Cascade looking for a perfect ending
Before a single play was run during the 2022 season, players on the Cascade Christian football team discussed what potentially practicing on Thanksgiving would mean to them.
The easiest thing to figure out is that it meant they were one of two teams remaining in the Class 3A state playoffs.
“Last year we were saying, ‘Let’s practice on Thanksgiving, let’s get that’ and we didn’t get it and it was really disappointing,” said Cascade Christian senior receiver Brody Sample, “but this year we actually get to practice during Thanksgiving break and it’s fun. It’s exciting.”
After a 7 a.m. practice on Thanksgiving morning this past Thursday where the sun was shining even though the temperature was near freezing, it’s full steam ahead toward trying to do what no other Cascade Christian team has ever done.
For the second straight weekend, the second-seeded Challengers will head north to Cottage Grove, this time to face the only other team without a loss in 3A this season: No. 1 seed Kennedy. Both teams will be in search of their 13th victory and, more importantly, a state title that they have been working toward since the summer months.
Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m. at Cottage Grove High School.
“I think we’re peaking at just the right time,” said Sample. “We’ve been building all year and we haven’t really had too many setbacks besides injuries, but everyone is healthy now and we’re peaking right at the state week.
“It’s really cool because I watched the years in front of me play at Cottage Grove and last year we didn’t get to it, so it’s kind of crazy to realize I’m playing on that same field in the semis and championship game there.”
Cascade Christian, playing in its fifth title game during head coach Jon Gettman’s 13-year tenure, will be seeking its first 3A title since the 2017 season. The Challengers also won state titles in 2006 and 2013.
Gettman joked that Cottage Grove has become Cascade Christian North with how many times he’s brought a team north during his tenure.
A win over Kennedy would give the Challengers their first unbeaten season in program history.
“We have to control the ball and turnovers are going to play another big part,” said Gettman. “Health-wise, we’re a little dinged up but that’s to be expected because Dayton was a very physical team. It was a very fun game to be a part of and they really matched us in a lot of ways. We were able to get some turnovers and that was what was able to turn the game, but we’re doing good and the kids are excited, ready to practice and bringing energy.”
Gettman didn’t hesitate when describing a Trojans team that is in its first season at the 3A level after making three straight 2A title games and finished as the runner-up last year.
Kennedy is looking for its first state title since winning the 2A championship in 2018. The Trojans, who decided to move up to 3A this season, edged Banks 15-7 last Saturday to keep their own dreams of an unbeaten season alive.
Will Kennedy be the biggest test when it comes to an opponent matching the Challengers’ athleticism?
“Oh yeah,” Gettman said without hesitation. “They’ll match that without a doubt. Without question they’ve got a good group of kids and it will be a test for us.”
The Trojans show a lot of that athleticism and speed on defense.
Kennedy has allowed just 62 points in 12 games this season, the lowest per game average (5.2) in all of the state regardless of classification. In their three playoff games this season, the Trojans have allowed a combined 19 points.
In last Saturday’s semifinal win, Kennedy allowed 152 yards of total offense by Banks.
“Defensively, they’re just fast and athletic,” said Gettman. “They’ve got guys who, in every game, are making plays and covering a ton of ground. They’ve given up the fewest points in the state in 3A, so you just see it with the athletes from the secondary to the linebackers to the D-line, they offer a wide range of fast, athletic and aggressive kids.”
Offensively, Gettman expects Kennedy to give multiple looks right out of the gate.
Trojans junior quarterback Elijah Traeger has thrown for 959 yards and 16 touchdown passes with six interceptions in 123 pass attempts.
Senior receiver Owen Bruner (5-11, 160) and senior tight end Brett Boen (6-4, 200) have combined to catch 14 of Traeger’s 16 TD passes this season. Bruner has caught 17 passes for 391 yards and six touchdowns, while Boen has 17 receptions for 245 yards and eight touchdowns.
Senior running back William Schaecher (5-10, 185) leads a Kennedy rushing attack that has recorded nearly 2,200 yards this season. Schaecher leads the Trojans with 725 yards and eight touchdowns, while Traeger has added 311 yards and seven TDs.
On average, Kennedy has rushed for nearly 182 yards per game this season.
“They’re a diverse group,” said Gettman. “They’re able to run the ball, they get into some Power-I football and then they’ll spread the ball out. That’s a challenge to be ready for both of those types of games. They do a good job with it and they’ve got athletes that they can use across the board.”
Cascade Christian’s quick-strike offense was on display once again in last Saturday’s semifinal win over Dayton.
Whether it was courtesy of senior quarterback Keith Reed and his bevy of receiving options or on the ground with sophomore Kameron Rague and senior Triston Wallace, the Challengers hit the Pirates from a multitude of directions.
Reed, who Gettman felt played one of his best games since coming back from his early-season arm injury, has thrown for 1,215 yards and 15 touchdowns and scored another six TDs on the ground — including two in last weekend’s win — in eight games this season.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Rague ran for over 100 yards for the seventh time this season in the win over Dayton. He has rushed for 1,210 yards and 19 touchdowns this season.
Sample and junior receiver Peyton Maurer both have a team-high six touchdown receptions.
The Challengers have yet to trail an opponent after the first quarter this season. And out of the 576 minutes that Cascade Christian has played this season, the Challengers have trailed for all of 2 minutes, 51 seconds.
“It’s all coming together,” said Sample. “Practices have been getting better every day and the games have been looking better every week. … You can just feel the momentum change in a game. The defense gets a big stop and then all of those defensive guys pretty much go right into offense, so they just feed off the juice and get the drive going.”
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.