Semi-familiar: Crater, West Albany clash features mirror image squads
CENTRAL POINT — You won’t find two programs that respect each other more than Crater and West Albany heading into their Class 5A state semifinals clash 5 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
You also won’t find two teams more deserving of reaching this level after 11 weeks of stellar play, with the Comets entering as the No. 2 seed and the Bulldogs squarely on their heels at No. 3.
“I look at Crater and what they’re doing and the more I watch them, the more they remind me of our team,” said West Albany head coach Brian Mehl. “We have a lot of similarities, and they’re fun to watch on film. That’s one of the biggest compliments I can give them, they fly around and get after it and are good on all three phases. It’s the ultimate test.”
“I think they’re a championship caliber team, for sure,” he added. “I’m not surprised one bit with what they’re doing. They’re definitely not under the radar to me, they’re definitely a contender in every sense.”
The feeling is mutual for Crater head coach Randy Waite, who has the Midwestern League South champion Comets (10-1) back in the semifinals for the first time in four years.
West Albany (11-0) was a semifinalist last year and has a resume that includes 5A state titles in 2007, ‘08 and ‘13, and a runner-up showing in 2006. Take away a three-year stint at the 6A level from 2014-17, West Albany has now reached the semifinal level in eight of the past nine seasons as a 5A school.
“West Albany is a really, really good football team,” said Waite. “They are solid everywhere. Statistically they’re the best defense in the state, and they can score some points, too. We definitely are going to have our hands full.”
In Saturday’s other 5A semifinal at Autzen Stadium, top-seeded Thurston (11-0) will try and take a step toward a possible repeat state title at noon against No. 4 Silverton (10-1). The Foxes’ lone loss came against West Albany (28-21 on Nov. 1), while the Comets’ lone loss came against Thurston (31-20 on Sept. 20).
“Playing games on a Saturday means a lot and it’s a great privilege to be able to do that,” said Mehl. “Much like Crater, I’m sure, we’re pretty excited about the opportunity.”
When it comes to Crater and West Albany, Saturday’s matchup features two of the most dominant defenses in the state.
No team in the state’s largest three classifications has allowed fewer points than the Bulldogs, who have given up 7.7 points per game for a total of 85. Crater is not far off that tally at 9.5 points per game for a 105 total, with twice as many shutouts (six) as West Albany, including four straight entering the semifinals.
“We pride ourselves on our defense,” said Mehl. “That’s just the program we’re trying to run because we feel that if you play really good defense, you’re always in the game.”
West Albany is led by senior standout Porter Phillips, who was recently named the Mid-Willamette Conference offensive and defensive player of the year.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Phillips lines up at safety but is used in a variety of ways by the Bulldogs, who also received first-team recognition for junior defensive lineman TJ Zimmerman (6-3, 220), senior linebacker Hunter Williams (6-1, 160) and senior defensive back Blake Bowers (5-10, 180).
“Obviously Porter Phillips is a special talent,” said Mehl, whose defense allows 175 yards per game (91 rushing, 84 passing). “He makes a lot of the things that we do go just with his versatility, but we have a lot of guys who contribute. We don’t have one guy that has a million tackles, we’re pretty spread out all across the map.”
The same goes at Crater, where senior linebacker Tyler Ennis was named MWL South defensive player of the year but is adamant that honor could have gone to any one of his teammates.
The Comets, who are allowing 236 yards per game, also received first-team recognition for a pair of defensive linemen in sophomore Jimmy Jordahl and junior William Woitte, linebackers Brady Brock (senior) and Caden Lasater (sophomore) and senior defensive backs Gavin Acrey and Bruce Cwiklinski.
Offensively, both teams are loaded with playmakers so the challenge will be ramped up Saturday.
“We have to be disciplined on defense and have to play our three levels,” said Waite “In the past we’ve been able to key on one or two guys and make the other guys beat us, and you really can’t do that against West Albany. You’ve got to defend everybody and be ready for anything.”
That said, everything starts with Phillips for the Bulldogs, who boast a sturdy, seasoned offensive line and aren’t afraid to unleash them to create space for Phillips to do what he does best.
Phillips ran only 15 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 41-15 romp over Ashland but when he was needed most, he turned in 226 yards and two TDs on 30 carries against Silverton. Overall, Phillips has run for 1,297 yards and 19 TDs and turned four catches into 53 yards and a score.
Even when Phillips was out of the lineup, the Bulldogs never missed a beat as junior Zach Cehrs (5-8, 175) ran for 216 yards and three scores on 16 carries to open the playoffs with a 56-13 rout of Redmond.
“(Phillips) is very dynamic,” said Waite, “but even in the Redmond game when he didn’t play, their backup was just as dynamic. They are pretty much a factory at the running back spot.”
Senior quarterback Carson Van Dyke (6-0, 175) is also a running threat with five TDs out of the backfield, and has completed 65 percent of his passes (95-for-146) for 1,676 yards, 22 TDs and two interceptions. He was 3-for-11 for 100 yards and one TD against Ashland.
Leading targets for Van Dyke have been Connor Wolfe (39 catches, 872 yards, 13 TDs), Caeden Zamora (25 catches, 436 yards, five TDs) and Blake Bowers (17 catches, 213 yards, two TDs).
West Albany’s offense has churned out 208 yards rushing and 140 passing per game for a 348 total.
“They can throw when they need to,” Waite said of not being overly focused on the run game, “they just don’t need to very often.”
Crater’s offense has been wide open in outscoring opponents 202-0 in the last four games, with six different players scoring a touchdown in last week’s 49-0 win over Parkrose in Gavin Acrey, Trevor Jaasko, Trever Davis, Chase Sherer, Dawson Douglas and Cameron Kramer.
Overall, the Comets are averaging 50 points and 459 yards per game on offense.
“On offense (Acrey) is a stud, he’s extremely talented,” said Mehl, “but they run a good system where they spread you out and they’re definitely not a one-man show. They’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays on offense.”
Acrey, the MWL South offensive player of the year, has run 117 times for 1,392 yards and 20 TDs. Kramer, with 395 yards and four TDs, has played a complementary role, along with Angel Perez (264 yards, seven TDs) and Brady Brock (216 yards, one TD).
Crater has been steadily guided by Davis, a senior quarterback who has shown a knack for supplying whatever is needed to win a given game. The 5-10, 180-pounder has completed 62 percent of his passes (143-for-231) for 2,018 yards, 27 TDs and four interceptions and also run for 404 yards and eight scores.
Helping drive the passing game has been a bevy of receiving threats in Jaasko (40 catches, 600 yards, eight TDs), Sherer (31 catches, 516 yards, nine TDs), Douglas (40 catches, 503 yards, nine TDs) and Robert Amoson (11 catches, 200 yards, one TD).
“We’re making everybody defend the whole field, which is nice,” said Waite. “Hopefully we spread it around enough that they’ve got to defend sideline to sideline and goal line to goal line.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry