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Crater tackles stiff test in Thurston

Eagle Point travels to Ashland for Midwestern League contest

It takes just one point more than your opponent to earn a victory, and it takes just one good night to shake up the state.

Crater has mastered the ability to do just enough all season to set up a top-10 showdown with Thurston at 7 p.m. tonight, and now the Comets are banking that’s the case one more time in a game that, on paper, definitely favors the high-powered Colts.

“I’ve told my coaches and our players that nine times out of 10 we’ll probably lose to this team,” said Crater head coach Berk Brown, “but we’re looking for that 10th time. We’re looking to create some plays offensively that will be explosive and catch them off guard, and then continue to play stout defense and keep their offensive play-callers guessing on who we’re going to be keying on.”

The problem is, there are plenty of Thurston players to key on in a contest that very well could determine the Midwestern League champion. The second-ranked Colts, 4-0 in league and overall, average 47 points per game and eclipse 400 yards of total offense on a regular basis.

“It’s a group that I think will be playing late into November,” Brown said of the Colts. “We’re just hoping to get a chance to knock them off and give ourselves a shot at the conference championship.”

Meetings with Thurston haven’t gone Crater’s way since the Colts dropped down from the 6A level in 2016, including the most recent — and most prominent — matchup in 2019 when Thurston edged the Comets 14-10 for the 5A state title.

Overall, Crater is 0-5 against Thurston, but that doesn’t mean for one second that Brown is discounting his team’s chances of pulling off a monumental victory tonight in Springfield.

After all, the Comets do bring in a 5-1 record in their own right, including 5-0 in MWL play.

Those wins may not have come in the flashy fashion that Crater fans have become accustomed to in recent years, but a more ball-control, defensive stance this year hasn’t diminished the team’s win-loss record.

“I can’t really put my thumb on it but we’ve just got a gritty group of kids,” Brown said of his team’s ability to battle each week. “They’re just willing to do whatever it takes to give themselves a chance to win and pull it out at the end.”

Key to the team’s success has been a defense that has limited opponents to 232 yards and 13 points per game — second only to Silverton at the 5A level (11 per game) — while also forcing 17 turnovers.

Senior linebacker Caden Lasater and defensive end Jimmy Jordahl gain a lion’s share of the credit, and deservingly so, but the Comets are far from a two-man barrier on defense.

Senior Ryken deVilleneuve has switched positions for the betterment of the team and thrived at defensive end despite a size disparity, while Brown said junior Nate James may be his team’s pound-for-pound strongest player at strongside defensive end.

Weakside linebacker Tony Dowens and fellow junior Aidan Chenoweth at safety have also been instrumental in creating a stout challenge for opponents.

Were it not for an uncharacteristically poor showing in an impromptu game with Mazama that was settled on only four days prior, the Comets likely could be putting up defensive numbers that would make any team green with envy.

“They just buy in and love how we line up on defense and we attack the football,” said Brown of his defense. “I think they just love to run around and hit people.”

That may be easier said than done tonight though, with Thurston fresh off a 42-32 win over Churchill in which the Colts amassed 504 yards of total offense.

At 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, senior running back Gavin Knights is “probably the best running back outside of our own kid (Lasater) in the state,” according to Brown. Knights averages 126 yards rushing per game and ran for 190 yards and two TDs last week, with senior Brycen Indell (6-0, 205) providing a perfect complement at nearly 100 yards per game.

If that one-two punch wasn’t enough of a headache, Thurston creates mismatches across the board on the perimeter with the likes of senior receivers Jacob Newell (6-5, 230), Grayson Starck (6-4, 200) and Kellen Humphries (6-0, 185).

Newell, an all-conference player on both sides of the ball, has committed to Nevada and boasts 26 catches for 443 yards and seven touchdowns in only four games.

“It’s gonna be quite the matchup,” said Brown. “Athletically and physically, they’re really impressive in a lot of areas.”

For Crater, Lasater continues to be the driving force on offense with 583 yards and five TDs on 118 carries thus far, with senior Javon Smith settling in more and more at quarterback to provide a dual-threat capability.

EAGLE POINT AT ASHLAND: Eagle Point built a 10-0 lead on Crater last week but could not slow the comeback Comets, who answered with the game’s final 17 points to claim a narrow victory in overtime.

While the Eagles (2-4, 2-3 MWL) missed a chance at their first win over Crater since 2016, the toe-to-toe performance is one that should catapult them into a positive outing tonight at Ashland.

Senior running back Isaiah Hill accounted for 109 of his team’s 180 yards of total offense against Crater, with senior Jimmie Copeland coming through with a clutch 28-yard TD reception from Caiden Lacey and finished with 69 yards receiving.

Lacey was forced out of last week’s game in the fourth quarter by injury and despite slowly limping off the field, he was able to get clearance to return for overtime. Eagles coach Erik Johnson said Lacey was set to play tonight. If that changes, Dawson Foulon took over for Lacey last week and likely would get the call against the Grizzlies, although Bryton Livingston and Anthony Milian also shared QB duties in the spring.

Copeland has been his team’s top threat on the perimeter with 27 catches for 483 yards and five TDs, while Hill has run for 300 yards and added 92 more through the air to account for a combined six TDs.

Ashland (0-5, 0-4) had a chance at nabbing its first win of the season last week but an inability to capitalize on opportunities led to Willamette being able to fend off the Grizzlies for a 20-14 win.

Pushed back behind center due to a concussion suffered Sept. 24 by freshman QB Jojo Harrower against Churchill, senior Ronin Kimbrough was able to connect with Crosby Lehnerz for a TD pass against the Wolverines and Jackson Kemper added a TD run.

Have a story idea? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Eagle Point's Isaiah Hill attempts to run through the tackle by Crater defenders Tony Downes (42) and Scott Price (13) at Eagle Point on Friday. (Larry Stauth Jr. / for the Mail Tribune)