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Challengers vie for FWL title

Playoff seeding also at stake for unbeatens Cascade Christian, South Umpqua in Friday’s finale

As far as the Cascade Christian football team is concerned, the adoption of a postseason mindset has already set in.

It’s due to who the Challengers just played and who they have on the schedule this coming Friday night in the regular-season finale.

“Absolutely we have it,” said Cascade Christian head coach Jon Gettman. “You got it for the St. Mary’s week and this week. Absolutely, it started for us last week with that mindset.”

A week after extending its dominance against its crosstown rival, Cascade Christian will now look to close the regular season on a high note when fellow unbeaten South Umpqua comes to Medford in what is the de facto Far West League championship game.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Lithia & Driveway Fields.

“It’s an exciting time and there’s nothing better than that,” said Gettman, who is in his 13th season at the helm. “You look forward to these opportunities and, for us, it’s not something we’ve been able to have week-in and week-out in our conference. It’s awesome where you come down to the final game of the regular season and with two teams that are 8-0 and you feel good.

“Last year’s game was a two-point game, so you feel good that you can play with these guys. You feel good as far as our kids and the preparation you’ve put in, and you just continue to work.”

Both teams have been the class of the FWL ever since the season kicked off Sept. 3.

The Challengers enter 8-0. So do the Lancers, last season’s state runner-up who are coming off a 47-6 win over Sutherlin last Friday night. They’re tied atop the FWL standings.

While Cascade Christian has been the No. 1-ranked team in the Class 3A coaches’ poll for much of the season, the Challengers and Lancers moved into a tie for the No. 2 spot in the OSAA power rankings following last Friday’s games.

This will also be the first time since 2012 that Cascade Christian has entered its season finale undefeated. The Challengers finished 12-1 and lost to Dayton in the 3A championship game that season.

“We’re going to see a loaded, good football team on the other side,” South Umpqua head coach Steve Stebbins said. “I’m excited for us and I think this is what we need to see. Obviously we’re both going to be in the playoffs next week, but we need to be challenged, we need to be hit in the mouth a little bit and see how we respond. This is going to be good for us because it hasn’t really happened yet this year. It will be a good test to see where we’re at.”

Both teams have been dominant for a large portion of the season with scoring margins to back it all up.

Gettman’s team, fresh off its 56-13 win over St. Mary’s last week, has averaged a whopping 54.1 points per game and outscored opponents 433-35 — the only 3A team to surpass the 400-point mark this season. They’ve scored less than 48 points just once — a 35-0 win over Lakeview on Oct. 14 in which quarterback Keith Reed was making his return to the starting lineup.

“I think against Lakeview, that was the game we were misfiring a little bit offensively just trying to get Keith back into it and trying some different things,” Gettman said. “It took him a little bit to get that feel, but consistently we’ve been good.”

Indeed they have.

“There’s a lot of positives and we’re just looking for that consistency,” Gettman said. “There’s still tweaks, still player personnel you’re looking at and trying to figure out the best grouping and stuff of that nature, but the kids’ effort that they’ve been giving, their work ethic, those are things you’re excited about. You watch the film and you see a lot of good things out there.”

The most consistent part of the Challengers’ play, Gettman said, has been that of their offensive line. The group, which features some of Cascade’s most experienced players, including seniors Daniel Nering, Liam Benade and Jackson Turituri and junior Jack Knips.

“I feel like that’s probably been our most consistent area of play,” Gettman said. “You’ve got Daniel, Liam with Jackson Turituri and Jack Knips who’ve started every game up front, so having that consistency up front makes a huge difference.”

The Challengers have rushed for just over 1,700 yards as a team, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry along the way. Sophomore running back Kameron Rague, absent in last Friday’s win due to injury, leads the team with 620 yards and 11 touchdowns on 39 carries.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Rague is averaging 15.9 yards a carry.

Reed, who also made a cameo in Cascade’s win over Phoenix two weeks ago, is 11-for-27 for 253 yards and four touchdowns with an interception since returning to action. He’s also run for 139 yards and a pair of TDs.

Junior receiver Peyton Maurer leads the Challengers with 327 yards receiving and four touchdowns, while senior Brody Sample has accumulated 307 yards and three TDs.

“A lot of it is just emotion,” Gettman said of Reed, a second-team all-FWL pick as a junior. “You’ve been out for a while and you get anxious, so it’s just getting him to calm down and play under control, understand that he’s one of the guys and part of it. It’s really for him as the quarterback, he’s a facilitator and trying to get the ball into the other kids’ hands. We have a number of kids who can make plays outside of him, so it’s just getting him to understand that.”

In South Umpqua, Cascade Christian will be trying to slow down a team that is averaging 47.4 points per game and has scored at least 47 points in seven of its eight games this season.

Led by senior quarterback Jace Johnson, the Lancers’ run-pass option attack can hit you from all angles, and features a handful of players who can hurt you as a receiver or out of the backfield.

Johnson, a first-team all-state pick last season, is the one who makes it all go. A three-year starter for the Lancers, Johnson has completed 68.8% of his passes (95-for-138) and thrown for 1,531 yards and 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He’s also run for 289 yards and six TDs.

Johnson’s top targets have been receiver Isaac Real and tight end Isaac Simpson. Real has 34 receptions for 499 yards and seven touchdowns, while Simpson has caught 19 pass for 390 yards and six TDs.

Jacob Logan leads the Lancers’ rushing attack with 872 yards on 117 carries and 15 touchdowns.

“He’s done a great job,” Stebbins said of the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Johnson. “He knows the offense inside and out, and it’s almost like having another coach on the field at times because he’s telling everyone what they need to do if they’re unsure or what he’s looking for on certain plays. I trust him and what he sees — he’s smart, he’s cerebral, he gets it and it’s just fun to work with him.”

For the Challengers, they know that things will go on beyond this week when they open up the state playoffs in Medford next Friday.

But first comes first: South Umpqua and a matchup of unbeatens that Gettman is certainly excited to be a part of.

“To me, it’s a challenge of really pushing the bar every time you step on the field and where you can push it to,” Gettman said. “That’s what we want to do and this is another chance for us to push to see where the boundary of this team is. That’s what you talk to the kids about every week, and the kids have really responded.

“It’s a testament to the work that they’ve done, to them believing and trusting us as coaches, whether it’s the schemes we put in or the philosophies we put in during the game.”

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

Cascade Christian's Keith Reed runs for a first down against St Mary's at Lithia & Driveway Fields in Medford last Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]