Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
It may only be the fourth week of the football season, but time is definitely of the essence for Crater and Grants Pass.
Boasting only one win between them — the Cavemen turned away West Linn two weeks ago — each team knows it only gets more challenging from here in an unforgiving Southwest Conference schedule.
"We know there's a sense of urgency and that we need to win a game," said Crater head coach John Beck, whose team is 0-3 overall and 0-1 in SWC play. "It's to the point where the monkey's on your back, but monkey is on their back, too."
Grants Pass head coach John Musser agreed, adding that the relative balance of the league leaves little margin for error on a week-to-week basis.
"We feel like our back is to the wall a little bit, and I'm sure Crater has to being 0-3," said Musser. "We know it, and it's not like it gets any easier for any of us."
In Friday's other SWC games, North Medford plays host to third-ranked Sheldon at Spiegelberg Stadium, South Medford is at South Eugene and No. 8 Roseburg is at Thurston.
At the 5A level, No. 5 Ashland will look to build on last week's big win over Marist when it plays at Churchill in Eugene, while Eagle Point is at No. 7 Springfield.
All the local 4A and 3A teams face road challenges except 3A St. Mary's, which plays host to Rogue River on Saturday night.
Consistent play and challenging schedules are the biggest reasons why Crater and Grants Pass haven't exactly gotten off to roaring starts. The Cavemen (1-2, 0-1 SWC) and Comets are at the bottom of the SWC in turnover ratio, with GP at minus-5 and Crater at minus-7, and five of their combined losses have come against teams ranked at one time among the top 15 in the state.
"It's kind of up and down for them and we're the same way," said Beck. "Sometimes we look as good as anybody in the state and at times we look as bad as anybody in the state."
"It's just going to be another Southern Oregon Conference donnybrook and we'll see who comes out ahead," he added. "Is it us or is it them? It's crazy because the league is so balanced, it's pins and needles until you find out."
The crux of Friday's battle will be whether Crater's speed on the perimeter can win out or if Grants Pass' physicality, along with solid athletes in its own right, can rule the day.
The Comets boast a prolific passing attack behind senior quarterback Ty Fox and his bevy of options led by receivers Kory Bennett and Dallin George, who rank among the top seven producers in the SWC. Fox has completed 54 of 99 passes for 872 yards, but his six touchdowns are offset by six interceptions. Bennett is second in the league with 344 yards on 18 receptions and four touchdowns, while George has 16 catches for 211 yards.
"I'm impressed with their offense," said Musser. "They're putting up all kinds of numbers. Ty Fox is the real deal. He has a cannon for an arm and keeps drives alive with his feet and has a lot of good weapons on the perimeter. Bennett and George, I think, are as good as anybody we'll see."
While the Comets are heavily weighted toward the passing game, the Cavemen have utilized a more balanced approach spearheaded by quarterbacks Javan Appling and Ben Glaeser and running backs Zac Hannan and Ben Dean.
Appling and Glaeser have combined to pass for 486 yards, while Hannan ranks fourth in the SWC with 246 yards rushing on 23 attempts to help GP rack up 580 yards on the ground through three weeks.
"They seem to be real 50-50 with their run-pass balance," said Beck. "They've looked really, really good at times and are very, very dangerous. It's not like they didn't play well against North Medford (last week), they played OK and North played really, really good. And in our league, the really, really good team is going to win."
Giving Crater room for optimism this week is a defensive unit that has increasingly come together. The Comets, who are allowing 364 yards per game, found themselves down only 13-7 in the fourth quarter last week before the Indians used a couple touchdowns to close them out.
"I felt good defensively last week, I thought we did a good job," said Beck. "These games are something else, it's not easy out there for anybody."
SOUTH MEDFORD AT SOUTH EUGENE — Allowing three fourth-quarter comebacks has put South Medford in an unenviable position but the winless Panthers remain optimistic heading into their second SWC contest.
South Medford mounted its best running attack of the season with a pair of triple-digit efforts from senior Anthony Gomez and junior Josh Hall against Thurston last week and will look to build on that against an Axemen squad that's allowing about 150 yards rushing per game.
The ability to consistently run the football is a big key to taking pressure off junior quarterback Craig Contreras, who passed for three TDs last week and has completed 35 of 78 passes for 582 yards, six TDs and two interceptions.
Senior receiver Mark Winans hasn't hauled in many passes but he's made almost all of them count for the Panthers. Winans scored a touchdown on his first four receptions this season, only having that streak snapped with a 5-yard catch last week. In five receptions, Winans has covered 224 yards overall for an average of 45 yards per catch.
While the Panther offense is only slightly more efficient than South Eugene — 298 yards per game to 272 — the defensive numbers are considerably more skewed. South Medford has allowed an average of 448 yards per game — worst in the SWC — while South Eugene's 336 yards per game allowed stands as the league standard thus far.
The Axemen (2-1, 0-1 SWC), who are coming off a 49-7 loss to Sheldon, will challenge with a pass-heavy attack that relies on sophomore quarterback Ray Roundtree and his ability to find 6-foot-3 receiver Connor Still. Roundtree has completed 40 of 69 passes for 438 yards with one TD and one interception, while Still has pulled in 15 passes for 196 yards and two scores.
Junior Liam Duncan also steps in at quarterback to give the Axemen a different look to go with 12 receptions for 102 yards, while junior Quinn Cota has proven to be a versatile threat with 109 yards rushing on 31 carries and Thayne Kollmorgan has eight catches for 123 yards.