CENTRAL POINT — Crater was nothing if not prepared.
CENTRAL POINT — Crater was nothing if not prepared.
Tough preseason schedule. Steady play throughout the league campaign. First playoff win in school history.
It all came to a head when top-ranked West Albany visited Friday in the Class 5A state quarterfinals.
"Coming in here, we wanted to make a footprint," said Comets coach John Beck.
Instead, it was the Bulldogs who stayed one step ahead all evening, pulling away to a 33-14 victory at Dutch Meyer Field that truly was more of a struggle than the score suggests.
Ultimately, however, West Albany's 25th win in 26 games was a result of its athleticism, brawn and myriad weapons. The Comet defense did its part, holding in check the Bulldogs' star running back, Anthony LaCoste, but that's when the visitor poked and prodded and discovered other avenues of making something happen.
It was a game-long process.
"I think both teams wanted to win," West Albany coach Randy Nyquist said with a note of wonderment. "They've got some kids who can make plays. No. 3 (Bryce Peila) is as good as we've seen all year. We just wanted to play lights out on defense and try to find a way to move the ball. That's as good as anyone's played against us all year. That's the best defense we've played."
West Albany, 12-0 and champion of the Mid-Willamette Conference, advances to the semifinals, where it meets Mountain View, a 27-12 winner over Jefferson.
Crater, runner-up in the Southern Sky Conference, ended the season with a 7-5 record.
West Albany managed the only score in the first half for a 6-0 lead, then got a huge play to start the second half when rangy Will Murphy ran through and over — he hurdled a would-be tackler — most of the Comets' coverage team for an 84-yard kickoff return to open the second half and a 13-0 lead.
But this was a contest in which one blow wouldn't do. Crater responded with an 87-yard scoring drive to pull within a touchdown, and it was game on.
Another big kickoff return by the Bulldogs ensued, only to be answered with the same by the Comets' Josh Lokeno.
Each set up touchdowns.
It wasn't until West Albany running back Matt McHenry turned what appeared to be dead third-down play into a 35-yard gain to Crater's 7 with three minutes remaining that the outcome was decided.
"They just made the plays when they needed to make them," said Beck, alluding to McHenry's ability to squirt out of a mass of defenders when he seemed tackled. That led to McHenry's own 1-yard plunge, bumping the score to 33-14 with 2:09 to go. "That was kind of a key point. If we get a stop there, we have chance."
Both offenses found the going to tough.
Crater ran 29 times for 98 yards but got a boost from the passing game. Nick Brothers completed 11 of 22 passes for 174 yards. Peila, co-player of the year on defense in the Southern Sky, showed off his receiving ability with four passes for 67 yards.
The Comets had 284 yards, three more than the Bulldogs.
LaCoste entered the game with more than 1,200 yards rushing and a per-carry average of nearly 10 yards. He managed 73 yards on 15 totes against Crater defensive coordinator Brad Eaton's scheme.
"I thought we played great on defense," said Comet two-way lineman Tyson Hoffman, "and at times we played well on offense. They're a great team. They're definitely the best team we've played."
That was especially evident when West Albany turned to other weapons, namely quarterback Reese Miller and receivers Murphy and Scot Foss. Moments after the Bulldogs' second long kickoff return set them up at the Crater 26 midway through third quarter, Miller lobbed a scoring strike to Murphy, who was wide open in the end zone on a go route.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Miller led Foss perfectly on a crossing pattern for a 44-yard touchdown and a 26-14 lead.
Murphy, in particular, was a stalwart, scoring twice, making a sensational diving grab on the sideline despite being well-covered and turning in several fine defensive plays from his safety position.
"He was huge," said Nyquist. "He made plays all night."
Crater began the game with one of its best drives and did so primarily through the air. After taking the opening kickoff, Brothers completed an 18-yard pass to Kenny Fahndrich and throws of 38 and 14 yards to Peila to march inside the Bulldog 30. But two running plays and an incompletion led to a 42-yard field-goal attempt that Christian Massey barely missed.
"We needed to mix it up," Beck said of the early aerial barrage. "Staying one dimensional with those guys was something we didn't think we could do."
Miller's sneak from a yard out 11/2 minutes into the second quarter was the lone score in the first half.
The second half was highlighted by the series of long kickoff returns.
Unfortunately for the Comets, West Albany got the better of it with two that led to scores.
"That's something we work on real hard," said Beck. "It just didn't go our way."
Crater's best drive came after Murphy's TD return to start the second half. The Comets went from their own 13 to a touchdown in 13 plays, getting a darting, 5-yard scoring run by Fahndrich to make it 13-7 with 5:45 left in the third. Along the way, Crater converted three third downs and two fourth downs.
West Albany retaliated quickly with Tyson Seaman's 43-yard kickoff return up the middle and Murphy's scoring grab.
Then Lokeno ran the next kickoff back 84 yards to the Bulldog 13, setting up Fahndrich's second TD run from 1 yard to make it 19-14 with 3:00 left in the third.
However, West Albany went 65 yards on its next possession to up the lead to 26-14 early in the fourth on the Miller-to-Foss connection, and Crater didn't get closer.
"The kids played their hearts out," said Beck. "They played hard for 48 minutes and gave us a chance. The breaks just didn't always go our way, but there was 100-percent effort."
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org