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Crater aims for upset

CENTRAL POINT — Crater football coach John Beck hasn't had any trouble getting his team's attention this week.

The West Albany Bulldogs have made sure of that.

Rated No. 1 among Class 5A football teams and having won 24 of its last 25 games, West Albany isn't the kind of team that slips into anyone's backyard.

The Bulldogs' lone loss in that span came in last year's state championship game, when league rival Corvallis avenged an earlier 31-8 loss with a 17-14 triumph in triple overtime.

"They're very, very good," says Beck of the 11-0 Bulldogs. "They're probably one of the best teams we've played in I don't know how many years. They're not just a good team at the 5A level, but a good team period."

The numbers certainly support that stance. West Albany is outscoring teams by an average of 44-5 entering Friday's state quarterfinal game at Dutch Meyer Field. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Sophomore running back Anthony LaCoste has proven to be one of the best in the state, rushing for 1,225 yards and 17 touchdowns on only 126 carries through the regular season. At nearly 10 yards per carry, LaCoste is most certainly a threat to score anytime he touches the ball.

"He's a huge playmaker," says Beck. "He's got great vision and he's got very good feet. He can make people miss in the hole, so we're going to have to get a lot of people to the point of attack and be good fundamentally in our tackling and take good angles."

LaCoste touched the football only 10 times in last week's state-playoff opener against Hermiston, but that proved more than enough as West Albany cruised to a 56-16 victory. The 5-foot-9, 175-pounder scored on runs of 59, 7, 48 and 44 yards en route to 202 yards on the ground.

Junior quarterback Reese Miller has also been effective running the ball off West Albany's dive options, and has found 6-3 seniors Will Murphy and Scot Foss for big yardage on play-action passes.

The Bulldogs also have the luxury of working with a physically imposing offensive line led by all-conference seniors Matt Sorem (5-11, 220) at center and Eric Swearingen (5-10, 230) at guard and junior tackle John Braun (6-5, 240).

"We have to match their physicality, for sure," says Beck. "They're big and strong and fast, so we're going to have to be ready for that."

Beck says the Comets' tough nonconference schedule should have prepared his team for what to expect. Another key for his team, the coach says, is to understand that there are no guarantees once game time rolls around.

"We don't have to play perfect to win," he says. "We just have to play well in all three phases (offense, defense and special teams). We've got nothing to lose. They're the ones who have all the pressure on them."

Crater (7-4) earned a hard-fought 17-9 win on the road against Thurston last week for the program's first victory in the state playoffs in five attempts. Senior Bryce Peila served as a one-man wrecking crew, intercepting a key pass in the second half to help seal the victory while also hauling in six receptions for 159 yards and one TD.

"He just took the game over in all three aspects," says Beck of Peila. "All our seniors really stepped up."

Zach Boskovich added a 42-yard scoring run to put the Comets on board first against Thurston, while quarterback Nick Brothers completed 6 of 9 passes for 159 yards and rushed for 71 more on 16 carries.

Junior fullback Kenny Fahndrich also stepped up to gain 92 yards on 13 carries as the Colts focused much of their attention on Southern Sky Conference leading rusher D.J. Pree.

"We're not playing perfect," adds Beck, "but we're playing hard and giving ourselves chances."

West Albany's stifling defense is led by senior linebackers Foss, Alex Ness and Neil Crook, who repeated as Mid-Willamette Conference defensive player of the year.

"They're all very good," Beck says of the Bulldog linebackers. "We're going to have to really do some things to keep them off balance."

The Comets also plan to wear red stickers with a white 'K' on them on their helmets Friday in honor of Ashland assistant coach Dave Kitchell, who died Sunday after battling cancer since 2002. Beck says he and his staff had become friends with Kitchell over the years and, like many in the Rogue Valley, share in the grief the Grizzly faithful are feeling these days.

"He was a great man and we had a lot of respect for him," says Beck.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

Crater’s Bryce Piela hauls in a pass in a nonconference game against Springfield on Sept. 28. Piela and the Comets will have their hands full against top-ranked West Albany on Friday in a Class 5A playoff game at Dutch Meyer Field.