Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Cascade Christian didn't really do anything that Pleasant Hill didn't expect Saturday afternoon but the Billies still had no answer during the Class 3A football state quarterfinals.
Challengers running back Brandon Williams darted around and through would-be tacklers at U.S. Cellular Community Park for 351 yards rushing and six touchdowns overall to propel Cascade Christian into the state semifinals for the fifth straight season with a 52-13 victory.
Including a 75-yard punt return just 31/2 minutes into the game, the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Williams scored on six of his 16 touches before exiting the game with one quarter still to play.
"We worked all week to stop him and that just goes to show how good of a player he is," said Pleasant Hill senior linebacker Parker Smith of Williams. "All respect to the Cascade Christian line and their fullback (Josh Brite) and Williams, he's a heckuva player."
Besides his opening punt return that gave the Challengers a quick 7-0 lead, Williams scored on runs of 34, 44 and 45 yards in the second quarter and 55 and 65 yards in the third quarter. The senior amassed his season-high in rushing on only 15 carries — 10 of which went for 12 yards or more.
"There were some crazy holes out there today, from tackle to tackle," said Williams. "On those zones inside it was unbelievable, my guys did awesome blocking."
With center Dane Scott leading the charge, Williams routinely found a nice crease in the middle thanks to the help of guards Daniel Grissom and TJ Alvarez. If need be, Williams could simply bounce outside as tackles Trenton Griesen and Aaron Cesaro and tight end David Sellers controlled the edge against the overmatched Billies defensive front.
"It was so much fun out there," Williams said. "I could just go behind Dane and he'd take out the middle backer and I'd have guys up in the secondary for me, it was just unbelievable. My guys are awesome."
The Challengers (13-0) racked up 441 yards rushing on 44 carries, including five fumbled snaps by the backup quarterbacks that accounted for a combined loss of 8 yards and one fourth-quarter turnover. Seniors Levi Girardot and Cody Parker each ran for 48 yards to help spur the attack.
"Our offensive line has really come together," said Challengers head coach Jon Gettman. "They've got an identity and they know that if they do their jobs, they don't have to give much of a hole, and Brandon or Levi will take it to the house. Today it was Brandon doing his thing but the offensive line's getting just the push that he needs and letting him get to that second level."
In wet and windy conditions, Cascade Christian only attempted five passes, completing one for 31 yards with one interception by Dillon Ritchie after Daniel Scottow's fade pass got held up in the wind. A 21-0 surge in the second quarter allowed for a 35-7 lead by halftime and little mystery in the outcome beyond the final margin.
"Once we got up, we just wanted to take care of the ball and make sure that we didn't do things to let them back into the game by turning it over or anything," said Gettman.
Cascade Christian will square off against Scio (11-1), a 30-21 winner against Rainier, in the 3A semifinals next Saturday at Cottage Grove High School. Scio was the PacWest Conference champs, ahead of Santiam Christian (10-2) and Pleasant Hill (7-4). Santiam Christian will meet Dayton at Willamette University in the other semifinal.
"We've worked for that this whole year and now it comes down to us working hard some more," Gettman said of moving within one victory of the team's first 3A finals berth. "We've got to break through at some point so why not this year?"
Pleasant Hill's Jackson Bertsch sent a rugby-style punt directly at Williams after the Billies were forced to punt on their first drive that he gathered off one bounce and turned into the Challengers' first score.
"I just saw it bounce right in my hands and I got a little push from God just to give me that extra speed," said Williams. "I got an awesome block from David Sellers and just sprinted down the sideline."
After a three-and-out, the Billies saw more of the same as Cascade Christian marched 64 yards in 11 plays for another score, this time with Scottow nosing in from 1 yard out.
Pleasant Hill found an answer when Rhyland Hayter connected with Bertsch on a 32-yard touchdown pass with 53.9 seconds to go in the opening quarter. All hopes for a comeback were dashed, however, when the Billies couldn't manage a defensive stop. The Challengers scored on their first five possessions and both times they had the ball in the third quarter before giving way to the reserve players.
"Some of our mistakes killed us in the first half when we thought we were still in the game," said Smith, who was Pleasant Hill's leading tackler. "We never counted ourselves out of the game because of our high-scoring offense, but they're a really great team and hard to stop."
Especially Williams, whose last TD run showed a little bit of everything as he slipped through Cody Wilson's grasp and then beat Charlie Ward to the corner before turning on the jets for a 65-yard romp to the end zone with 1:09 to go in the third quarter.
"He is who he is and you don't get to coach many like him very often," Gettman said of Williams. "He's certainly a special player and (his teammates) have laid out for him and done everything they can. When he gets to the second level, it's tough for one guy to tackle him."
Parker drilled a 32-yard field goal to put the Challengers up 52-7 and set a running clock in motion with 31/2 minutes to play.
Ward chipped away for 132 yards rushing on 20 carries to lead the Billies, who ran 29 times for 159 yards. Hayter completed 8 of 23 passes for 119 yards but was intercepted by Girardot and Stephen Joffer.
"Defensively it was great to see the kids' effort," said Gettman. "They moved the ball a little bit on us but, when they needed to, they made plays and did an overall good job of limiting them to small gains."
Scott had eight tackles and Dante Olson added seven tackles and one fumble recovery to pace the defensive effort.
Almost half of Hayter's passing yards came on the final drive when his pass toward Wilson fell short but was still gathered in by the receiver for an eventual 47-yard gain inside the final minute.
Soon after, Pleasant Hill called for a timeout with 13.5 seconds to play and designed a direct snap play for Smith, who moved from the line to the backfield and rumbled in from the 3 as time expired for the final tally.
Pleasant Hill 7 0 0 6 — 13
Cascade Christian 14 21 14 3 — 52
CC — Williams 75 punt return (Parker kick)
CC — Scottow 1 run (Parker kick)
PH — Bertsch 32 pass from Hayter (Ritchie kick)
CC — Williams 34 run (Parker kick)
CC — Williams 44 run (Parker kick)
CC — Williams 45 run (Parker kick)
CC — Williams 55 run (Parker kick)
CC — Williams 65 run (Parker kick)
CC — FG Parker 32
PH — Smith 3 run (no conversion attempt)
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry