Comets, Tornado limp into play-in round
For a team that has strived all year to build for the postseason, things have been crumbling around the Crater football team as of late at the worst possible time.
Already missing their starting quarterback Chase Mackey, whose illness turned into a tonsillectomy on Wednesday, the Comets lost three more starters last week and could be minus another when they open the Class 6A play-in round at home Friday night against Beaverton.
"We're a little disadvantaged but, be that as it may, it gives other guys opportunities and chances," says Crater head coach John Beck. "We've still got some guys who think we've got a good chance so we'll see how that goes."
Crater lost playmakers Garrett Alner and Cole Berriochoa to torn knee ligaments in last week's 55-35 loss to Roseburg, while defensive lineman Sal Flores is academically ineligible and tailback Ty Wolf has been trying to play through a slow-healing ankle injury.
"It's a great testament to our kids just to keep fighting and playing at the level that we are with guys getting hurt and missing and out like that," adds Beck, whose team finished fifth in the Southwest Conference. "It makes me really proud of our kids, they've really been mentally tough."
In Friday's other Class 6A play-in games, North Medford is at David Douglas, Grants Pass at McNary and South Eugene at Centennial. At the 5A level for play-in games, No. 10 Ashland plays host to Crescent Valley and Eagle Point is at No. 7 Silverton.
The SWC's top four teams — Sheldon, South Medford, Roseburg and Thurston — received automatic bids to the 32-team 6A state playoff bracket and have this week off. This weekend's play-in winners will also advance into the final bracket.
In Beaverton, the Comets (5-4) face a team well-versed in good competition coming out of the Metro League. The Beavers (3-6) finished sixth with a 1-4 league mark and enter Friday's game having lost three straight.
Beaverton has already traveled down to Southern Oregon this season, squaring off against South Medford in a 31-8 loss during Week 2. The Beavers have endured their share of ups and downs in the weeks since, dealing with the loss of senior quarterback Ben Cunha for 21/2 games thanks to a defense that has provided the backbone for each week's efforts.
In Cunha's absence, 5-foot-8 junior Kyle Eckrosh has stepped up and shown signs of promise running the offense. Eckrosh had a touchdown run that trimmed Beaverton's deficit to 28-14 against Aloha, which was propelled by the return of all-star running back Thomas Tyner and went on to score 28 unanswered points.
Eckrosh and Cunha shared duties and guided scoring drives in Beaverton's win over Sunset, but Eckrosh replaced Cunha against Westview and provided enough of a spark that he's been at the helm ever since. Neither is a tremendous passing threat but both are quick and athletic and capable of slight-of-hand duties during fly and option schemes.
Senior Brandon Cornwell has been the team's most productive running back and the Beavers will likely attempt to attack Crater on the ground to set up a play-action passing attack. Beaverton, however, has shown a tendency to be turnover-prone this season.
The real strength for Beaverton is in a defensive line that features Pita Tafea (6-0, 220), Evan Colorito (6-4, 207) and Savali Talalemotu (6-3, 260).
"Beaverton has a good defense," says Beck. "It's going to be a real interesting game to see how it plays out."
Crater is coming off one of its better offensive showings of the season despite losing at Roseburg. The Comets rushed for 237 yards and compiled 407 yards overall with senior quarterback Matt "Moose" Cooper under center for his third start. Cooper completed almost half of his passes for 170 yards, one TD and one interception.
"I just thought he made great reads and managed the game really well and threw the ball great," says Beck.
Senior receiver Corey Wynant has been a spark plug for Crater this season and has taken his game up a notch in recent weeks. Against Roseburg, Wynant hauled in five passes for 84 yards and one TD.
Wolf's ability to play on Friday will likely be determined that day, although Beck says the junior is doing all he can to keep his window of opportunity open. He ran for 103 yards last week on only nine carries and likely would be relied upon to help shoulder the load with running back Chance Fahndrich in Alner's absence. Fahndrich ran for three scores and 62 yards last week.
Berriochoa was on his way to another versatile performance running and receiving last week before suffering a fourth-quarter injury. Like Alner, his loss will be equally felt on the defensive side of the ball. Alner suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and is set to undergo an MRI to determine any damage to his meniscus, while Berriochoa tore his MCL. Alner was lost to a torn ACL in his other knee last season.
The Comets will turn to Fahndrich and Nate Heard to fill Alner's void at inside linebacker, while Taylor Peterson could be asked to do more in at least lightening the load on Wolf on defense. Wyatt Williams and R.J. Morgan already were in a rotation with Berriochoa, so there's plenty of experience in the secondary to help fill that void, while Beck says Brian Barlow and Justin Coleman should fill the void left by Flores.
Sophomore Carlos Higuerra also could be called upon to run the ball as Crater dips into its talent pool.
"We've had great practices this week, really phenomenal," says Beck. "Because of all that's happened, our young guys now think they've got a chance to play so they're running around like wild men and our tempo has been awesome."
NORTH MEDFORD AT DAVID DOUGLAS — Neither team has set the sports world on fire this season but both welcome the opportunity at a second-season run. David Douglas won its first and last games of the regular season, while North Medford's lone win came in a two-point thriller at midseason over winless South Eugene.
The Scots (2-7) placed fifth in the Mt. Hood Conference at 1-4 in league but enter the postseason on a high note after intercepting six passes — taking one in for a touchdown — in a 22-20 win over Reynolds.
Senior quarterback Cody Patterson is a returning starter who offered up a TD pass in each quarter during a 41-21 season-opening win at Forest Grove and passed for two second-quarter scores and 189 yards overall last week.
Davontae Finney ran for a pair of touchdowns in losses to Centennial and Barlow, while Marcell Frazier hauled in two TD passes in a 30-20 loss to a good Central Catholic squad. Kevin Hurley has also been a threat on the perimeter for David Douglas.
For North Medford, Friday's game will provide a new opportunity for a group that has worked hard to keep its head above water in trying times as of late.
"Our theme has been to finish," says Black Tornado interim head coach Tom Powell. "We want to stay together, play with class and earn the respect of the people we're playing. That's been our mantra. It's a chance to rally again, to go out and compete."
North Medford will welcome back senior playmaker Darren Cossette after a one-week absence due to concussion symptoms but will be without senior tight end/linebacker Jordan Browne-Moore (stress fracture) and senior lineman Jordan Sparks (torn ACL). Senior standout Zach Tanner, who has played quarterback, safety and running back thus far, tried to go last week at Thurston but a foot injury sidelined him in the first quarter. His status is in question for Friday.
Juniors Evan Hisey and Brody Zoller will be asked to pick up the slack in the running game, with Cossette also in the mix. Sophomore Mark Winans will see his third straight start at quarterback after being thrown into the fire against the stout, ball-hawking schemes of Roseburg and Thurston in successive weeks.
"We've got to be able to move the football, we've got to be able to run the football," says Powell. "We've got a young quarterback who's as smart as he can be and as competitive as he can be and very athletic but, again, it's only his third start. It's a tough position to put him in and we need some of the upperclassmen to really carry some of that load."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry