When it came to stopping Cascade Christian’s high-powered offense and its dynamic senior quarterback, Haiden Schaan, Harrisburg was forced to pick its poison.
Harrisburg forced Cascade Christian out of its comfort zone by taking away many of the Challengers’ go-to offensive plays, but Schaan still managed four touchdowns against the Eagles, leading to a 46-8 victory in a Class 3A football state quarterfinal game Friday night at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
The fourth-seeded Challengers (10-1) relied on their stingy defense and key strategic adjustments on offense to overmatch the No. 12 seed Eagles (5-6), the defending 3A state champion, whom they routed for the second time this season.
Cascade Christian plays its semifinal game next Saturday against top-seeded Scio, a 30-13 winner over No. 9 seed Coquille/Pacific.
“We’ve allowed 11 points through our first two playoff games — I think that’s a statement,” said Challengers senior Ben Dunn, a starting safety and receiver. “People counted us out earlier in the year, but we started coming together.”
“Our focus this time was just be aggressive,” he added. “Last time (in a 50-26 win at Harrisburg on Sept. 22) I think we were a little hesitant and this time we just took it to ‘em.”
Early on, it was Harrisburg that took it to the Challengers on defense, including a pair of sacks against Schaan, who struggled to find his rhythm in the quick-strike passing game.
With the Eagles clamping down on the Challengers’ outside receivers, however, Schaan was able to exploit the middle of the field by running the ball, including a 45-yard touchdown and a 64-yard scamper that set up his own 2-yard scoring plunge.
Schaan (122 yards rushing on 15 carries) and running back Caleb Jordan (75 yards rushing on 10 carries), who added a 28-yard touchdown in the second quarter, picked up the production as the passing game struggled in the first half.
“They really tried to take away our perimeter game, so that allowed, really, the middle of the field,” Challengers coach Jon Gettman said. “And with Haiden, he gets a big touchdown run because of it. I mean, they can take away the passing game, but he’s a multi-dimensional player, so they take away one thing but it opens up something else.”
It wasn’t until the second half, when Schaan found Dunn for a 14-yard touchdown and connected with John Fralich for an 82-yard score, that Cascade Christian’s vaunted air attack kicked into gear.
“We had a little difficulty with our pass game, but our defense just stepped it up absolutely and took care of business, giving our offense opportunities to just run the ball and improve on that,” said Schaan, who finished 16-of-23 passing for 151 yards with one interception.
“(Harrisburg was) just bringing a lot of heat, a lot of pressure, getting through our line,” he added. “It’s great to just know that no matter what’s going on with the offense, we have time to clean it up and rely on our defense.”
Harrisburg’s lone score was set up by a special teams mistake in which a Cascade Christian player mistakenly touched a punt that was recovered by the Eagles at the Challengers’ 13-yard line, leading to an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dax Bennett to running back Devin Nelson, who ran in the two-point conversion to make it 9-8 midway through the second quarter.
Cascade Christian answered by scoring touchdowns on its next two possessions and tacking on a safety — the Challengers’ second of the first half — with a blocked punt by Spencer Weeks, in a 23-point second quarter that led to a 25-8 halftime advantage.
The Challengers padded their lead in the third quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run by Kiegan Schaan and set up their next touchdown with an interception by Fralich, created by quarterback pressure from Luke Smith.
Cascade Christian also managed to keep Harrisburg’s top offensive threats — sophomore running back Gabe Knox (75 yards rushing on 22 carries) and senior receiver William Downs (106 yards receiving on four receptions) — out of the end zone and under wraps for the most part.
“That’s what playoff football’s about, you’ve gotta rely on your defense to carry you at times and they’ve really done it the past two weeks,” Gettman said. “Just the discipline, playing physical football, I mean, that’s the name of the game and they’ve done a heck of a job on it.”
CASCADE CHRISTIAN 46, HARRISBURG 8
At U.S. Cellular Community Park
CC — Safety, Ujdur tackle in end zone
CC — H. Schaan 45 run (Hoffman kick)
H — Nelson 8 pass from Bennett (Nelson run)
CC — H. Schaan 2 run (Hoffman kick)
CC — Safety, Weeks blocked punt through end zone
CC — Jordan 28 run (Hoffman kick)
CC — K. Schaan 1 run (Hoffman kick)
CC — Dunn 14 pass from H. Schaan (Hoffman kick)
CC — J. Fralich 82 pass from H. Schaan (Hoffman kick)
Reach reporter Mike Oxendine at 541-776-4499 or firstname.lastname@example.org