Mazama capitalizes on Crater turnovers to down Comets
CENTRAL POINT — Against Mazama’s vaunted offense, the Crater High football team knew its defense would need to be at its best Friday night.
What the Comets didn’t factor in was their own offensive struggles, which played right into the hands of the Vikings and their run-heavy attack known as the “flex bone.”
Three Crater turnovers, two of which occurred on the Comets’ first play from scrimmage to begin each half, gave Mazama favorable field position while wearing down Crater’s defense in what was ultimately a 42-14 win at Dutch Meyer Field. Mazama fed senior running back Zeke Heaton for 252 yards on 40 caries and four touchdowns, and also benefited from a Crater fumble to open the second half that Mazama junior Tyler Anderson recovered from 30 yards away and ran in to take a 28-7 advantage.
“An opponent like Mazama, you’ve got to do your best to keep your defense off the field,” Crater head coach Berk Brown said. “And when we were on the field as much as we were, whether it was our inability to operate on offense or obviously the turnovers, that killed us. When you have two early turnovers and you get down on a team who can wear you down and grind it out, it’s hard to come back from that.”
Though Crater was able to force a Mazama punt on its first offesnive trip, the Comets’ first two offensive trips ended in a fumble and interception.
The Vikings capitalized on those mistakes to take a 14-0 lead on a pair of Heaton runs less than seven minutes into the game, then added a third unanswered score on a 2-yard plunge from Heaton following a three-and-out from Crater in the second quarter.
“We had a couple mistakes, because we’re a little young, but we really pulled together through these last practices,” Heaton said. “We just really grinded. We came out with the right mindset and just were ready to grind, come through and win, because we knew we could.”
The Comets put together their best offensive drive to close the half, advancing beyond midfield when sophomore quarterback Shane Wood connecting with junior receiver Jaden Andre for 20 yards on a rollout. On the next play, senior running back Caden Lasater took a handoff up the middle, broke an initial tackle and outran two Mazama defenders for a 30-yard score with a minute left in the first half. The Comets, trailing 21-7, also were set to receive the second half kickoff.
But just as the Comets did in the first half, their first play, a delayed handoff, resulted in a fumble that Mazama’s Anderson recovered and scored.
Lasater, however, returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for the touchdown, but the Comets were assessed two dead-ball personal foul penalties nearing the end of the play that were tacked onto the kickoff, once again helping the Vikings gain better field position at the Crater 34-yard line. Heaton took five straight handoffs and added his fourth score from 5 yards away to give Mazama a 35-14 lead.
“That was a real big mistake by two seniors, and a winning football program doesn’t have those sort of penalties after the play is done or behind the ball and special teams,” Brown said. “We’ve got to learn from those mistakes and we’ve got to rebound because we’re hosting a really good football team next week in Churchill.”
Mazama (1-1) went undefeated during the spring season and won the 4A Football Elite 8 Showcase in April, an unofficial state championship event. Last week’s 35-21 loss to Marshfield was a feeling the Vikings hadn’t experienced in quite some time.
“It felt a little different and there were some hard times throughout the week,” Heaton said. “But we really came together and just really tried to make sure that we were a team. That was the most important thing, and that we were going to do things right.”
The 5A-4A matchup between the two schools was a rare one. Crater (1-1) learned Monday it would be facing Mazama after the latter’s previously-scheduled opponent, Cascade Christian, was forced to cancel the game due to COVID-19 protocols. That left the Comets less time than normal to prepare for the game against a Mazama scheme under head coach Vic Lease that many teams aren’t used to defending every week. But as Brown pointed out, Mazama had the same time to prepare for the game, and the head coach was quick to tell his players in the post-game huddle that he did not do enough to get them ready.
“On defense, I got outclassed by a really good coach,” Brown said. “Coach Lease does a really good job with his football program, and he prepared them in a shorter period of time, finding out we were playing on Monday, than I did. My hat (goes) off to coach Lease and his staff — they did a great job getting ready for this football game.”
Crater will get back to its Midwestern League slate next week when it faces Churchill at home. Crater won its first league contest 31-0 against North Bend Sept. 2.
“I told our guys that how we respond to this loss will define us as a team,” Brown said. “If we respond, we show up Sunday for film, we learn from our mistakes, we come back to work and we don’t skip a beat, I think we’ll be just fine. But if we start feeling sorry for ourselves, it could be a long year.”
Reach reporter Will Denner at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org