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...
If the Ashland Grizzlies had one concern heading into Friday's first-round Class 5A playoff game against Pendleton, it was how their defense would match up with one of the top passing attacks in the state.
In the end, it was hardly a contest.
Quarterback Danial White went off again, Matt Hedges had 125 yards receiving and the Grizzlies forced five turnovers, including three interceptions, as third-ranked Ashland steamrolled its way into the quarterfinals with a 54-9 win at Walter A. Phillips Field.
"Our kids did a good job of executing the game plan early, offensively," Ashland head coach Charlie Hall said. "You know, (Pendleton) stuck to its game plan — they're going to keep seven guys in the box and they're going to play man coverage, and I thought we took advantage of that."
The Grizzlies will face seventh-ranked Roosevelt in Portland next Friday for a berth to the semifinals. The District 2-champion Roughriders held off a late surge by Marist to win that first-round matchup, 38-35.
Pendleton (8-3) entered the game averaging 402 yards and 39 points a game, but didn't come close to those numbers against the undefeated Grizzlies (10-0), who scored on the opening kickoff, raced out to a 34-0 lead early in the second quarter and didn't face a fourth down until three minutes had elapsed in the third.
White was at his dual-threat best, completing 12 of 21 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns and running for 76 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown that made it 13-0. The senior hit Mason Montgomery on a screen that went for an 11-yard touchdown and a 26-0 lead, then found Parker Layton in the corner of the end zone from 2 yards out for a 33-0 cushion.
"(White) made some nice key throws and our receivers did a good job getting separation," Hall said. "What I was worried about, earlier in the season we didn't start well — we didn't start very well against Springfield, we didn't start very well against Marist. So that was good. I think our team plays well when we start well."
Pendleton didn't come close to keeping up with that pace. The Buckaroos' first four possessions ended with punts, including three three-and-outs. And just when it appeared they were going to head into the half with a little momentum, a would-be touchdown run was called back on a penalty, and they ended up turning the ball over on downs when Chad McCoy's fourth-down pass sailed over the head of his intended receiver in the end zone.
It was a fitting end to a dominant half for the Grizzlies, who outgained the Buckaroos 322-132 in the first two quarters, including 205-94 through the air.
McCoy, who passed for 2,838 yards and 30 touchdowns in his team's first 10 games, completed 22 of 37 passes for 183 yards and zero scores against the Grizzlies, who kept the pressure on the 6-foot senior all night.
"They're a good football team, obviously," Pendleton head coach Eric Davis said of Ashland. "They were much more physical, and their backers are tough. And they did a good job of scouting what we do and when you spot that many points early on your playbook becomes a little smaller."
Montgomery had two sacks and several more pressures, Gordon Grafton, Tarquin Daley and Kyle Weinberg each had interceptions and the Grizzlies held the Buckaroos to 230 yards of total offense.
Ashland's offense, meanwhile, flourished against the overmatched visitors to the tune of 356 yards. Hedges' big day included a 55-yard touchdown haul that made it 53-7 before his point-after kick. Ryne Robitz added another 84 yards of offense — 52 receiving and 32 rushing — and Layton caught three passes for 34 yards.
Ashland set the tone from the opening kick, when junior Kiowa Jayne caught a short kickoff at the 25 and streaked down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown return.
A Pendleton three-and-out later, the Grizzlies faced a second-and-10 at their own 31 when White took the snap, tucked the ball away and darted around the left end. He outran Pendleton's entire secondary to give the Grizzlies a 13-0 lead.
Following another three-and-out by the Buckaroos, the Grizzlies dug themselves a third-and-31 hole at the Pendleton 41, but climbed out when White's swing pass to Robitz turned into a huge 34-yard play and another Grizzly first down. Two plays later Montgomery plowed into the end zone untouched to put Ashland ahead 19-0. There was still 5:34 to go in the first quarter.
And the Grizzlies were just getting started.
Now, it's on to Roosevelt.
"Any team that can beat Marist is certainly a team that gets our respect, for sure," Hall said of Roosevelt. "They got a couple Division I guys. But this is a gritty group of kids. Ten wins in a season is a great accomplishment. It's a pretty good run right now."