Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
This won't be the first time Crater football head coach John Beck has taken the field with a decided underdog against a powerful Jesuit team.
When the Comets visit the Metro League champion in Portland at 7 tonight, they will do so with a Beck anecdote from years gone by dancing in their heads.
Beck was an assistant coach at Barlow in 1991, when the lightly regarded Bruins made the state playoffs.
"We were the Cinderella team that year," said Beck, recalling how Barlow surprised North Salem and Milwaukie in the first two rounds before facing the Ken Potter-led Crusaders — Potter is still the head coach at Jesuit — in the quarterfinals.
"We were kind of like the nobodies," said Beck, noting that Jesuit was viewed as one of the best teams on the West Coast.
Nevertheless, Barlow pulled off a 28-13 upset. (The Bruins' run ended a week later at the hands of Ashland, 46-14.)
"I'm not saying it's the same story," Beck said of this meeting, "but it's similar."
Of course, he'd like a similar storybook ending, but he knows that will take some doing.
Jesuit is the top-seeded team in the playoffs and was ranked third in the final OregonLive.com Class 6A poll. The Crusaders went 5-0 in the Metro and are 7-2 overall. Their losses were to Central Catholic, rated No. 1 in the top-10 poll, 45-31, and to Camas of Washington, thought by some to be one the Northwest's best teams in recent memory, 47-14.
Jesuit made it to the state semifinals last season, falling 35-28 to Sheldon.
Crater is 3-7, having won three of its last four games, including a state play-in contest at Forest Grove last Friday, 41-39.
The Comets, who are in their final season as a 6A team before moving to 5A next year, lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, 33-27 to Century.
As with the man at the top, not much has changed in Jesuit's approach. The offense is run-oriented, utilizing talented skill players behind imposing linemen.
The Crusaders sent four linemen off last year's team to Division I colleges. They reloaded and have four linemen — Charlie Landgraf, Mike Miller, Nick Miller and tight end Henry Mondeaux — on the all-Metro first unit.
Jesuit also retooled at running back, albeit during the season. Joey Alfieri, who was equally valuable at running back and linebacker and signed to play at Stanford, has missed most of the season with a broken leg. Chase Morrison stepped in as the primary ball carrier and ran for 1,060 yards.
"They're just big and physical and very talented up front," said Beck.
Jesuit seldom passes, but when it does, it's with play-action and slant patterns that do damage.
"They just don't throw the ball a lot," said Beck. "They're one dimensional. I'd be one dimensional with those kids, too. There's no need to get tricky. ... They line up in the power-I formation or two-tight (ends)-I formation and give it to you."
The team Crater faced that, schematically, most closely resembles Jesuit was Tualatin, said Beck. The Comets lost that season-opening contest, 35-32, but Beck was pleased with how his team played against the run.
The Crusaders have won five straight by an average score of 53-20.
The Comets have watched video of how Camas applied the brakes to Jesuit.
"I hope we can control them a little bit," said Beck. "That'll be the key. Watching Camas and what they did, there's no secret scheme. They just played hard. It's not like they had 20 Division I guys. If you play hard every single play, have 100 percent effort and 100 percent focus, you're going to be hard to beat, no matter who you are."
Most of Jesuit's opponents ran spread offenses, as does Crater, and teams have had success moving the ball, said Beck.
The Crusaders have given up 20 or more points in six games. Crater averages 30.3 points per game and has topped 40 points four times.
Jesuit primarily plays a 4-3 defense, keeps its linebackers in the box and has its secondary play top coverage. That entices teams to throw underneath, said Beck, and there are holes to be found.
"All of them (opponents) moved the ball on them pretty consistently, no matter who it was," said Beck. "Everyone scores points on them."
Crater's triggerman, quarterback Ty Fox, has been sick this week but will play, said Beck. He's completed 216 of 383 passes (56 percent) for 3,043 yards and 27 touchdowns. He's been intercepted 14 times.
His top targets are Kory Bennett (57 catches, 862 yards, 10 touchdowns), Dallin George (60, 770, 3) and Dylan Morgan (11 TDs).
The Comets have talked since the season began about "playing the best," said Beck. "Now we get that opportunity. There's no pressure on us. We're huge underdogs. But we'll go up there, give 100 percent, play hard like we do every game, and it goes as it goes."
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