Cascade Christian football players had an extra bounce in their stride, along with bling around their necks, on Monday after claiming the Class 3A...
CENTRAL POINT — When you lose the first six games in a season, looking ahead becomes a method of survival.
While Crater's football team wasn't exactly dominated through that six-week drought, it still helped knowing that a second chance was coming once the regular season was complete.
On Friday, the Comets (2-7) will get that chance as they travel to Forest Grove (4-5) for a play-in game that will determine which team advances to next week's Class 6A state playoffs.
"We've been looking at this for a while," said Crater head coach John Beck. "We knew we just had to get through and get in the play-ins and then who knows what can happen."
Beck said his team's hope was to get hot at the end of the regular season and use that to springboard into the play-in round, and that's exactly what has happened. The Comets scored wins over Thurston and South Eugene before falling 24-15 to South Medford in last Friday's regular season finale.
Coming through a schedule that has included games against Tualatin and Oregon City, as well as Southwest Conference leaders Sheldon and North Medford, Beck said his team is well-prepared for whatever it will face beginning Friday.
"We know we can play with anybody and we've proven that," he said. "In our league we've seen option, we've seen spread, we've seen traditional offenses, and you're going against really good coaching each week."
In other SWC action for Friday's play-in round, Roseburg plays host to Barlow, Thurston is at Beaverton and South Eugene is at Westview.
Helping create confidence for Crater is a potent offensive attack led by senior quarterback Ty Fox, who leads the state in passing, and a host of skill players in seniors Kory Bennett, Dallin George, Davey McCollum, Carlos Higuera, Matt Dent and junior Dylan Morgan.
Fox has completed 207 of 364 passes for 2,854 yards with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while Bennett capped the regular season with the most receiving yards (818) on 54 catches and George's 58 receptions (for 710 yards) were second-most in the SWC.
Fox (79 carries for 246 yards), Higuera (59 carries for 239 yards) and McCollum (38 carries for 212 yards) lead the charge on the ground. Morgan tied for second in the SWC with nine touchdown catches during his 25 receptions for 439 yards, while Dent has hauled in 26 passes for 435 yards.
"I feel like we've finally got an offensive team to compete," said Beck. "If we play like we can play, we can play with anybody scoring-wise so at least we have a chance. In years past with the offense we had, get behind and your chances were pretty slim."
Although optimistic, Beck also said there's no looking beyond a Forest Grove team that tied for sixth in the Pacific Conference and has the luxury of playing on its home turf field at Dick Hendricks Stadium.
"They're playing at home and I'm sure they'll play hard and get after it," said Beck. "We're still going to have to execute on offense and take care of the ball, and we have to play defense like we did in the second half last week."
Forest Grove sophomore Taylor Jensen has taken the reins at quarterback and continued to progress throughout the season. The 6-foot-3, 160-pounder passed for more than 225 yards in six of his team's games, with seniors Zac Collins (6-2, 190) and Ethan Thursam (5-8, 160) serving as his top targets.
One of the Vikings' prime weapons thus far has been running back Gio Tayetto, who stands 5-4 and 153 pounds but is plenty quick at shooting through the gaps and tough to bring down. Tayetto carried 19 times for 158 yards and a TD two weeks ago in a 31-17 win over Hillsboro.
Forest Grove will be looking to earn its first playoff appearance since 2010.