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Crater enters playoffs on high note

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Cascade Christian hosts Junction City at Spiegelberg in top 3A clash

It may have taken a little longer than those within the Crater Comets football program had hoped, but head coach Berk Brown feels confident that his team has finally settled into its identity.

With the reemergence of sophomore quarterback Shane Wood to boost a stagnant passing game and an always reliable defense and running attack spearheaded by senior Caden Lasater, today’s Comets are what Brown envisioned from Day 1.

“We knew we had one of the best running backs in the state (in Lasater), we just needed to have a quarterback back there that could stretch the defense and give us some wiggle room,” said Brown. “This is where we wanted to be all season long, but with our youth, it’s just taken us some time to get there.”

That time couldn’t be more perfect as Crater (6-3) returns to the Class 5A state playoffs and will hit the road Friday to play at seventh-seeded North Salem (6-3). Kickoff is 7 p.m.

The Comets are ranked eighth in the state’s 5A coaches poll but take a No. 10 seed into the playoffs, adding a little extra motivation to a matchup with a Vikings team that has won four straight games and provides an unconventional look with a wing-T offense akin to Bend that relies on pulling and trapping linemen and slight of hand misdirection.

“North Salem presents a lot of problems,” said Brown. “They’re a physical football team who run a unique style of offense and defense that we’ve had to spend a lot of time getting our kids ready to play against. When you face a team that runs the wing-T, you kind of throw out what you normally do week-in and week-out in your defensive playbook and you have to structure things to make sure that you’re covering all your gaps and that your eyes are in the right place and you’re extremely disciplined or they’re going to make you pay for it.”

The good news for Crater is that its defense has been the most reliable part of the program thus far, allowing only 12.3 points and 229.9 yards per game with 20 takeaways.

Seniors Miles Jennings, Jimmy Jordahl and Lasater have helped pave the way at each level for the Comets on defense.

North Salem secured its first winning season since 2004 and snapped an 11-year playoff drought thanks in large part to the strong running of junior Josiah Davis (5-11, 205) and sophomore fullback Jerrik Wangler (5-10, 180).

In a 21-18 win over McKay to end the regular season, Davis ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries while Wangler added a TD run and the Vikings’ defense held McKay on successive plays from the 1-yard line in the final minute to prevail.

“They really like getting him the rock and he runs the ball really hard,” Brown said of Davis. “He’s going to be a load to take down.”

Sophomore quarterback TC Manumaleuna guides the wing-T attack for the Vikings mostly from a ballhandling aspect but is capable of catching teams off guard with the occasional play-action pass.

A sophomore in his own right, Wood was handed the keys to Crater’s offense to start the season but a rough second-game outing against Mazama led the Comets to shift gears and go with a more ball-control approach with senior Javon Smith assuming the reins.

In consecutive weeks since Crater lost 9-0 at Thurston, Wood has shown more confidence and control of the offense after reclaiming the starting role. In last week’s 45-0 win over Ashland, Wood passed for four touchdowns on a 7-for-8 effort for 109 yards.

“Shane has made a lot of progress since his Week 2 start against Mazama where he struggled so badly,” said Brown. “Now that he has four games under his belt at the varsity level, he’s playing with confidence and doing some good things.”

That bodes well for bringing Smith and leading receiver Kayden Gardner more into the game plan, while also hopefully freeing up some space for Lasater, who has run for 860 yards and five TDs on 161 carries.

“It takes the pressure off of Lasater when we’re not facing nine-man boxes and we have the threat of throwing the ball over your head,” said Brown. “It’s going to loosen up the defense a little bit and allow Caden some more lanes and some more seams to get loose in the rushing game.

“It just adds another dimension to our offense to where we’re just not a run and screen team but now we can throw the ball downfield vertically and stress out those safeties a little bit who have been creeping up to the line of scrimmage over the last seven weeks.”

JUNCTION CITY AT CASCADE CHRISTIAN: In the best matchup in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs, Cascade Christian will shift over to Spiegelberg Stadium and play host to Junction City in a top-10 showdown. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

The Challengers are seeded eighth and the Tigers are ninth in the playoff rankings, with Cascade Christian No. 6 in the 3A coaches poll and Junction City sitting 10th. Each team will be hungry to advance to next week’s quarterfinals and a possible rematch with Siuslaw, which beat the Challengers with a TD in the final minute and last week rallied from a 40-14 deficit against Junction City to win 41-40.

Junction City senior Gabriel Ward (5-10, 180) ran for six touchdowns to help give Junction City a seemingly insurmountable lead late in the third quarter and will be the focus for a Challengers defense coming off a strong showing in a 68-6 demolition of Sutherlin.

Freshman Kameron Rague leads Cascade Christian with 56 tackles and 2 ½ sacks, with senior Bryson Cannon posting 44 tackles.

Offensively, junior quarterback Keith Reed has completed 95 of 155 passes for 1,284 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. The 6-2, 175-pounder has also run for 226 yards and nine TDs to complement a diverse run game that has enjoyed steady showings from juniors Triston Wallace (446 yards, seven TDs) and Brody Sample (193 yards, one TD) and Rague (217 yards, two TDs).

Tyler Almasy has been the most prolific receiving threat with 27 catches for 438 yards and four TDs, while senior Austin Waits has 16 catches for 300 yards and four scores.

The Challengers typically play their home games at U.S. Cellular Community Park but with Medford’s Spiegelberg Stadium being unoccupied this week with South Medford and North Medford each on the road for 6A playoff openers, they jumped at the chance to play at the bigger venue.

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

Crater High QB Shane Wood prepares to hand the ball off to teammate Caden Lasater against Ashland High at Crater on Friday. (Larry Stauth Jr. / for the Mail Tribune)
Crater wide receiver Javon Smith races past Ashland defender Caden Negra, while teammate Andrew Schatz looks on, at Crater High on Friday. (Larry Stauth Jr. / for the Mail Tribune)
Cascade Christian running back Triston Wallace races up to the line against South Umpqua at U.S. Cellular on Friday. (Larry Stauth Jr. / for the Mail Tribune)