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Hungry for redemption

The Ashland High football team may not feel it belongs to anything remotely resembling a legitimate Class 5A conference, but that doesn't mean that the Grizzlies can't have goals.

And goal number one for Ashland this season is to beat Klamath Union in Friday's season opener, thereby putting at least one win between itself and that last, horrific game of 2009.

Not that the Grizzlies haven't moved on from their playoff loss to West Albany, but the score was 75-0, so ...

"We want to get that bad taste out of our mouth," Ashland head coach Charlie Hall said.

The Grizzlies can do that with a win against the Pelicans, who along with Eagle Point are one of just two teams on Ashland's schedule that can claim any kind of longstanding rivalry with the Grizzlies. That's because this year marks the first in which Grizzlies will compete in the new Southern Oregon Conference hybrid league, the formation of which effectively ended Ashland's partnership with traditional regional rivals such as Crater and Mazama.

"Our main goal right now is to win our first game," Hall said. "Once we win that first game, then our next goal — it's kind of a progression — is to win back-to-back games. If we win back-to-back games, then we want to try for a winning season.

"The final goal is to win the whole thing, but it's going to be progressive goal-setting. That's how we have to take it because there's not a conference championship."

As far as Ashland's playoff hopes are concerned, its regular-season finale Oct. 22 against Eagle Point is the only game that really matters. The winner of that game will receive an automatic trip to the second round of the state playoffs, while the loser will have to play a first-round playoff game.

Hall expects the "stacked" Eagles to provide a stiff test after the two teams finished in a three-way tie last season for second place in the Southern Sky Conference standings. Ashland ended up advancing to the playoffs while the Eagles were left out, even though they beat the Grizzlies in both teams' regular season finale.

This year, Ashland will field a quicker, more experienced team than the one that was dismantled at West Albany. The Grizzlies return nine starters on defense and five on offense, including fleet-of-foot quarterback Jake Scarminach, who's the first signal caller in Hall's six years at Ashland to have a full year of varsity experience under his belt heading into his senior season.

Scarminach should have plenty of time to make decisions this season behind an offensive line that features three returning starters, including hulking left tackle Sam Cowan (6-foot-5, 285 pounds) and center Christian Ostmo (5-9, 205).

Also back on the offensive side is starting running back Jackson Volz, plus two athletic tight ends — juniors Franklin Lime and Alec Ralston. That combination, along with a speedy receiving corps, should provide plenty of options for Hall's imaginative offense, which this season could feature a deadly wrinkle — the pistol formation, made famous by NCAA offensive juggernaut University of Nevada.

"I've always loved being a balanced team and I'm always going to strive to create balance because I think that really puts a defense in a bind as far as what to expect," Hall said. "But I don't think we've been a very good running team since 2007. This year, I feel like we have the experience to block things correctly, we have the running backs that can actually run the ball well and a quarterback who can make good decisions. So I feel like we can run the ball hopefully as good as we've ever run it this year, which will set up play-action passes."

Defensively, the Grizzlies will try to use their quickness and athleticism to do what last year's team couldn't: stop the run. Playing key roles in that effort will be defensive ends Lime and Ralston, along with Ostmo at tackle and outside linebackers Christian Morrison and David Skinner, both returning starters.

Hall plans on rotating linemen to keep that unit fresh. Size wise, Ashland will be relatively small up front, but big things are expected anyway.

"They're all like 5-8, 200 pounds," Hall said. "They're like the Ninja Turtles, stocky little guys that'll bite your ankles off."

In the secondary, Taylor Humphrey and Talon Heater provide the Grizzlies with a pair of cornerbacks capable of playing man-to-man, and safety Lee Dodds is another speedster with big-play potential. Hall believes the Grizzlies have a lot of those this season, in fact, which is why he's excited to see what they can do in a real game.

"I think we can get after people pretty good," he said. "We've got a lot of speed on the field now.

"We have not been a very good defensive team against the run the last couple years," he added. "Last year we were terrible against the run, so this year I hope that's one area we can make an improvement."