ASHLAND — Make no bones about it, the No. 3-ranked Ashland football team knows what's coming when they square off against fourth-ranked Glencoe on Saturday afternoon.

ASHLAND — Make no bones about it, the No. 3-ranked Ashland football team knows what's coming when they square off against fourth-ranked Glencoe on Saturday afternoon.

Whether the 11-0 Grizzlies can handle the surge of the Crimson Tide, well that's what will be determined beginning at 1 p.m. at Hare Field in Hillsboro.

"We've got a big challenge ahead of us, and we know it," says Ashland coach Charlie Hall.

That challenge stands only 5-foot-9 and tops out at 165 pounds, but Glencoe's David Puckett has shown that he's more than capable of shouldering the load for the Northwest Oregon Conference champions.

Puckett capped the regular season with a Class 5A-best 2,093 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns, and did nothing to hurt his reputation in last week's state playoff-opening win over Churchill. The senior tailback carried 39 times for 264 yards in a 23-16 win over the Lancers.

"David is a special back," says Glencoe coach Tim Duvall. "He's always made people miss as a pretty shifty kid, but one of the things he improved on this year is his speed."

As the featured back in the Crimson Tide's I-formation offense, Puckett certainly doesn't suffer from lack of work. His average of about 26 carries per game is deceptive considering his rushing attempts were cut back in several blowouts by Glencoe (9-2).

Three weeks ago, Puckett rushed 45 times for 320 yards in a 32-21 win over Sherwood to help his team clinch its first conference title since 1995. His 39 carries against Churchill even caught Duvall by surprise.

"I didn't realize he'd carried it that many times until after the game," says Duvall. "I really don't want him to carry it that much, but he can handle it."

Glencoe struggled a bit during its nonleague schedule, needing time to allow a senior-dominated — but largely inexperienced — offensive line to jell. Duvall says the continued development of his front line has really been responsible for allowing Puckett to kick it into high gear.

The offensive line isn't particularly large — Glencoe's seven-deep contingent has a top weight of 245 and low-water mark of 180 — but they're all athletic and have a keen sense of what needs to be done to make each play work.

"We thought they were going to be a good line, but we knew it was going to take a little bit of time," says Duvall, who took over as head coach in 2004 after 16 years as an assistant to Craig Ruecker.

Another key to the ground game has been the play of fullback Landry See, who acts like another lineman as Puckett's main blocker.

"He's the heart and soul of our defense as one of the linebackers, and he's done a great job on offense with his blocking," says Duvall.

Puckett's backup, junior Kyle Hogan, has shown an ability to keep the offense churning with his all-star teammate on the sidelines. Hogan scored a touchdown last week and carried 10 times in Glencoe's run-dominated system.

The Crimson Tide completed only two passes last week against Churchill, but one went for a 52-yard TD from quarterback A.J. Burke to tight end Matt Valley. Wide receiver Jordan Hoffert has been Glencoe's main big-play threat through the air, however, with the speedy senior taking advantage of teams loading up against Puckett.

"We're going to really need to get something going with our quick defensive linemen, because they present a huge dilemma in trying to stop them," Hall says of the Tide, which averages 39 points per game.

The pressure will be on Ashland's offense to move the ball against a stingy Glencoe defense that allowed Churchill only 150 yards of total offense last week. The Grizzlies have shown a capacity for slowing games down with a ball-control offense led by running backs Lewis Sebrell and Pat Hutchinson and quarterback Matt Dierks.

"I'm sure they don't want us to have the ball very much so it is going to be that kind of game where they try to grind the game out and keep the ball away from us," says Duvall.

Another key will be the emotional state of the Grizzlies, who lost defensive coordinator Dave Kitchell to cancer on Sunday morning.

"It's not going to be easy, but all we can do is try to stay focused," says Hall. "I guess we need to be thankful for the opportunity we had, as coaches and players both, to have gone on this journey with him for as long as we have."

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