Only once in six Southern Sky Conference football games has the visiting team come out on top.

Only once in six Southern Sky Conference football games has the visiting team come out on top.

Eagle Point coach Harry Hedrick has high hopes that trend will continue tonight when his Eagles play host to fourth-ranked Ashland. Kickoff is at 7 at Eagle Stadium.

"There's a lot of balance in the league, so it's important especially to get your home wins," says Hedrick, whose team has only one home loss in its 4-4 record. "That's held true so far. We've just got to make sure we keep on pace with that."

Standing in the way is an undefeated Ashland team that last week clinched its first playoff berth since 2000 and at least a share of its first conference title since 1998.

Given the emotion of such a revitalization of the program, could the Grizzlies be ripe for the picking tonight?

"There's always that chance of a letdown," says Ashland coach Charlie Hall, "but this is a team that every week just wants to get back to work. I'm hoping that continues to be the case."

Besides, the Grizzlies (8-0, 3-0 SSC) still have a carrot or two out there. Ashland can secure the SSC's No. 1 seed with a win tonight and, therefore, set itself up for a less-taxing run through the state playoffs in terms of competition and road trips.

"We are in the playoffs and that's a great milestone since we've had such a drought," says Hall, "but we certainly would like to be rewarded more than that."

The rest of the SSC will by vying for that same sense of relief Hall and company possess. Eagle Point, Crater and Klamath Union each enter tonight's games with 1-1 league records and the knowledge that only three teams from the Southern Sky will advance into the state playoffs.

Besides the Ashland-EP game, Crater (4-4, 1-1) plays at Klamath Union (5-3, 1-1) in another crucial conference affair. Mazama (0-8, 0-3) hosts Madras (3-4) in nonleague action.

"There's been no more than a few points separating any teams in any of the games so far," Hedrick says of the league race. "It just shows the balance of the teams we have in this league."

Ashland has three SSC wins, but the only one of more than a touchdown was 40-12 over Mazama in the only road win of the league season. The Grizzlies beat Crater 16-14 on a last-minute field goal, and a fourth-quarter touchdown provided the difference in last week's 15-8 win over KU.

Given the Eagles' dire need for victories at this point, Hall doesn't expect tonight's game to be any different.

"I totally expect their best effort," he says. "It's going to be another typical game that goes down to the wire for us. If we struggle at all offensively, it's going to be a long day."

Even though Eagle Point's coming off a 55-14 spanking at the hands of Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep of San Francisco, the Eagles' ability to put points on the board has Hall's attention.

Buoyed by the play of running back Jake Ringrose, quarterback Scott Erickson and a talented group of receivers led by Garrett Davis, EP leads the league in total offense (377.4 yards per game) and scoring offense (30.3 points per game).

"They took a pretty good beating in San Francisco, but that's a pretty good team they played down there," says Hall. "That team would've beaten any team in this area, there's no doubt in my mind."

As they've done all season, the Grizzlies will be tasked with controlling the game tempo offensively and then coming up with some key stops on defense. Ashland leads the SSC in total defense (266.4 ypg) and scoring defense (10.3 ppg).

Once again, it's nothing Hedrick and crew aren't used to in terms of game planning against the Eagles.

"Most teams try to control the ball against us," says the EP coach. "We've just got to make sure that we do a good job of making the most of our possessions."

Ringrose was one of the few Eagles to find success against Sacred Heart last week, scoring a touchdown on the ground and through the air. The senior also scored a two-point conversion to account for all his team's points, but he's had the flu and has seen limited practice time this week.

CRATER AT KLAMATH UNION — While Eagle Point will be looking to keep the SSC's home dominance alive, Crater will pin its hopes on altering the scale with a win at Modoc Field.

The Comets scored a 27-13 win over the Pelicans last year, but KU has been much more effective this year offensively thanks to the emergence of junior quarterback Jon Amos and senior running back Hunter Lange. Amos is the leading passer in the conference, completing 60 percent for 1,607 yards, 16 TDs and nine interceptions, and Lange tops the rushing chart with 825 yards and 12 scores on 139 carries.

All told, KU is averaging about 337 yards and 30 points per game.

"They're an explosive offensive football team, there's no question about it," says Crater coach John Beck. "I think they'll be a good challenge for us."

Crater should be able to keep the Pelican defense honest as well, thanks to a balanced running game that could feature a number of ball carriers. D.J. Pree leads the way with 803 yards on 135 carries, but teammates Kenny Fahndrich (301 on 45) and Zach Boskovich (230 on 29) have increasingly added to the mix in recent weeks.

Also making the Comet attack difficult to defend has been the emergence of Josh Lokeno to complement Nick Brothers at quarterback. In all, Crater is averaging about 216 yards rushing per game.

MADRAS AT MAZAMA — Madras is already 0-2 against Southern Sky teams, having lost by an average of 27 points to Eagle Point and Klamath Union.

The White Buffaloes, who play an independent Class 5A schedule, have only one win at their own level, beating The Dalles-Wahtonka 13-12 on Sept. 21. Madras also owns wins over 4A foes La Pine (35-14) and South Umpqua (47-14).

Mazama was held to only 27 yards and two first downs — one by penalty — against Crater last week. The Vikings racked up the bulk of their 298 yards of total offense against the Comet reserves.

Angelo Caveretta has been Mazama's prime weapon lately on offense, along with quarterback Brandon Quirk.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com