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Grizzlies looking to keep playoff hopes alive

The Ashland High football team may be on the state playoff respirator, but as long as they have life, they have hope.

The Grizzlies need victories tonight against Crater and next Friday against Roseburg to hand coach Jim Nagel his 17th playoff berth in 20 years at the school.

The Grizzlies' streak of 16 straight playoff appearances ended last season.

Ashland stayed alive for the postseason in convincing fashion last week with a 47-20 win over Eagle Point.

In other Southern Oregon Conference games tonight, third-ranked North Medford (7-0 overall, 5-0 SOC) visits Eagle Point (3-4, 2-3), Roseburg (3-4, 2-3) journeys to Klamath Union (1-6, 0-5) and Grants Pass (5-2, 4-1) squares off against South Medford (6-1, 5-0) at Spiegelberg Stadium.

While it's obvious that Ashland isn't the juggernaut it was in the late 1980s and '90s, when it won three state championships and finished runner-up twice, the Grizz looked a little like its old self last Friday.

Quarterback Bryan Clevenger passed for 244 yards and five touchdowns and wide receiver/defensive back David Morris scored four times, including once on a 52-yard interception return.

The kids are excited right now ' they believe they can make the playoffs, Nagel says.

Nagel attributes the surprisingly easy win over Eagle Point to improved line play, a good defensive plan and better overall execution on both sides of the ball.

One of the upshots was that Clevenger, who has had to run for his well-being much of the season, finally had time to pass.

Our offensive line really did a good job, said Nagel, who singled out tackle James Page and guards Ben Helm and Zach Cowen for their work up front. We were able to run the ball just enough to keep them (Eagle Point) honest, and that allowed Clevenger to set up and throw the ball.

Defensively, Page, Morris, lineman Simon Weibel and cornerback Colby Knapp all turned in strong outings, Nagel said.

Crater, meanwhile, has lost five straight games since a 27-6 victory over Crook County on Sept. 13, but Nagel hasn't detected any quit in the Comets.

They look pretty dangerous on video, Nagel says. They've got some physical kids up front, several good running backs and a big, tall receiver who catches the ball very well.

The tall wideout is 6-foot-5 Andrew Norum, who has 13 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games.

The Comets also have been getting reasonable production from running backs Dan Whitehead and Tom Hammond.

Crater was its own worst enemy during last Friday's 65-20 loss to North Medford as it fumbled the ball away four times in the first period, leading to 21 Black Tornado points.

NORTH MEDFORD AT EAGLE POINT ' North Medford continues to play at a high level despite encountering opponents that have little chance at winning.

The Tornado scored on five of its first six possessions in building a 35-0 lead over Crater before coach John Beck began clearing his bench. The team still wound up with 527 yards of total offense.

What it boils down to is that our guys don't want to lose their edge, says Beck, whose team meets cross-town rival South Medford next Friday before entering the state playoffs. They want to keep playing with energy and intensity and just try to improve every week.

We actually had a few kids that didn't play that well last week, but they were very honest about it.

Senior tailback Reese Lamson continues to lead the SOC in rushing with 919 yards on 109 carries and eight touchdowns.

Backup Will Brown spelled Lamson last Friday and ran for 47 yards on seven attempts. Then it was third-stringer Josh Casebere's turn. The 5-7, 159-pound sophomore had 79 yards on four packs, including touchdown runs of 47 and 19 yards.

Eagle Point enters tonight's contest as another heavy underdog to North, but the Eagles' fly offense could pose some problems for the Tornado.

Quarterback Tyson Nelson triggers the EP attack. The 6-0, 180-pound senior has passed for 1,497 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the Eagles' seven games.

They'll run a ton of formations and plays, Beck says. We'll need to be on our toes.

ROSEBURG AT KLAMATH UNION ' Roseburg has lost three games in the SOC for the first time since 1994, but can still make the playoffs with victories over Klamath Union tonight and Ashland next week.

Indians tailback Jake Dorsey ranks second in the SOC in rushing with 846 yards and four touchdowns and could have a big game against a Pelican defense that is yielding 345 yards and 33 points a contest.

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