New approach beckons for Challengers
What a difference a few months make.
In April, Cascade Christian sent an undefeated, veteran football team into the five-game season finale and defeated fellow Class 3A powerhouse Santiam Christian, 13-10.
The Challengers used their senior savvy and trademark perimeter game to cap a campaign as memorable for its uniqueness — a spring season half as long as is normal in the fall — as for its success.
Four months later and owing to the tumultuous scheduling of the COVID-19 era, a vastly different Cascade Christian was back on the practice field in mid-August. It began preparations to keep a championship legacy alive, albeit with a starkly different approach.
“Our team’s going to be quite a bit different than last year,” said 12th-year head coach Jon Gettman. “We graduated 12 seniors; all of them were starting and many of them both ways. There are a lot of spots where we’re going to have new faces this year.”
Four starters return on offense, and three of those players are the lone returning defensive starters.
The spring season provided a bit of a springboard into this fall, regardless of the experience level.
“A lot of kids weren’t necessarily starting,” said Gettman, “but they got a lot of work. When we came back together, this group of guys was really starting over with what we were doing. It wasn’t like there was a ton of carryover.”
The makeover for 2021 doesn’t stop there. Cascade Christian has long counted on speedy, shifty skill players to make its offense go and to create havoc in the defensive secondary.
This version, with its returning starters all manning offensive line positions, could well morph into a power team.
“We’re a little backwards than what we’ve been in the past,” said Gettman, who has a career record of 105-24. “Before, we’ve been strong with our wide receivers and we kind of worked outside in. This year, we’re strong with our linemen. We have a group of kids that we feel really strong about up front.”
That group will be integral as the Challengers try to maintain their dominance in the Far West League and continue to be a force on the state landscape.
Cascade Christian has gone 38-1 in league and 22-8 in the playoffs under Gettman. Included was a 30-game league winning streak snapped by Hidden Valley in 2019 — the last time a full season was contested.
Hidden Valley, which has returned to the 4A ranks this year, also bumped the Challengers from the playoffs in the quarterfinals two years ago.
Cascade Christian has claimed two state championships under Gettman, most recently in 2017. It’s twice been runner-up and two other times made the semifinals.
Another deep run might require seasoning on the fly.
If there was one benefit to last school year’s quirky setup, it was that younger players, particularly freshmen, had more time to mature physically and to interact with coaches before taking the field in the spring.
That could buoy those evolving into starting roles and others providing depth as backups.
The Challengers’ strength begins with the returners up front, including spring all-league selections in seniors Bryson Cannon (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and tight end Austin Waits (6-2, 240).
Cannon is a tackle on offense, and he and Waits will be joined by returning starters Daniel Nering, a 6-2, 230-pound junior center, and junior guard Liam Benade (6-2, 265). Two other juniors, guard Matthew Moses (6-0, 300) and tackle Jaxson Turituri (6-1, 213), have seen varsity action and round out the line starters.
They’ll be called on to clear paths for running backs Tristan Wallace and Brody Sample, who got in good work last season before breaking a collarbone, said Gettman.
“They bring us a great one-two combination,” said Gettman. “Hopefully, we’re able to run the ball really well this year. That would be the goal, to be strong in our run game. It’s different from what we’ve emphasized in the past, but we’re excited about the kids we have.”
Waits, who like Cannon has been in the program four years, has “great hands for a tight end and he’s a big, strong kid as well as a really smart football player,” said Gettman. “We’re certainly going to lean on him this year.”
Junior Keith Reed steps in as the starting quarterback after backing up all-leaguer Sam Martin. Reed is rangy at 6-2, 175 pounds, and — as evidenced by his role as a reserve linebacker on defense — isn’t afraid to mix it up.
Reed’s assets are a strong arm and “a great understanding of what we’re trying to do,” said Gettman. “He’s a talented kid.”
When he has to run, Reed likely won’t be timid.
“He’s not going to juke you or anything,” said Gettman. “He’s got decent speed, but he’s going to get the yards that are there and deliver a blow at times.”
Junior Tyler Almasy, who started against Santiam Christian and had six catches for 28 yards, is among the top outside receiver options.
Defensively, many of the aforementioned players will contribute to a strong front seven.
Linebacker Waits and linebacker/end Cannon are the linchpins, said Gettman. Cannon provides versatility, either as a pass rusher or handling outside responsibilities.
“It starts with those two kids,” said Gettman.
Moses, who squats and deadlifts more than 500 pounds, anchors the line at nose tackle. Returning starter Benade and Nering will be the ends. Wallace, Turituri and Cole Shields provide stability at linebacker in the 3-4 alignment.
The secondary is the primary question mark, said Gettman, “with a lot of parts in there.”
J.T. Knobloch will handle the kicking and punting chores.
Cascade Christian will get a measure of itself in the early going, with difficult nonleague matchups against 4A schools Mazama and Marist among its first four games.
It opens against La Pine, which went 4-2 in the spring.
Jon Gettman (12th year, 105-24)
ASSISTANTS: Mike Schaan (defensive coordinator/offensive line/defensive line), Jeff Olson (linebackers), Sam Carpenter (defensive backs), Joe Hagler (running backs), Matt Hagert (receivers), Andy Scaglione (head JV/defensive backs/receivers), Steve Furst (quarterbacks), Ryan Sample (JV assistant/receivers), Darren Turituri (offensive line/defensive line/JV defense), Marty Maurer (tight ends), Jim Lockwood (running backs/linebackers).
2020-21 OVERALL RECORD: 5-0.
PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: First.
Cascade Christian Opponents
52 Phoenix 13
49 Klamath Union 27
49 Harrisburg 0
42 Pleasant Hill 0
14 Hidden Valley 42
60 South Umpqua 0
50 Douglas 2
49 Brookings-Harbor 0
61 St. Mary’s 7
54 Sutherlin 28
30 Hidden Valley 51
40 Brookings-Harbor 8
55 St. Mary’s 6
54 Douglas 8
37 South Umpqua 0
13 Santiam Christian 10
OFFENSE (4): Center Daniel Nering (6-2, 230, jr.), tackle Bryson Cannon (6-4, 200, sr.), guard Liam Benade (6-2, 265, jr.), tight end Austin Waits (6-2, 240, sr.).
DEFENSE (3): End Liam Benade, linebacker/end Bryson Cannon, linebacker Austin Waits.
Receiver/defensive back Tyler Almasy (5-8, 145, jr.), receiver/defensive back Reese Barney (6-2, 175, sr.), linebacker/offensive lineman Zachary McKenzie-Cook (5-10, 180, sr.), defensive back/receiver Bryson Jackson (5-10, 160, jr.), kicker/receiver/defensive back J.T. Knobloch (5-9, 160, jr.), defensive tackle/offensive guard Matthew Moses (6-0, 300, jr.), quarterback/linebacker Keith Reed (6-2, 175, jr.), running back/receiver/defensive back Brody Sample (5-8, 155, jr.), linebacker/running back/receiver Cole Shields (5-10, 210, jr.), defensive lineman/linebacker/offensive lineman Jaxson Turituri (6-1, 213, jr.), running back/linebacker/safety Tristan Wallace (5-11, 200, jr.), defensive back/receiver Peyton Maurer (6-1, 165, so.), defensive back/running back Kameron Rague (5-10, 170, fr.).
Sept. 3 at La Pine, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 MAZAMA, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Yreka (CA), 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 MARIST, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 at Siuslaw, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 ST. MARY’S, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 TBD
Oct. 22 SOUTH UMPQUA, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 SUTHERLIN, 7 p.m.
Tim Trower is a freelance writer. To comment on this article, write to email@example.com.