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Crater aims to right itself down stretch

The Crater Comets had every reason to think that prosperity would be in their corner this football season.

They had talent, they had depth and they had a new head coach who exuded energy and optimism.

The other coaches in the Southern Oregon Conference thought enough of the Comets to pick them to place third and advance to the state playoffs, something Crater hasn't accomplished in 13 years.

But as the Comets journey to Eagle Point tonight to meet the archrival Eagles, their playoff hopes have been put on life support.

A stunning 35-7 loss to Grants Pass on Sept. 25 and last week's 28-20 setback to North Medford -- sandwiched between was a 44-12 nonconference loss to Churchill -- have put the Comets (2-3, 1-2 SOC) behind the 8-ball.

Making the playoffs has been one of our main goals since the first day of practice, and until we're mathematically eliminated, it's still going to be one, says Randy Heath, the Comets' first-year head coach. We can no longer control our (playoff) destiny -- we need help from other teams.

But right now, our main focus is playing Eagle Point and just coming away with a win.

The Comets are an enigma. They've got one of the biggest, most experienced offensive lines in the SOC, they boast of four quality running backs, and they've got several defensive players who could stop a train in its tracks.

In last week's loss to North Medford, Crater had a huge edge in first downs (26 to 13), offensive plays (84 to 44) and total yardage (490 to 364), yet still got beat by a touchdown.

What on earth is going on here?

For one thing, the Comets don't have a lot of overall quickness, and that has allowed speedy backs to make big plays. North Medford fullback Kenny Halpin ripped off touchdown runs of 51, 48 and 74 yards last week.

Crater quarterback Brent Foster has also struggled when the Comets have fallen behind, although he exhibited a great deal of poise last week after North Medford had taken a 28-7 lead.

The Comets went into their two-minute, no-huddle offense with seven minutes remaining, and Foster guided them to a pair of late TDs.

(Foster) showed a lot of poise under some difficult circumstances, Heath says of the 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior. He showed a lot of growth.

He's a first-year starter (at quarterback) at the varsity level, and it takes some time to get comfortable when you're under the gun like he's been.

More than anything, though, the Comets have been their own worst enemy. They have turned the ball over 17 times, and their turnover ratio is an SOC-worst minus 7.

Heath's optimism hasn't waned, though. He's confident the Comets can put it all together tonight.

I believe in these kids, he says. They're hard workers and we've definitely got some talent.

The loser of tonight's contest will be virtually eliminated from playoff contention.

Eagle Point (2-3, 2-2 SOC) is in a rebuilding season under veteran coach Mike Johnston. Its two victories have come against Klamath Union and South Medford, who have a combined overall record of 1-9.

Still, the Eagles have one of the SOC's best running backs in Sean Johnston, the coach's son. The younger Johnston has 561 yards and five TDs, second-best in the conference.

The Crater-Eagle Point matchup used to be one of the most intense in the SOC but doesn't seem to pack quite the emotion it did in the 1980s and early '90s.

For whatever reason, North Medford now seems to be our biggest rival, Johnston says. But I know our kids won't have any trouble getting up for the Comets.

Eagle Point has won the last three matchups, including a 21-20 victory a year ago.