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PREP NOTEBOOK: Crater, EP caught in numbers game

Prior to the school year, the Midwestern League opted to take an unconventional approach to its Class 5A football state qualifications.

With 12 teams in two six-team divisions — and five state playoff bids allocated to the MWL — the plan was that the league would leave Week 9 open for a league playoff that would pit the No. 1 team in each division against the other, No. 2 vs. No. 2 and so forth.

Well here we are, and the reviews for such a setup remain mixed — with each of the three local MWL South teams facing very different situations.

“For the No. 3 against the No. 3, obviously it’s beneficial because the winner gets in,” said Crater coach Randy Waite on Monday. “And the No. 1 against No. 1 is for the conference title, so that’s pretty significant. The No. 2 vs. No. 2 is really only for playoff seeding so there’s not much other than that, and to make sure no one gets hurt leading up to the state playoffs.”

For the second-place Comets (5-3, 4-1 MWL), the reality is they may be in the toughest position of all.

Losing 58-20 last week to first-place Churchill left them out of the title chase, and Friday’s home game against Ridgeview (MWL North No. 2) leaves Crater with more to lose than gain. The Comets are No. 9 in the state’s 5A power rankings, while Ridgeview is No. 18.

In a rankings comparison, Friday’s title match features No. 5 Thurston at No. 2 Churchill (which beat the Colts 42-23 earlier this year), while the winner-take-all battle between third-place teams will be No. 12 South Eugene at No. 13 North Bend (which already owns a 34-19 win over the Axe).

“We hope as our first goal to try and get into the top eight to try and get a home playoff game,” said Waite, “and I don’t know if that’s even going to happen. Our second goal is to try to make sure no one gets hurt. You want to win but it’s also about whether you stay healthy for when it really matters in the playoffs.”

A win over Ridgeview (4-4, 4-1), mind you, is the only way Crater could even hold its No. 9 standing, and even that may be a stretch.

With the way the formula works for state rankings, sometimes even winning over a team that is that much lower in the rankings can cause your own ranking to suffer.

A loss? That potentially would be devastating, plummeting the Comets toward one of the lowest rankings of the 16 teams advancing to state.

“There’s going to be three teams ahead of us who are going to lose (given Week 9 games also include No. 4 Pendleton at No. 1 Wilsonville and No. 7 Silverton at No. 3 West Albany),” said Waite, “but, again, with the higher power rankings a loss up there doesn’t mean a lot. It still may not make a difference even if we do win.”

“It’s kind of crazy,” added the Crater coach, “either South Eugene or North Bend could easily jump us because it’s Nos. 12-13 playing each other and the winner gets to go to the playoffs and we may end up dropping below either of those teams. The whole thing is a little bit unique, but we’re just going to play on Friday and hopefully we stay healthy and play well and win and then we’ll see what happens.”

These are situations that can’t truly be foreseen when setting up a qualification system, though, and Waite said he isn’t troubling himself too much with it now.

“If you told us at the start of the year we’d be getting an automatic berth in the state playoffs and be playing as a No. 2, we probably would take that,” he said.

Even Crater’s chief rival, Eagle Point, has empathy for the Comets.

“I feel like they’re going to get a pretty bad draw out of this whole deal and that’s unfortunate because, I’ll tell you what, they’re good,” said EP head coach Seth Womack. “They’ve got a lot of talent and I don’t know that we saw a team defensively that was better than them.”

The Eagles, mind you, have their own cross to bear.

Eagle Point (5-3, 2-3) boasts a No. 14 state power ranking and, despite that, has already been eliminated from playoff contention heading into Friday’s fourth-place home game against No. 26 Willamette (2-6, 2-3). It’s possible that the Eagles could finish with a higher state power ranking than others who make it into the state playoffs.

Womack went into the season believing that the MWL South Division was deeper than the North, but fully supports the plan that league athletic directors put in place after a bid to have only five classifications was shot down and Oregon remained at six levels.

“I still believe that and unfortunately it’s us being left out in fourth place,” said Womack, “but I’m not going to throw a fit. We had our chance and we didn’t play our best football against South Eugene and Crater so we’re sitting here where we’re at by our own doing. It’s a lesson we have to learn, that we need to take care of business next time around.”

Womack’s players rose to the occasion last week in order to give themselves a chance at maybe sliding into that No. 3 spot in the MWL South, getting what is believed to be school-record performances by seniors Noah Page and Cameron Morgan and sophomore Devin Bradd in an 82-56 win at North Eugene.

Womack said he’s positive the 82 points were a single-game school record, and feels confident that Page’s 351 yards and five receiving touchdowns and Bradd’s 281 yards rushing were also school records. Page also returned a kickoff for a score to give him six TDs in one game — another likely record — while Bradd had five scores overall.

Morgan passed for 416 yards and seven TDs, which again seems likely to be single-game records, but given the high-scoring ways under former EP head coach Harry Hedrick, Womack is still tracking that down.

“Our kids played pretty well last Friday night. They knew it was a really a make or break game that we absolutely had to win it,” said Womack. “I don’t think anything changes moving forward to this week. The kids still want to win and show that we’re a pretty good team.”

“As it stands we’re fourth and we get to play Willamette for an opportunity to be 6-3 on the year,” added Womack, “and that’s nothing really to complain about. We get to do what a lot of teams don’t do, and that is to end with a winning season and possibly win their last game.”

For Ashland, Friday’s home game against Redmond allows the young Grizzlies to use this as an opportunity to play a reasonably similar opponent and use the fifth-place matchup as a means to springboard themselves into the offseason. Ashland (3-5, 1-4) enters with a No. 22 power ranking, while Redmond (2-6, 1-4) is at No. 30.

The MWL’s sixth-place game will see No. 32 North Eugene play host to No. 33 Springfield in a rematch of Week 1, when the Millers scored a 51-50 victory.

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

Logan Lowder, (7), intercepts the ball in the 3rd quarter against Ashland. Photo by Denise Baratta