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Playoff road roughens for Ashland

ASHLAND -- The high school state football playoffs may have started aweek ago, but as far as the Ashland Grizzlies are concerned, they beginin earnest Friday night at Walter A. Phillips Field.

The Grizzlies walloped an overmatched and injury-riddled Sandy team 50-18in the opening round. They expect a more difficult task Friday when theyhost 8-1 Tigard.

The Tigers opened the postseason with a 49-14 victory over Wilson Highof Portland.

They're loaded at the skill positions -- they've got some athleteswho can take it the distance, Ashland coach Jim Nagel says. Theytry to get you in one-on-one situations and let those great athletes takeover a game.

That's a description that seems eerily similar to the top-ranked Grizzlies(9-0).

The two teams' quarterbacks also happen to be sons of the coaches --Erik Nagel for the Grizzlies and Casey Geske for Tigard.

Casey's father, Frank Geske, took over the Tigard program last seasonafter the school had suffered through four straight losing campaigns. Beforethat, the Tigers -- under former Ashland and Medford High coach Craig Hastin-- reached the state quarterfinals six times between 1985 and 1991. Theytied Roseburg for the 1990 state championship.

Tigard High split in 1992 and Hastin went to the new school -- TualatinHigh.

The current Tigers depend heavily on the younger Geske, who is a threatto pass the ball or run it on every play.

Nagel compares Casey Geske to North Medford quarterback K.C. Rurmey.

This kid (Geske) might not be quite as quick as Rumrey but he'sdefinitely a threat to run the ball, Nagel says. He's a goodscrambler and he can run the option quite well.

Geske passed for 1,558 yards and 17 touchdowns during the regular season,then went 16-for-25 for 344 yards and four scores in the Tigers' romp overWilson. He has also run for more than 600 yards.

Geske's favorite receiver is Isaac Lex.

Tigard also has a fine running back in 6-1, 210-pound Zack Wiser, whosurpassed the 1,000-yard plateau in the win over Wilson.

Containing their passing game is our No. — priority on defense,Nagel says.

Ashland held Sandy to 50 yards in total offense while building a 35-0lead in the first half last week. But whereas Sandy depended almost exclusivelyon a running attack, Geske and Co. will put the Grizzlies' secondary tothe test.

Ashland's defensive backfield has gotten the job done most of the season.However, it must now operate without starting rover back Elijah Jordan,who is sidelined for at least two more weeks with a broken foot. The Grizzliesmoved Ryan Rackley from free safety into Jordan's spot last week and Rackleyresponded with perhaps his best game of the season.

It's a position where you're responsible for doing more tacklingthan (free safety) and Rackley really rose to the occasion, Nagelsays. We're looking for a similar effort Friday night.

While the Grizzlies may be hard pressed to completely shut down the Tigardoffense, Nagel is confident his team can move the ball and put points onthe scoreboard.

Ashland is averaging 358 yards and an eye-catching 46.3 points per game.

In last week's romp over Sandy, Grizzly quarterback Erik Nagel went 7-for-7for 188 yards and three touchdowns, all of them going to standout wide receiverCy Aleman.

The 6-4, 189-pound Aleman was named the offensive player of the yearin the SOC earlier this week.

I would say that was Erik's best offensive effort of the season,coach Nagel says. He was pretty much flawless.

The Grizzlies may be without first-team, all-conference defensive linemanMatt Webb for the second straight week. Webb, who is suffering from a sprainedankle, was expected to return but had to sit out practice earlier in theweek and remains questionable for Friday night.

Ashland did receive some positive news on the injury front when backupquarterback Jimmy Werbin returned to practice. Werbin suffered a separatedleft shoulder in a junior varsity game against Marshfield two weeks agoand was thought to be lost for the season.

Werbin will need surgery after the season but has been cleared to play,coach Nagel says.

NOTES: Frank Geske's older son, Matt, is the starting quarterback forSouthern Oregon University ... The Grizzlies last met Tigard in the thirdround of the 1991 state playoffs, emerging with a 7-0 victory en route tothe state championship.

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