lift with the pressuring efforts of linebacker Derrick Turituri and linemen Eduardo Duran, Donovan Culp and Michael Crippen. Crater has allowed 290 yards and 23 points per game this season.
Crater will turn its offense over to junior quarterback Ty Fox for the playoffs after senior Chase Mackey suffered a torn meniscus in the regular-season finale against South Medford. Fox saw considerable playing time throughout the season but missed the Panther game after suffering a concussion late in the game a week prior against South Eugene. The 6-2, 205-pounder completed 35 of 74 passes for 484 yards with three TDs and two interceptions in a reserve role this season.
"He's played so much it hasn't been an issue," Beck said of the change at QB. "He's really taken over a leadership role and done a good job with his opportunities. We've been throwing the ball a lot more and things have been clicking really well so it's exciting for the coaches and the players are excited, too."
Fox will have an ample amount of options on the perimeter with Bennett, Morgan, Lewis and Dakota Massey, among others, but should receive the biggest boost in the backfield with Ty Wolf, Carlos Higuera and Blake Fahndrich toting the rock.
Wolf led the Comets with 398 yards rushing on 72 carries with seven TDs, while Higuera accounted for another 327 yards and three scores on 76 carries. Along with Fahndrich, the group doubles as key linebackers and often rotate to keep their legs fresh and give different looks in the backfield.
"The good thing is we've repped a lot of guys so we've got some decent depth built up in a lot of areas," said Beck. "If we can execute and not turn the ball over I think it will be a good ballgame."
The Jaguars have allowed an average of 28 points per game this season, with Crater scoring 22 points per game. Their only common opponent was Tualatin, which rallied to beat the Comets 12-8 in the season opener and edged Century 27-20 three weeks ago.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry