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Challengers’ waiting game is over

Cascade Christian gets second chance against No. 1 Siuslaw in Friday’s quarterfinals

As much as potentially getting another shot at Siuslaw crossed the Cascade Christian football team’s mind over the last six weeks, the Challengers knew they had to get right more than anything else.

Fixing errors on both sides of the ball had to happen, with early-season struggles and a lack of reps proving costly for a Cascade team that had a whole lot of talent to replace from the spring campaign.

“Truthfully, it seems like a whole ‘nother season since we last faced (Siuslaw),” Challengers head coach Jon Gettman said. “At that point, we were 1-2 after that game and looking at an uphill battle moving forward from there. For us, it was just a lot of things that we had to improve upon and work to get better.”

The good thing for Cascade Christian is that it will indeed get another chance to face unbeaten and No. 1-seeded Siuslaw in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state playoffs. The eighth-seeded Challengers (5-3), fresh off a 40-30 opening-round win over No. 9 Junction City, will now head back to the place where the Oct. 1 loss to the Vikings took place.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight in Florence.

“You go over there and you know it’s going to be a battle,” Gettman said. “Those are the games you want to play in as a football player, those are the ones that are exciting. In a playoff game, it’s great to be a part of those kinds of games.”

Cascade Christian (5-3) and Siuslaw (9-0) combined for 868 yards of total offense in the Vikings’ 38-34 win earlier this season. The Challengers held a slim lead late in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings scored with 37 seconds left on a 37-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Beau Erickson to running back Camp Lacouture to take the lead once and for all. At the time, Siuslaw and Cascade Christian were ranked third and second, respectively, in the 3A coaches poll.

“It’s been about taking care of things, cleaning things up, whether it’s been offensively or defensively, and getting a lot better. That’s really been the focus since the last time we saw them,” Gettman said.

Since the loss to Siuslaw, Cascade Christian has won four of its five games, including last week’s playoff opener. Over that span, the Challengers have averaged 39.4 points per game and allowed just 13 points a contest.

The Challengers’ offensive line has played a big role in the team’s recent success. No matter if it’s protecting junior quarterback Keith Reed or opening up holes for the bevy of different options the Challengers have, Cascade’s offensive line is certainly playing at a high level going into a second meeting with 3A’s No. 1 seed.

“Right now, that’s probably the strength of our offense with the offensive line,” Gettman said. “I think that they have kind of jelled and molded together. They’re pretty low-key and quiet guys, a lot like the way offensive line kids seem to be. It’s brought us a lot of consistency with that.”

Also a boon to the Challengers’ chances this week is the return of senior Austin Waits, who missed the win over Junction City due to injury.

Waits, who is also a linebacker, had four catches for 111 yards and a touchdown in the Oct. 1 game against Siuslaw.

“I’d say it looks like he’s good to go. He was out there (Tuesday) and looked pretty good,” Gettman said.

Reed is coming off a strong game against Junction City in which he accounted for nearly 300 yards of total offense, had just one incompletion in 15 pass attempts and threw a pair of touchdown passes.

In his first year as the Challengers’ starter under center, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Reed has thrown for 1,469 yards and 15 touchdowns with five interceptions.

In the first meeting with Siuslaw, Reed went 20-of-29 for 326 yards and three touchdown passes and one interception, completing at least two passes to five different receivers. He was also the Challengers’ leading rusher with 58 yards.

Reed is also tied for tops on the team with nine rushing touchdowns with junior Triston Wallace, who leads the Challengers with 547 rushing yards this season.

Junior Brody Sample has been a threat on the ground and through the air, rushing for 216 yards and accounting for another 288 yards as a receiver.

Another junior, Tyler Almasy, leads Cascade Christian with 481 yards on 31 receptions — an average of 15.6 yards per catch — and four touchdowns.

“It’s confidence for a quarterback,” Gettman said. “In that (Oct. 1) game, he made some incredible throws to Austin, a number of third-down throws, some into the back of the end zone. He’s been making great decisions the past couple of weeks to show growth in that area as well. That’s what you want in a quarterback. We trust him in his decisions and he’s growing to understand his role more and more in what he needs to do.”

Based off the first game against the Vikings, Gettman knows that his team will have to score a good amount of points if it wants to advance to the 3A semifinals against either fourth-seeded Warrenton or No. 5 seed La Pine.

He also knows just how much of a challenge trying to slow down Siuslaw will be.

The Vikings have scored fewer than 30 points in just two of their nine games this season, and are coming off a dominant 45-6 win over Blanchet Catholic in the first round last Friday.

Siuslaw, as Gettman noted, can pound the ball on the ground but is just as dangerous through the air.

Lacouture, a senior, has rushed for 1,187 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, while also totaling nearly 400 yards as a receiver.

Erickson, also a senior, has completed 63% of his passes and thrown for 2,233 yards with 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s also Siuslaw’s second-leading rusher behind Lacouture, recording 392 yards and six touchdowns.

Erickson’s top target is 6-foot-2 senior Braydon Thornton, who caught eight passes for 104 yards and a touchdown against Cascade Christian last month. On the season, Thornton has 1,251 yards receiving and has caught a whopping 17 touchdown passes.

Thornton caught an Oregon single-game record seven touchdown passes in Siuslaw’s 66-19 win over Pleasant Hill on Oct. 14.

“They do a great job because it’s not just that they throw the ball, they can run the ball real well, too,” Gettman said. “They’ll smash and pound you and go double tight to then spread the ball, so you’re not just stopping one game, you have to prepare for multiple games. That’s really the effectiveness of their offense and they do a good job with that. The coaches do a good job of getting the ball into their playmakers’ hands.”

Having seen the Vikings already once this season certainly is a plus, but it’s the same situation for both sides of tonight’s matchup.

That means it boils down to two things in Gettman’s mind: who executes better and who wins the turnover battle.

“It certainly gives you an idea of what to prepare for and how to go forward, but it’s the same thing for them,” Gettman said. “It’s at their place, so you’re going on a long road trip. You’ve seen what they do, but they do a really great job of executing it. Knowing what’s going to happen and trying to stop it are two totally different things.”

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Cascade Christian's Brody Sample (center), seen here in a file photo, and the Challengers face No. 1 seed Siuslaw in the Class 3A state quarterfinals tonight. (Larry Stauth Jr. / for the Mail Tribune)