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Crater, Eagle Point renew rivalry

Two new coaches.

Two new approaches.

But it'll be the same old, bloodthirsty football rivalry when Crater squares off against Eagle Point tonight at Eagle Stadium.

You really can't put it into words, Crater running back Mike Peila says of the spirited matchup between the two schools that has been in place ever since Eagle Point joined the Class 4A ranks in 1979. This is the game where both teams play their hardest because it's the one both teams want to win the most.

In other Southern Oregon Conference games tonight, it's Ashland (2-3 overall, 1-2 SOC) vs. North Medford (5-0, 3-0) at Spiegelberg Stadium, Grants Pass (3-2, 2-1) at Klamath Union (1-4, 0-3) and South Medford (4-1, 3-0) at Roseburg (3-2, 2-1).

Crater and Eagle Point hired new head coaches in the off-season, hoping to turn around floundering programs.

The Comets turned to assistant Rich Cable, the team's former defensive coordinator, while Eagle Point enticed Harry Hedrick to lead its team following 10 successful seasons at Ontario.

And while tonight's contest is for backyard bragging rights ' just like always ' it also represents a benchmark game for both squads.

A victory by the Eagles would put them at 2-2 in the Southern Oregon Conference, 3-3 overall and keep alive their hopes for a winning season and a state playoff berth.

This really is an important game for us in terms of where we're at and where we're going,says Hedrick, who led Ontario to the state playoffs seven times during his decade at that school, winning a state championship in 1997. You look at the rest of the schedule and it's reasonable to think that four (conference) wins can get you into the playoffs.

Our kids have hung in there pretty well, but we need a win (tonight) to keep it going.

The Comets, meanwhile, matched their win total of a year ago with a 27-6 victory over Crook County on Sept. 13, but have since run into some of the tougher teams in the SOC.

Grants Pass, Roseburg and South Medford steamrolled the Comets by scores of 25-8, 42-7 and 37-0, stripping them of some of their early season optimism.

A victory tonight would help restore it.

We've talked all week about how this is the biggest game of the year for us, Peila says. This game might determine where our season goes from here.

Peila suffered a shoulder separation two weeks ago and didn't carry the ball last Friday, but he still stands third in the SOC in rushing with 586 yards and four touchdowns.

Peila is expected to be in the Comets' single wing backfield tonight, and their game plan is no secret: run the ball down Eagle Point's throat, control the clock and the game.

That may be the best way the Comets can stifle Eagle Point's high-octane offense that is averaging 350 yards and 28 points.

Operating out of the fly offense, Eagles quarterback Tyson Nelson has thrown for 1,027 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Casey Hedrick, the coach's son, ranks third in the SOC in receiving (23 catches, 278 yards, four TDs), and Brandon Sychla is fifth (19 catches, 287 yards, one TD).

Eagle Point's running attack should also get a boost with the return of Chris Boyd, who missed last week's 35-15 loss to Roseburg with an ankle injury.

Boyd ranks ninth in the SOC in rushing with 236 yards and three touchdowns.

ASHLAND AT NORTH MEDFORD ' Ashland hung tough for the first half against Grants Pass last week, trailing just 7-6 at the break. But the Grizzlies' defense sprang some leaks in the third period and GP went on to a 34-6 victory.

The Grizzlies seem powerless to prevent the big play, and North Medford has one of the SOC's most dangerous skill players in slotback Tyler Engle, who has 338 yards receiving, 167 yards rushing and 182 yards on kickoff and punt returns, not to mention seven touchdowns.

Black Tornado quarterback Beau Hovland is coming off a monster performance ' 254 yards passing and five touchdowns last Friday against Klamath Union.

Still, North Medford coach John Beck has a lot of respect for a Grizzly program that went to the playoffs 16 straight years prior to last season.

They might be down a little in terms of overall talent, but they've still got a great coaching staff and enough good players to beat anyone on a given night, Beck says. Our kids are expecting a tough game.

GRANTS PASS AT KLAMATH UNION ' With starting tailback Spencer Holland still ailing with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, A.J. Schmitke moves into the starting lineup for Grants Pass.

Schmitke ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns and had a 61-yard touchdown catch after replacing Holland last Friday when the Cavemen romped over Ashland.

Grants Pass rolled up a season-high 380 yards of offense against the Grizz.

We had to replace so many kids on offense from last season, but we're finally starting to click, Grants Pass coach Jeff Weiss says.

Much of the improvement can be attributed to quarterback Mark Heater, who has completed 37-of-66 passes for 546 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception over the last three games.

He's really matured over the last month, Weiss says. He's just a lot more comfortable back there than he was at the start of the season.

Klamath Union is coming off a 58-20 loss to North Medford and has lost three in a row.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail