Cascade Christian's Matt Bohn readily admits he didn't expect to still be playing football well into November.

Cascade Christian's Matt Bohn readily admits he didn't expect to still be playing football well into November.

An 0-2 start to the season for a Challengers team that lost considerable talent from the year prior only reaffirmed that belief for the 6-foot-3, 223-pound senior guard and defensive end.

Yet, here are those very Challengers (8-3), bettering last year's finish, and sitting one victory away from a trip to the Class 3A state championship game.

Cascade Christian will battle Grant Union (11-0) for that right on Saturday at Summit High School in Bend.

"I never thought we'd be here," Bohn says. "I knew we could be good if we just came out and flew around. The first few games, I thought, 'Shoot, we're not going to be any good.' But we just started figuring out how each other plays and building that trust.

"Now, it's just 'Wow.' Each game, we are getting that much better."

Bohn is the only returning starting lineman from last season, when star-studded Cascade Christian reached only the second round of the state playoffs.

The Challengers swapped style for substance this season.

"We don't have any guys the colleges are calling for," says 18-year head coach Andy Maurer. "But together, they are very efficient. We have a bunch of team guys."

And Bohn embodies that team-first mentality. He made the switch this season from his normal tackle position to guard and helped bring along a relatively inexperienced line — even while out of action.

While battling an illness that caused him to lose nearly 20 pounds earlier this season, Bohn was still a presence at practice, discussing techniques with fellow linemen and offering his support.

"He's definitely our emotional leader," offensive coordinator Jon Gettman says. "He gets everyone fired up and ready to play football. In the last two weeks, he's really elevated his level of play."

His improvement came at a good time, with Cascade Christian closing out the regular season with three blowout wins. The Challengers defeated Santiam Christian 34-21 to open the playoffs and defeated a much larger Rainier team 23-14 last week in the quarterfinals.

Cascade Christian lost the majority of its size along the line from last season — Bohn was the smallest starter — but haven't seen a decline in production.

The Challengers, who run a double-wing offense, average 286 yards rushing per game, and 6.03 yards per carry, with a slew of speedy backs running behind an agile offensive line.

"We've been able to run the sweep better, and he (Bohn) has been able to get outside fast," Gettman says. "He's a real hard-nosed kid."

It's dangerous territory for opposing defenders when Bohn gets around the corner to block, as one defensive back from Gold Beach found out.

"He pulled out on a 38 sweep, went 10 yards down field and knocked this kid on his can," Gettman says. "That's a tough thing to do because he's out in space. But he turned to the sideline and just yelled. That got the kids fired up."

Mostly, however, it's been steady play and improvement each week from the typically quiet Bohn.

"He's developed into a great person and a real solid football player," Maurer says. "When you start playing the game correctly, a lot of time your spectacular part disappears. You are consistent every week. I don't have to worry about Matt at all. He sets the standard.

"When we started, he's all we had. We started building the pieces around him. As he's done all year, he's gotten better every week, and the team has gotten better every week."

The additions of senior tackles Dustin Hutley and Ryan Pech also helped solidify the line.

And the biggest difference from last season to this season for the Challengers is cohesiveness, Bohn says.

"This year, to be good, we have to be a team," Bohn says. "Last year, we had a whole bunch of individual efforts and it didn't work out once playoffs came. I like this line a whole lot better. We are a better team."

And they're a team hoping to continue defying expectations.

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com