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Cascade’s hopes rest on Schaan, ‘D’

When it comes to the offensive side of the football team, there’s no doubt that Haiden Schaan is the straw that stirs the drink for Cascade Christian High.

As a sophomore last season, Schaan passed for more than 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns and ran for nearly 700 yards and 10 scores in leading the Challengers to a berth in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.

“He’s better than ever,” said seventh-year Challengers coach Jon Gettman of the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Schaan, who broke into the starting lineup as a freshman. “He’s always been a fighter and a competitor with skills, a kid who can run the ball and pass it. But this year his accuracy is better, his reads are better and he’s just more comfortable in his surroundings.”

That’s bad news for the rest of the Southern Cascade League and the other teams in the Class 3A ranks, because Schaan was sensational the latter half of last season. Following a 1-3 start in which the Challengers’ offense lacked consistency, Schaan sparked a statistical and scoring explosion. Cascade Christian averaged a staggering 55.8 points over its final seven games, including a 77-point outburst in a rout of Colton in the first round of the state playoffs.

The Challengers’ train finally got derailed, following six straight wins, in a 48-38 loss to perennial state power and eventual state champion Vale.

“I think our offense could be better than ever,” said Gettman, noting that Cascade Christian returns seven starters on that side of the ball. “But our schedule might be the toughest it’s ever been. We’re not taking anything for granted.”

The Challengers’ slate includes 4A opponents Henley and Mazama, northern California heavyweight Paradise High and 3A toughies Harrisburg and Santiam Christian. Mazama advanced to the 4A state quarterfinals last season while Santiam Christian and Scio made it to the 3A finals and semifinals, respectively. Paradise, meanwhile, beat 5A Crater in 2014 and barely lost to a loaded Comets squad a year ago.

Upstart league rival St. Mary’s figures to be no pushover, either.

Gettman welcomes the Murderers’ Row menu.

“If you never go through any adversity then you’re not going to grow as much as you would otherwise,” said Gettman, who has won 60 of 76 games and a state title since he took over the Challengers program in 2010. “We’re not afraid to play the best teams we can find. Whatever weaknesses we have are going to get exposed, and that’s OK. We want to be battle-tested for the playoffs.”

Along with Schaan, other returning starters on offense are wide receivers Carson Cochran and Ben Dunn, running back Zack Fralich, center Matt Miller, guard Nash O’Hara and tackle Moses Jackson.

Gettman calls the 6-4, 215-pound Cochran a “matchup nightmare.”

“With his size, he’s a great target,” the coach said. “He was our No. 1 receiver last season. He’s very savvy at setting kids up.”

Dunn, a three-year starter, is Cascade’s other premier pass catcher and, at 6-2 and 175 pounds, he boasts ample size, too.

Fralich, meanwhile, seems destined for a big season packing the pigskin. He never surpassed 100 yards in a game last season but still rushed for more than 700 overall.

“He’s not very big but he’s very quick and gets in and out of cuts,” said Gettman of the 5-7, 160-pound Fralich. “We’re going to lean on him a lot.”

Center Miller, guard Nash and tackle Jackson (6-3, 260) will anchor what should be a sterling Challengers offensive front. Junior Cristian Flores-Alatorre has the edge at the other tackle position while juniors Mason Bailey and Anthony Ujdor are battling for the other guard slot.

Defensively, Jackson will line up at nose tackle, where he created considerable havoc last season, while O’Hara is a standout at end and Miller at linebacker.

The Challengers are switching from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 this season, largely because they’re loaded at linebacker. Caleb Jordan, who played cornerback last season, will join Miller, Flores-Alatorre and Cochran at the four linebacker spots. Andrew Wheeler and sophomore Luke Smith also figure to see the field regularly.

“We’ve got a lot more depth this year,” said Gettman, “which will allow us to keep guys fresh.

“And the 3-4 will allow us to bring pressure from various areas. We think we have the personnel to run it. Our front seven is critical for us having a good year.”

Cascade Christian boasts one of the top programs in the 3A ranks over the past decade, with state titles in 2006 and 2013, a state runner-up in 2012 and semifinal showings from 2008-11. Gettman doesn’t dwell on the shiny resume, preferring instead to focus on the elements that lead to success, on the field and off.

“For us, it’s about teaching the kids to compete every day and do the right things,” he said. “We talk about character, showing up on time, having a strong work ethic and being a good teammate. What we want to achieve on the field, that takes care of itself.”

Gettman might be stretching the truth, however, if he didn’t admit the Challengers would like another matchup with Vale. The schools have squared off each of the past six years in the playoffs, and the Vikings, who have claimed 11 state titles, have won four of those contests.

How far Cascade Christian advances this season will likely hinge on its new-look defense. Schaan and the rest of the high-octane offense are sure to put up video game-like numbers.