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Defense holds key to playoff survival

When it comes to Cascade Christian football, about the only thing the Challengers want to see in the air during a football game is a referee's arms signaling another touchdown for the purple and gold.

But in Saturday's opponent for the Class 3A quarterfinals, the Challengers welcome to Medford a team that sees it an entirely different way.

When Sheridan (9-1) enters Spiegelberg Stadium for the 1 p.m. game, the Spartans will be bringing with them a potent passing attack that has elicited 38 points per game and an almost flawless record as the No. 6 team in the state's power rankings.

"That's a huge concern," says Cascade Christian head coach Jon Gettman of Sheridan's approach. "They'll run the ball if we give it to them but they're a pass-first threat that gives you a number of problems."

The 9-2 Challengers, No. 3 in the power rankings, admittedly have struggled defensively this season against teams that prefer to spread you out with several options and then try to pick you apart.

Southern Cascade Hybrid foe Illinois Valley used the talents of Roger Hults to pass for 246 yards in a nine-point game midway through the season, and Santiam Christian racked up 213 of its yards through the air in an early season matchup. The Cougars (7-4) and Eagles (11-0) will square off at 7 tonight in another 3A quarterfinal.

"It has been a big issue for us but I feel like we're more prepared now," says Gettman. "Those games opened our eyes as far as coaches that we have to do more work on our coverage."

There has also been a few tweaks along the way to Cascade Christian's defensive makeup, with Wyatt Sosey and Mason Smith settling in nicely at cornerback and Tyler Stickler moving from linebacker to safety to shore up the secondary. Smith leads the team with three interceptions.

That group will see plenty of action when Sheridan has the ball. Quarterback Brock Ingram is well-versed in the shotgun scheme devised by Spartans coach — and his father — Brice Ingram. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior passed for five touchdowns in last week's 56-14 win over Glide, and his 35 attempts a week prior against Willamina is roughly half of what Cascade Christian has attempted all season (68).

"He's a good kid and being a coach's son is an asset," says Gettman. "He gets out of the pocket and he has some kids he can throw it to and that's huge. At any level, if you have two guys like they have that you can throw the ball to that can go get it and make things happen like they do, that makes a big difference."

Tre Hale-Edmerson stands 6-5 and is a mismatch on the perimeter with his athleticism, while fellow senior Henry von Euen is elusive in the open field, scoring all three TDs in a 42-20 loss to Dayton and tacking on two more among his 10 catches against Willamina.

Senior Jake Denton added two TD receptions last week to complement the duo in a system that primarily boasts three- and four-receiver sets.

Beyond Ingram's own scrambling ability, the Spartans also have another capable running threat in senior Beau Bradford (6-2, 170), who ran for 96 yards on 18 carries against Willamina.

"It's going to be a pretty big task for our guys and I think they know it," Gettman says of slowing Sheridan, which hasn't been held under 20 points all season. "We're going to have to play our best game to beat these guys."

With quarterback containment being a priority, the Challengers will need an inspired effort by linemen Mikel Mann, Brock Scott, Dustin Polan, Caleb Heidegger and Dillon Huntley.

"We've got to get a big game out of them," says Gettman. "We really need to get home with four if we can."

Garrett Banks leads the team with 59 tackles, with fellow senior linebacker Tyler Beard not far behind with 56. Sophomore Brandon Williams (46 tackles) and Heidegger (35) also rank among the leaders, with Heidegger and Garrett Watson sharing the team lead with three sacks apiece.

Helping the Challengers' cause, among other factors, is the reality that many of the players have seen action in the past two playoff runs.

"It's great for our kids and our program to have kids that have already been deep in the playoffs," says Gettman. "That's a huge asset to have kids who have been through the fire. Whether it's this season or in the past, they've been through some great battles and know what they need to do to win games like this."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com