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Comets-Eagles tussle a must-win for both

It's that time of year when struggling football teams begin to teeter at the precipice.

One more defeat might fry their psyches and send them to a full season of gridiron purgatory. Conversely, a much-needed victory might fuel a resurgence.

Longtime rivals Crater and Eagle Point, who meet tonight at Eagle Stadium in Eagle Point, find themselves at such a crossroad.

The Comets are especially desperate for a win. They stand 0-4 overall, 0-2 in the Southern Oregon Conference and have Roseburg on the horizon a week from tonight.

— Eagle Point (2-2) has a pair of wins to its credit, but the Eagles are 0-2 in the SOC and coming off a gut-wrenching 14-12 loss to Grants Pass in which a last-minute fumble led to their demise.

A victory tonight could jump-start Eagle Point's first winning season since 1997.

In other SOC games tonight, Ashland (2-2, 0-2 SOC) journeys to Grants Pass (2-2, 1-0) and North Medford (4-1, 2-0) meets South Medford (2-2, 1-0) at Spiegelberg Stadium.

Roseburg has a bye.

This is a game we need to win for us to move ahead, Eagle Point coach Harry Hedrick says. The loss to Grants Pass was a big blow to our playoff hopes, but we're not even thinking about that right now. We're just trying to get our first league win.

Led by tackle Nick Smith, end Jared Hawkins and linebacker Josh Metcalf, the Eagles boast the No. 2 defense in the SOC, yielding just 245.8 yards per game.

Eagle Point has also had good moments on offense, where its wishbone attack has produced nearly 200 yards rushing per game.

Tailback Nate Idrogo and quarterback Creighton Nevin rank fifth and sixth in SOC rushing totals with 277 and 213 yards, respectively, and fullback Jason Rullamas ran for a season-high 51 yards against Grants Pass.

But turnovers and penalties have often subverted drives.

With our offense, we're not a team that can overcome second-and-long and third-and-long situations, Hedrick says. We found ourselves in too many of those situations last week. We need to fix that.

Crater has self-destructed in similar fashion, but the Comets have even bigger problems. They stand last in the SOC in total offense (222.3), last in total defense (320.0) and they're yielding a conference-worst 33.5 points per game.

However, the Comets have a couple of marquee skill players in tailback Cody Ponder, the SOC's fourth-leading rusher (241 yards), and wide receiver Dan Whitehead, the SOC's fourth-leading receiver (15 catches, 258 yards).

And in a rivalry game, anything can happen.

ASHLAND AT GRANTS PASS ' Don't expect a lot of points to go on the board in this matchup.

Grants Pass is averaging just 13 points per game and Ashland 11.5, and both teams are playing inspired defense.

The Cavemen's offense finally came to life in the fourth quarter of last week's 14-12 victory over Eagle Point when junior quarterback Nolan Morgan led them on a 49-yard, 10-play drive. He capped it with a game-winning, 5-yard touchdown pass to Pat Allen with 18.2 seconds remaining.

Morgan had by far his best game of the season, completing 18 of 33 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns.

Nolan hit his stride, and that's encouraging, Grants Pass coach Jeff Weiss says. He came out of the Eagle Point game a confident quarterback.

Jake Dastrup, who caught eight passes for 83 yards against the Eagles, is now the leading receiver in the SOC with 18 catches for 242 yards.

The Grizzlies, meanwhile, played Roseburg close last Friday, trailing just 13-6 in the fourth quarter. The Indians scored a late touchdown for a 20-6 victory.

Ashland has scored only one touchdown in each of its last three games but could rev things up with the return of standout wide receiver and defensive back David Morris, who missed last week's game with a concussion.

It's good to have him back, Ashland coach David Coldiron says. He's one of our big-play threats, and he's the quarterback of our secondary.

The winner of this game greatly strengthens its state-playoff hopes.

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