Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
ASHLAND — So, how about that Roosevelt offensive line?
Ashland High head coach Charlie Hall gets out from behind his desk, walks over to a dry-erase board and points ominously to a series of symbols and numbers: 275, 235, 285, 255 and 275.
Those are the weights of Roosevelt's starting front five, which will be blocking for a Division I-caliber quarterback, who will be leading the seventh-ranked Roughriders against the third-ranked Ashland Grizzlies in a Class 5A state quarterfinal game tonight at Roughriders Stadium in Portland.
"We'll have to do some things," Hall said. "We'll have to use our quickness and our schemes and be gap sound. And we have to hold our ground."
The winner will face either top-ranked Sherwood or eighth-ranked Crescent Valley in the 5A semifinals the following Saturday. On the other side of the bracket, fifth-ranked Springfield will host fourth-ranked Silverton, and second-ranked West Albany will host 10th-ranked Dallas.
In Roosevelt (9-1), undefeated Ashland (10-0) will be confronted with another opponent that has jumped on the spread-option offense bandwagon. But unlike many prep programs, the Roughriders have the athletes to make it hum — especially at the most important position.
Quarterback Kimane Domena, a fleet-footed 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior who has already received scholarship offers from four Division I colleges, has passed for 1,561 yards and 14 touchdowns and run for another 1,058 yards and 15 touchdowns. Domena has been an efficient passer, completing 63 percent of his throws with only four interceptions, but it's his elusiveness in the open field that the Grizzlies are most concerned about.
"He's a tough runner," Hall said.
"(Domena's) very accurate and makes good decisions," added Roosevelt head coach Christian Swain, who last week led the Roughriders to just their second-ever playoff win and first since 1995. "I think the key matchup early on is going to be how they're going to handle us up front. We'll have to see what they decide to do. If they pack the box, then we'll do other things. So we'll see."
And Domena is just one of many dynamic athletes that the District 2 champions have at their disposal. Senior receiver/defensive back James Schell-Buchanan (5-11, 190) leads the Roughriders with 39 receptions for 887 yards and 11 touchdowns, and senior running back Damalia Spires (5-11, 195) has 95 carries for 758 yards — that's 7.98 yards per carry — and eight touchdowns. Then there's junior Billy Nelson (6-1, 185), maybe the fastest player on the team, who had a 98-yard interception return and a 76-yard touchdown run during a 38-35 first-round win over Marist.
As a team, the Roughriders are tearing through opponents in huge chunks on the ground, averaging 9.4 yards per rush and 305 yards per game. It was more of the same against Marist — the Roughriders mowed down the Spartans with 35 rushes for 269 yards and four TDs (in September, Ashland ran for 111 yards against Marist in a game the Grizzlies won, 21-7).
"One thing that the coaches have been saying is that technique and execution can beat athleticism," said Ashland junior tight end/linebacker Parker Layton, who has 24 catches for 257 yards and four touchdowns on offense, and 46 tackles and 31/2 sacks on defense. "So if we come out with our game plan and we execute it, I think we'll be fine."
"We just can't make defensive mistakes in terms of putting ourselves in a position where we're vulnerable to be out-athleted," said Hall. "We're going to have a hard time one-on-one in space with a lot of their guys, so we have to be able to get to the ball, break the ball up on passes, we've got to corral the quarterback, we've got to be able to cut him off and we've got to be able to get other guys to make it to the tackle."
Ashland would also do well to play a little keep-away from the Roughriders by sustaining drives and winning the turnover battle — two areas the Grizzlies have excelled in this season. Ashland averages 19 first downs a game and has converted 51 percent of its third downs while holding opponents to 32 percent. And the Grizzlies' plus-18 turnover margin, thanks to 12 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries, likely ranks among the best in the state.
Also, the Grizzlies, who run their own version of the spread, are much more balanced than the run-oriented Roughriders, who keep the ball on the ground roughly two out of every three plays. Ashland averages 189 yards rushing and 176 passing, and senior quarterback Danial White spreads the ball around — Matt Hedges, Shashi Penn and Layton have 24 catches apiece to lead the Grizzlies. On the ground, Ryne Robitz (580 yards rushing, eight TDs), White (489, nine) and Mason Dow (355, three) take turns, and bulldozing fullback Mason Montgomery (198, four) provides a painful change-up.
Swain wasn't in a sharing mood when asked about Roosevelt's defensive game plan against the Grizzlies, but said he's confident in what his team brings to the table, particularly District-2 co-players of the year Semise Kofe (6-2, 290) and Sione Taumoe'Anga (6-2, 305), both linemen.
"Well, I think that you've got to be sound fundamentally against Ashland," Swain said. "You gotta stay home. They run a lot of misdirection, a lot of screens, so you've got to tackle well. But I feel like athletically we match up really well.
"We just can't be predictable about where we bring pressure from. Coach Hall's one of the best in the business."
Ashland senior lineman Cody Frost-Eisenberg, who's tied with Tyree Heesacker with a team-high five sacks, isn't concerned about the Roughriders' size advantage up front.
"Size is just size, really," he said, "as long as we do what we're taught to do."
Which, in the case of tonight's game, may include a few new tricks. Not that the Grizzlies aren't succeeding as is. They're averaging 42 points a game, are coming off a 44-9 first-round win over Pendleton and are one of only two undefeated teams remaining.
But hey, you can't be too careful. Just look at that dry-erase board.
"We're going to challenge their discipline, let's put it that way," Hall said. "I don't think they've seen an offense that quite has the variety that we do. I think we put a lot of stress on defenses with formations and schemes and the run game, the play-action game, the screen game. We do it all."
But will that be enough?
"Me and all these guys, we've been talking about doing this since I moved here in eighth grade and we've been waiting for this," Layton said. "I think we should take advantage of it."