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...
EUGENE — Sherwood head coach Greg Lawrence expressly wanted to see his defending champion Bowmen challenged by Ashland in Saturday's Class 5A state semifinals at Autzen Stadium.
And, to a degree, the third-ranked Grizzlies obliged.
But it still didn't matter.
Ashland found itself hanging with the top-ranked Bowmen through the first 20 minutes Saturdayn in a battle of unbeatens. Trailing only 16-6 against a team that had won each game by at least 35 points and average 62 points a game, the Grizzlies had plenty to hang their hats on.
Then the switch came on for Sherwood, and there was no denying why it had won 50 of its last 51 games.
The Bowmen scored 14 straight points to close the first half up 30-6, then opened the third quarter with a 66-yard touchdown run by Mickey Schaefer and cruised to a 57-12 triumph.
Sherwood (12-0) will play West Albany (11-1), a 17-0 winner over Silverton, in next week's state championship in a battle of teams bound for the Class 6A level next season.
"They've got a helluva of a team and we knew we had to have some things bounce our way," said Ashland head coach Charlie Hall. "We were trying to capture some magic in a bottle there in the first half and it just didn't happen."
It's not like the Grizzlies (11-1) didn't have their chances early to create some doubt in the Bowmen. Ashland's first two drives offered promise but no results, and it scored on its third possession.
"We were moving the ball pretty well but we just couldn't finish a lot of the time," said Ashland senior Mason Montgomery. "That would've helped getting some points on the board early and putting them on their heels a little bit, but that just didn't happen."
Ashland lost a scoring opportunity on its first drive when a 52-yard completion from Danial White to Matt Hedges to the Sherwood 7-yard line was negated by an illegal procedure penalty. Three plays later, the Grizzlies were forced to punt.
"We had a solid drive going and we felt really good about it," White said of the initial series. "Matt made a great play out there like he has all year long and it was just unfortunate we got that penalty to bring it back."
The Grizzlies mounted an impressive drive from their own 39 to the Sherwood 3 on their second possession, but a misunderstanding on a pass interference penalty cost them another scoring chance.
Instead of it being an automatic first down at the Sherwood 3 — as the Grizzlies believed it should be, although the high school rule changed this year — there was confusion after White's next pass toward Shashi Penn was deflected in the end zone.
As the Grizzlies scrambled to realize that it was fourth down and not second down, they received a delay of game penalty. Then on fourth-and-goal from the 8, White tried to hit Hedges on a fade but the receiver's progress was impeded and he couldn't make a play on the ball.
"We thought we were going to get first-and-goal there," White said afterwards. "And then we just couldn't punch it in when it wasn't."
Both missed opportunities proved costly, especially since Sherwood was able to score on its first four possessions and six of its first seven.
"We had that problem last week," Hall said of the missed opportunities, "but it's a different ballgame when (Sherwood's) so efficient on offense that you really can't fall behind. If they move you have to move with them, and we fell behind and that made it tough."
Sherwood got a 1-yard TD run from Schaefer on its first drive and Keegan Lawrence's two-point conversion made it 8-0. The Bowmen went up 16-0 on Lawrence's 23-yard scamper and another two-point conversion before Ashland finally found a way into the end zone on a 20-yard, fourth-down pass from White to Penn.
Ashland's scoring drive of 14 plays and 87 yards included a healthy dose of everything it had in the tank, from runs inside by Montgomery to quick passes by White and some wildcat keepers by Ryne Robitz. When the Grizzlies began to move backward once they reached the Sherwood 15, Penn bailed his team out with a great one-handed catch on a ball delivered under duress by White that floated underneath the coverage of Schaefer.
With the score 16-6 and 4:50 remaining in the first half, Ashland appeared to be in good position for a potential upset.
Then the wheels came off.
Lawrence scored on a 62-yard run just over a minute later and then a three-and-out with a mis-hit punt gave Sherwood a short field that resulted in a three-play scoring drive capped by Jake Reimer's 1-yard dive.
By halftime, the Bowmen had put all their eggs in the running game to the tune of 21 carries for 273 yards. That number escalated quickly when Schaefer took the opening handoff of the third quarter 66 yards for a 37-6 advantage when Ashland got caught pushed up too far and keying on the wrong runner.
"It's just all about assignments," Montgomery said of slowing Sherwood's Wing-T attack, "and there were little things that we kinda made mistakes on and that kinda hurt us pretty big-time, especially with those big runs gashing us."
"With that offense you make one little mistake and they can go to the house every time, so it's tough," added the senior, who led his team with 11 tackles. "We just didn't do our jobs quite as well as we hoped to. We had a couple good stops but those big plays just kill you. When you get a stop or two and then they get a big play, it just kills your morale on defense."
The Bowmen finished with 493 yards rushing on 43 carries, with Schaefer (14 carries for 172 yards), Lawrence (13 for 139) and Reimer (seven for 116) each eclipsing the century mark.
"Their execution is phenomenal," said Hall. "They're just so sharp, and what Greg does a great job with is he takes it to another level. The offense itself is very deceptive but he takes it to another level with various formations and shifts and motions. It makes it very difficult to do your assignments."
Such dominant running set up a play-action 43-yard TD pass from Kevin Larkin to Reimer for Sherwood's first pass of the game to make it 43-6 just three minutes into the second half.
Ashland's Ashur Beasley forced and recovered a fumble to set up his team's lone score in the second half. After a 14-yard completion to Penn and 2-yard run by Montgomery, White stepped up to find Penn behind the defense for a 50-yard touchdown with 4:34 to go in the third quarter.
"You don't get to be 11-0 like we were coming into the game without kids with character and grit and with some fight," said Hall.
A 25-yard TD run by Tanner Shadbolt and a 1-yard TD run by Nick Dickson made it 57-12, with the latter invoking a running clock with 81/2; minutes remaining. Ashland got into scoring territory on its final drive but let the clock run out without attempting one final gasp at scoring.
"It's just total shock and I can't believe it's over," said White, who finished 16-for-38 passing for 199 yards, two TDs and one interception. "We had such an amazing season and I love my teammates so much. I couldn't ask for anything more from them. I'm going to love them forever."
"Sherwood's a great team," added White, who fought through an ankle injury to pace his team with 35 yards rushing on seven carries. "We played our hearts out. I'm just proud of my guys and the season we've had."
Penn finished with five catches for 97 yards and two scores, while Parker Layton caught four balls for 34 yards and Carter Glick had three catches for 23 yards.
Tyree Heesacker was credited with six tackles and Ashland got five each from Joe Hearn and Cody Frost-Eisenberg.
Sherwood 57, Ashland 12
At Autzen Stadium
Ashland 0 6 6 0 —12
Sherwood 8 22 20 7 —57
S — Schaefer 1 run (Lawrence run)
S — Lawrence 23 run (Taylor pass form Pino)
A — Penn 20 pass from White (pass failed)
S — Lawrence 62 run (pass failed)
S — Reimer 1 run (Rivers run)
S — Schaefer 66 run (Layna kick)
S — Reimer 43 pass from Larkin (kick failed)
A — Penn 50 pass from White (run failed)
S — Shadbolt 25 run (Rutschman kick)
S — Dickson 1 run (Rutschman kick)
First Downs 18 19
Rushes-Yards 27-118 43-493
Passing Yards 199 64
Comp-Att-Int 16-38-1 3-3-0
Total Yards 317 557
Punts 4-40.2 0-0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 6-28 6-52
Ashland — White 7-32, Robitz 5-26, Mas. Montgomery 4-17, Dow 7-16, Max Montgomery 1-11, Penn 2-11, Shumway 1-5.
Sherwood — Schaefer 14-170, Lawrence 13-122, Reimer 7-116, Shadbolt 1-25, Dickson 2-25, Rivers 3-21, Higgins 1-8, Larkin 2-6.
Ashland — White 16-38-1 199.
Sherwood — Larkin 3-3-0 64.
Ashland — Penn 5-97, Layton 4-34, Glick 3-23, Mas. Montgomery 1-24, Max Montgomery 1-13, Robitz 1-5, Hedges 1-3.
Sherwood — Reimer 1-43, Taylor 1-13, Lawrence 1-8.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry