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Challengers sprint past Prospectors

Cascade Christian unleashed a potent dual offensive threat against Grant Union in the Class 3A football state quarterfinals Saturday.

Brandon Grissom and Tyler Stickler ran through, over and around the defending state champion Prospectors.

The two halfbacks combined for seven touchdowns and 428 rushing yards as the Challengers crushed the Eastern Oregon League runner-up, 53-20, at Spiegelberg Stadium.

Grant Union (8-3) knocked Cascade Christian out of last year's state playoffs with a 28-13 semifinal victory.

Top-ranked Cascade Christian (11-0) will face No. 2 Amity, a 45-7 winner over Clatskanie, in the semifinals next Saturday at Cottage Grove.

"We were 0-3 against Eastern Oregon teams before today," said Stickler, who gave the Challengers a 7-0 lead with the first of his three touchdowns on a 10-yard first-quarter run. "People think because we're down in Medford, we play soft. Just because we are small doesn't mean we don't hit hard."

Stickler consistently broke through gaps in the Prospectors' defensive line and picked up big chunks of yardage by breaking tackles downfield. The 180-pound junior finished with 151 yards on 20 carries.

"It was a matter of keeping my shoulders square and getting through the hole," said Stickler. "I was just following my pullers and they were getting the job done. It was a great game but we know we can play a lot better."

Grissom, a bruising 180-pound senior, gashed the John Day school for 277 yards and four touchdowns. Grissom scored TDs on back-to-back runs when the game was still close. He went 8 yards on a nifty cutback off a sweep late in the first half, then with less than two minutes gone in the third quarter his 11-yard dash around left end gave the Challengers a 26-14 margin.

But his most spectacular touchdown came on a 78-yard run that began as a sweep left before cutting diagonally across the field up the right sideline — shedding a tackler at the 10 — and hitting the pylon on a dive.

"Since this is my senior year I knew this could have been my last game," said Grissom. "I just didn't want to be denied. I gave 100 percent on every run. I didn't want to see it end here."

Cascade Christian second-year offensive coordinator Jon Gettman acknowledged that Grissom and Stickler give the Challengers a unique dimension.

"These guys are special," said Gettman, who has been on the Challenger staff for five years. "They get in the open field and they break a lot of tackles. We've never had two backs like this at the same time. It's like pick your poison."

While the offense — which accounted for 510 yards — was meshing like a flywheel, the Challengers' defense bottled up Grant Union's spread offense. The Prospectors managed 77 second-half yards and just over 200 for the game.

A reason for Cascade Christian's defensive effectiveness was the execution by inside linemen Nik Beiter and John Jesse.

"They both had really good games," said defensive coordinator Jerry Burchfiel. "They got in there and disrupted their backfield and our linebackers could make plays.

"I don't think Grant Union has seen a pair of tackles that get off the ball with the strength and energy like they do," added Burchfiel.

Beiter, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior, was in the Challenger program as a sophomore but played defensive end for Eagle Point last year. He says his experience with the Class 5A Eagles has helped him this season.

"You face a lot of bigger guys," said Beiter. "It helped to learn playing at a faster pace."

Jesse had two tackles for losses and one sack and Beiter added one sack.

"We just try to get off fast and low and mess up everything on the inside," said Beiter. "We're really starting to click."

The Challengers seemed to be in control in the first half, holding a 20-7 lead, but the Prospectors mounted a four-play, 74-yard drive to score with 33 seconds remaining before intermission to pull to within six.

In the second half, Cascade Christian broke the game open with 26 unanswered points.

For Grant Union, Connor Smith accounted for all three touchdowns on pass receptions from quarterback Jake Combs.

"It's the first time we played a real tough team this season," said Cascade Christian coach Andy Maurer, in his 19th year guiding the Challengers. "You play the first half and feel each other out. Then you make the adjustments at halftime."

Those adjustments carried the Challengers to one emphatic win and a second consecutive trip to the state semifinals.

Grant Union 7 7 0 6 —20

Cascade Christian 7 13 12 21 —53

CC — Stickler 10 run (Davis kick)

GU — Smith 3 pass from Combs (Reynolds kick)

CC — Tooker 1 run (Davis kick)

CC — Grissom 8 run (kick failed)

GU — Smith 37 pass from Combs (Reynolds kick)

CC — Grissom 11 run (pass failed)

CC — Stickler 10 run (run failed)

CC — Stickler 21 run (Davis kick)

GU — Smith 11 pass from Combs (run failed)

CC — Grissom 13 run (Davis kick)

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 776-4480, or e-mail fsilow@mailtribune.com