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When Grizz meets Tribe SOC title's up for grabs

Ashland and Roseburg.

Roseburg and Ashland.

In the pecking order of Southern Oregon Conference football, one team or the other always seems to thrust itself atop the standings by season's end.

And when they run head-long into one other, gather the children and circle the wagons: It's going to be a donnybrook.

The two renew what has become the greatest current rivalry in the SOC 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ashland's Walter A. Phillips Field.

When they met last fall in the fifth week of the season, both were unbeaten and the Indians were cruising along with a 32-game winning streak and back-to-back state championships.

Before a crowd of 8,000 at Finlay Field in Roseburg, the Grizzlies ended the skein 27-17 as Brian Luman caught two touchdown passes and ran a kickoff back for another score.

Luman is now playing for the University of San Diego, and Ashland has only three players in its starting lineup from 1997. But the Grizzlies' haven't lost a step: they're 5-0, ranked No. 5 in the state and possibly headed for their fifth SOC title in eight years.

The 2-1 Indians, who were picked by the SOC coaches to win the conference in the preseason, were upset by North Medford on opening night but could put themselves in the thick of the title chase with a victory Friday.

I've talked to the kids this week about how important this game has been and still is, Ashland coach Jim Nagel says. Over the last 10 years this game has been for the league championship, plain and simple.

Well, not quite. But the two teams have combined to win eight of the last nine SOC titles and nine of the past 11.

What makes the matchup even more intruiging is that invaribly it pits the finesse of the Grizzlies against the brute force of the Indians.

Ashland's intricate passing game against Roseburg's run-oriented option attack.

The matchup has produced some thrilling contests over the years, most notably the 1989 Class 4A state championship game that saw Ashland squeak out a 24-22 victory on Matt Wells' last-minute field goal, and the 1990 game that saw the Indians prevail 44-43 when tailback Greg Fogle scored with no time showing on the clock. Fogle then tacked on the 2-point conversion for the win.

People still talk about those games, Roseburg coach Thurman Bell says. We've definitely had some barnburners against the Grizzlies.

Friday's clash could generate another.

Although the Indians lost star tailback Ryan Poe with a season-ending knee injury before the first game and could be without starting fullback Paul Bodenhamer Friday because of a suspension (see adjoining story), they still have some firepower. Quarterback Kevin Linderman, who threw three touchdown passes in the third period during Roseburg's 49-0 win over Klamath Union last week, is the No. 2-rated passer in the SOC. The Indians also have a couple of quick tailbacks in J.J. Wolford and sophomore Conway Bixby, who Bell elevated from the junior varsity last week.

The Indians also boast of a big, experienced line anchored by 235-pound guards Landon Rabern and Buck Forrest and 230-pound tackle Richie Charles.

Other than some of the troubles they've had at running back it's a typical Roseburg team, Nagel says. Our defense is going to be tested severely. They run the triple option as well as any high school team you'll see.

Ashland's offense, meanwhile, has hit its stride over the past two games. The Grizzlies scored on all five of their first-half possessions in last week's 35-0 victory over Eagle Point.

Grizzly quarterback Jimmy Werbin leads the SOC in passing yardage (762) and touchdowns (10), split end Jay Kuester has taken over the league lead in receiving (16 catches, 334 yards, two TDs) and running backs Joel Smith and Chris Pavilionis both rank in the top 10 in rushing.

I'm so impressed with what Jim (Nagel) has done with that group this year, Bell says. To only have three of 22 spots back and to be playing at the level they're playing -- my goodness, those kids are playing well.