Comets look to capture first-ever state title
When it comes to state championship matchups, it’s hard to imagine two football teams knowing each other any better than Crater and Thurston as they prepare for Saturday’s final at Roseburg High School.
The Comets and Colts have squared off seemingly every year since most of their players began putting on pads, from Pop Warner and middle school matchups at Autzen Stadium to their current days as Midwestern League leaders.
In fact, there’s a case to be made that the two teams may know each other a little too well entering the 5 p.m. Class 5A finale.
“I think it helps both teams in terms of solidifying a plan,” said Thurston head coach Justin Starck, “but that familiarity also makes things more difficult on both ends, you kind of get paranoid.”
Crater head coach Randy Waite couldn’t agree more, noting that such familiarity can lead to overcoaching if you’re not careful.
“There’s no secrets at this point,” said Waite. “They have plenty of film to break down from us and we have plenty of film to break down from them. Sometimes you just have to not overcook the meat.”
“At some point,” he added, “you’ve got to say your kids have to be fundamentally sound and play football and play well — and (Thurston’s) going to do the same thing — and it just comes down to who’s going to make the plays and who’s not.”
When the two teams met on Sept. 20, reigning state champion Thurston was able to conjure up a few more of those plays to secure a 31-20 triumph over Crater in Central Point.
Both teams believed there were missed opportunities in that clash, and expect Saturday’s showdown to be another barnburner between two teams that deserve to be the final ones standing at the 5A level.
“I’m sure they’re watching film and saying we need to shore these things up,” said Waite, “and we’re watching and thinking we have to do these things a little bit better. But, really, I thought it was two teams that were pretty closely matched (earlier this season), and hopefully that will be the same thing on Saturday.”
No team limited top-seeded Thurston (12-0) to fewer points scored this season and played to a closer margin than second-seeded Crater (11-1). Conversely, no team put up more points against the Comets this season or held them to a lower total than Thurston did in saddling them with their only defeat.
“They’re definitely the greatest challenge we’ve had to this point,” said Starck, “we know we’ve got our hands full.”
The similarities between the two teams is uncanny.
Both teams feature prolific scoring attacks that can hurt you equally via the running or passing game through similar spread offense systems. Thurston averages 50 points and 461 yards per game, while Crater chimes in at 48 points and 453 yards per game.
Defensively, the Colts and Comets are also as good as they come with steady play at all three levels that has also resulted in 23 takeaways apiece. Thurston allows an average of 12 points and 186 yards per game and, behind six shutouts and a string of 171/2 straight scoreless quarters, Crater gives up an average of 11 points and 241 yards per game.
“They just don’t have any weaknesses across the board,” said Waite of the Colts.
“It’s a matter of if we get an opportunity to make a play, we’ve got to make that play,” he added. “They’re not going to give us very many opportunities so when we do get that opportunity we have to take advantage of that and be something a little bit special.”
Crater senior running back Gavin Acrey was certainly special in the first meeting, rushing for a career-high 245 yards on 17 carries, with touchdown runs of 45 and 61 yards to propel the Comets to within 25-20 entering the fourth quarter before Thurston tacked on a pair of short field goals by Gavin Levesque to pull away.
“Acrey is one of the finest running backs in the state,” said Starck. “He is so hard to take down and, with that combination of balance and speed, the play is never over until he is on the ground because as long as he’s on his feet, he’s a threat to go the distance.”
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Acrey ran for 179 yards and two TDs in last week’s 30-24 semifinals win over West Albany and has totaled 1,571 yards and 21 TDs overall.
Thurston expects to counter with a similarly potent running back in senior Wesley Kommer, who ran 24 times for 194 yards and four TDs in a 44-14 semifinals romp over Silverton.
The 5-9, 205-pound Kommer has run for 1,838 yards and 33 TDs overall, a feat made that much more impressive considering he has done so with a club wrap on his right hand after breaking a bone in his wrist that can only be fixed surgically once the season is over. He suffered the injury on the first offensive play of the season.
“He runs hard so, for us, we have to match that physicality,” said Waite. “On paper they’re way bigger than we are and probably more physical, and he just runs people over and he has some speed that he can break away, too.”
Kommer was limited to 99 yards on 22 carries in the prior meeting but scored one rushing and one receiving touchdown on a night when senior quarterback Cade Crist carried the offensive load for Thurston by completing 18 of 41 passes for 388 yards and three TDs.
Overall, the 6-1, 210-pound Crist has completed 66 percent of his passes (164-for-250) for 2,305 yards, 27 TDs and only one interception.
“Cade’s a very efficient quarterback, he makes us go,” said Starck. “He’s played in big games and played in big moments and he keeps his cool. He’s a competitor and I can’t say enough about him.”
“We don’t strive for big offensive stats,” added the coach. “We don’t throw the ball as much as a lot of other teams like say an Ashland or some of those other teams around, we’re pretty balanced, so his job is just to distribute and get the ball where it’s supposed to be.”
The combination of Kommer and Crist, who has four targets with at least 20 catches and 350 receiving yards, and an offensive line that may be the biggest at the 5A level makes the Colts difficult to defend.
“You have to defend everything and the whole field with them,” said Waite, “which is kind of similar to us as far as what we want teams to have to defend. You can’t just say we’re going to stop the run and make them throw, because they can do it all very well and they make you defend it all.”
Senior receiver Caleb Scott leads Thurston with 35 catches for 477 yards and six TDs, with senior tight end Santino Stranieri not far off with 30 catches for 402 yards and four scores. Junior Dawson Muggy (22 catches, 387 yards, five TDs) and senior playmaker Kyle Casley (25 catches, 363 yards, three TDs) also are key perimeter threats.
Even with such staggering figures, Starck said he has no misgivings that anything will come easy against a Crater defense that has proven to be up for the challenge.
“They fly around and are really good defensively,” said Starck. “Obviously Tyler Ennis is the leader there and he does a tremendous job but they’ve got a lot of really good players.”
Last week, Crater’s linebacker quartet of Ennis, Brady Brock, James Ruth and Caden Lasater combined for 35 tackles and one takeaway against the Bulldogs, with linemen Jimmy Jordahl, William Woitte and Jacob Chenoweth providing steady disruption.
One area where Crater expects to be improved from the earlier clash with the Colts is in the passing game, where senior quarterback Trever Davis was uncharacteristically erratic in completing 13 of 35 passes for 110 yards, one TD and two interceptions — both off the hands of intended receivers.
Potentially a little too pumped up for the big game, Davis overshot several long pass attempts on that night but overall has been dynamic as his team’s guiding force behind center. The 5-10, 180-pounder has completed 62 percent of his passes (152-for-245) for 2,117 yards, 28 TDs and five interceptions this season to go with another 437 yards and eight TDs rushing.
“We’ve got to be able to throw the ball a little bit better than we did the first time,” said Waite. “It was probably Trever’s worst game, I would say, and I don’t expect that to happen again. I think he’s going to be pretty locked in.”
Junior receiver Trevor Jaasko has been Crater’s leading receiver with 43 catches for 657 yards and nine TDs, but he’s been in good company with senior Chase Sherer (33 catches, 530 yards, nine TDs) and junior Dawson Douglas (43 catches, 528 yards, nine TDs).
“It’s a heckuva matchup for our defense,” said Starck. “They’re definitely loaded at the skill positions and they’ve got really tough, good, strong kids on their line.”
“It was truly the worst defensive performance we had this season,” he added of the last meeting, “and that’s due to them, that’s what they did and not necessarily what we didn’t do.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry