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Crater faces stiff test in Central

CENTRAL POINT — Coming off a first-round throttling of Silverton in a smashing return to the state playoffs, one might think second-seeded Crater would be riding a little too high heading into Friday’s Class 5A football state quarterfinal matchup with Central.

That assertion, however, would be wrong.

One glimpse at the scouting film for the No. 7 Panthers, as well as the understanding that the Comets still have so much to achieve, has head coach John Beck confident that his team has the right balance of hunger and swagger heading into the 7 p.m. clash at Dutch Meyer Stadium.

Crater (10-0), which earned its first state playoff win since 2009 with last week’s 45-0 romp over the Foxes, will be in search of the program’s first state semifinal berth with a win over Mid-Willamette Conference champion Central (7-3).

“I think they need to play with some swagger and confidence because they’ve gotten to a point of season where they’ve accepted every challenge that’s been thrown out there,” said Beck. “What we talked about (Monday) is for our seniors, this is going to be their last game ever at home so you could have a great memory or a not so great memory, so let’s make it a good one.”

With a host of talented players and a coaching staff led by Shane Hedrick, whose son Grant was a star quarterback for Boise State, Beck said there’s also no chance of his team overlooking the Pirates of Independence.

“They’re probably schematically the best and most advanced team we’ve seen,” said Beck. “They’re going to be a good challenge.”

Like Crater, Central is in its second season at the 5A level but carries more of a playoff resume than the Comets, who have snapped a streak of three straight losing seasons this year. The Panthers lost in the first round of the 5A playoffs last year but reached the 4A quarterfinals in 2013, semifinals in 2011 and owns four state titles in school history.

“They play really hard, this isn’t a team where you see them taking breaks a lot,” said Beck. “They’re feisty and they’re real disciplined. Shane Hedrick’s a really good coach and you could really see why they’ve been successful in 4A and 5A.”

Leading the charge for Central is senior defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu, a highly recruited 6-foot-3, 275-pound junior. The Mid-Willamette Conference defensive player of the year boasts a team-high 70 tackles and helps set the tone for a defense that allows 19 points per game.

“He’s so explosive off the snap and he’s disciplined, he doesn’t just come flying in,” said Beck. “He’s really well-coached and very, very athletic and explosive and obviously strong. If you don’t get a body on him, he’s going to be all over your running back and quarterback.”

Tuipulotu’s older brother, Opeti, is 6-3 and 220 pounds and also is a big influence for the Panthers, with fellow lineman Madison Stepp (6-2, 200) second on the team with 56 tackles. Senior linebacker Luke McBeth and a secondary led by junior Peter Mason, junior A.J. Morales, sophomore Marcos Cedillo and sophomore Isaiah Abraham complement a rigid front line.

On offense, junior tailback Alvin Berroa (5-9, 175) is a breakaway threat each time he handles the football for Central. Berroa has rushed 236 times for 1,515 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.

“He’s fast,” said Beck. “He gets to the perimeter and see ya, goodbye. He’s scored on everybody.”

Helping provide balance to the Panthers’ attack has been sophomore quarterback Peter Mendazona (6-0, 165), who has completed 138 of 231 passes for 1,622 yards, 20 TDs and eight interceptions. Mendazona has spread the ball out to a host of targets, led by Mason (31 catches, 643 yards, seven TDs), senior Jarrett Landers (27 for 337, three TDs), senior David Avila (14 for 102, one TD) and senior Stepp (10 for 142, five TDs).

Crater will look to counteract Central’s potency with a defensive unit that has increasingly come into its own as the season has progressed. The Comets are coming off their best performance after forcing five turnovers and allowing Silverton to gain only 174 yards of total offense.

“I thought the scheme that (defensive coordinator) Mike Johnston had was spot on and the kids executed it well,” said Beck. “It was the best our defensive line played all year to totally shut down everything (Silverton) did. They didn’t really have chance to do anything.”

Pacing that front group has been seniors Cedric Rios and Kody Young and juniors J.T. Gill and John Ale, with senior linebackers Cavin Gillispie, Tommy Winningham and Jesse Merritt also spearheading the hard-hitting Comets’ effort. Crater also boasts an opportunistic secondary spurred by seniors Shaine Lukkes and Nate Jenkins.

Offensively, Crater senior quarterback Matt Struck has completed 163 of 280 passes for 2,504 yards, 20 TDs and seven interceptions and Gillispie has run 151 times for 1,253 yards and 19 TDs.

The Comets have attacked in multiple ways on the perimeter, led by seniors Garret Dey (33 catches, 643 yards, four TDs) and Spencer Cyr (42 for 611, two TDs) and juniors Austin Kramer (44 for 584, five TDs) and Jake Ireland (31 for 488, six TDs).

“It’s great because everybody’s doing a really good job,” said Beck. “It’s not just the receivers and the quarterback, the offensive line is playing really well and everybody is contributing and executing, that’s what’s been really positive about all this.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry