CENTRAL POINT — Winning is fun, there’s no denying that.
Everyone loves a winner, and players tend to have a little more bounce in their step when they’re on a winning streak.
There’s just nothing more glamorous than being undefeated, as is the case at Crater High School, and with high hopes entering the Class 5A football state playoffs.
“Now that we’re winning, everybody on Friday is like, ‘This is so much better,’ and you never want to lose again,” says Crater senior quarterback Matt Struck. “It’s really cool because the community has always been involved but this year because we’re doing so good, they’re supporting us even extra. So many people are coming to the home games and the atmosphere just makes the players want to win just that much more. It gives us an energy boost.”
As fantastic as that feeling is as the Comets prepare for a first-round home match at 7 tonight against Silverton at Dutch Meyer Stadium, what can be lost in the shuffle is just exactly how Crater got where it is to begin with.
Wins don’t just happen, as Struck is quick to point out, you have to put in hard work.
“This year going into it, I knew how hard getting the wins would be,” says the 6-foot-3, 220-pound standout, “so in the offseason we all spent a lot of time in the spring and summer going over our offense and throwing routes and working on pass protection.
“I spent easily twice as much time working on everything as the year before. Everyone really just bought into everything more and has been dedicated to pushing each other and doing their part.”
Having seen the Crater program absorb three straight losing seasons, the Comets were devoted to not make it four straight. But even they couldn’t have imagined how 2015 would play out with a Midwestern League title and No. 2 standing in the media and OSAA power rankings.
“I don’t think really any of us saw this coming,” says Struck. “We all thought we would play really hard and hoped something like this would happen, but it seemed pretty far-fetched. After the jamboree, that kind of opened our eyes that we’re doing better at this point and then we got that first win and it just kept building from there.”
While the Comets have plenty of building blocks for success, it’s hard not to look at how vital Struck has been. The strong-armed senior has completed 142 of 250 passses for 2,169 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions and has run for nine TDs for an offense averaging 406 yards and 43 points per game.
“He’s a really good athlete for one, and two, he makes really good decisions,” says Crater head coach John Beck. “Throwing for over 2,000 yards and all those touchdowns with very minimal interceptions, he makes a lot of good decisions running and passing the ball. We have lot of run-pass options on the same run plays and I think his decision-making has improved tremendously.”
None of that has come without time and effort. Struck studied Crater’s offense extensively each day in the offseason and honed his passing chemistry with teammates while also testing his wares on a broader scale at elite football camps throughout the area.
For his efforts, Struck received a scholarship offer from Western Oregon last summer and continues to draw interest from Oregon State, Utah State, Portland State, Montana and Eastern Washington.
“One of the things that the college coaches at two of the Division I schools that talked to us both said is they’re most impressed with his development from last year to this year,” says Beck. “A lot of that goes to Matt for how hard he worked in the offseason and a lot of that goes to coach (David) Douglas with working with him on understanding film and schemes. All that has made the difference.”
What helps separate Struck is the fact that he can make all the throws. Deep ball, quick hitter, rollouts … it hasn’t mattered when it comes to moving the chains with Struck at the helm. He also has the speed and athleticism to be a breakaway threat when running the football, although he gave up playing running back after a stint in fourth grade.
“Cavin’s filled the hole pretty good though, so that’s fine,” Struck jokes, referring to backfield mate Cavin Gillispie, who has run for 1,133 yards and 18 TDs.
In reality, Struck credits Gillispie, his hard-working offensive line and a stable of receivers led by Garret Dey, Jake Ireland, Austin Kramer and Spencer Cyr for making his season a success.
“It’s a good feeling with those guys by my side,” says Struck. “There’s not so much pressure that you have to make plays, you just get the ball into the playmakers’ hands, which is just pretty much the whole offense.”
“I feel like Cavin opens a lot of windows for our passing game because he runs the ball so effectively,” adds Struck. “That really opens the doors for everybody on the offense on the perimeter. It’s pretty much however a team wants to scheme against us, we feel like the odds are still in our favor. If you want to have extra defensive backs, I’ll just give the ball to Cavin because that always works out, and if you want us to throw it we have four receivers that can go get the ball anywhere on the field. We all have complete trust in each other.”
That trust will be put to the test tonight against a Silverton team that finished as the 5A state runner-up one year ago and boasts a physical, grind-it-out persona in the trenches. Junior Perry Davis, at 5-11 and 170 pounds, has rushed for 749 yards and seven TDs on 118 carries and caught 10 passes for 175 yards and three scores to pave the way for the Foxes (5-4), who have endured a host of injuries this season.
Crater has not earned a playoff victory since a 31-14, first-round win over Hermiston in 2009, but neither Struck nor Beck are concerned about the team’s lack of playoff experience.
“It’s going to be a new experience for all of us but I think we’ll be able to handle it pretty good,” says Struck. “The thing about us is we never try to overlook a team. We just come into each game with the same mindset that it’s our job to go get a win now. Silverton’s going to be a tough test but we’re looking forward to the game.”
And hopefully toward continuing the Comets’ joy ride.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry