Ashland, Klamath tangle in SSC showdown

ASHLAND — The stakes are as high as they are clear for the Ashland High football team this week.

If the Grizzlies win tonight's first-place showdown against Klamath Union at Modoc Field in Klamath Falls, they claim at least a share of their second straight Southern Sky Conference championship and the league's top seed to the Class 5A state playoffs.

If they lose, their destiny could possibly hinge on the flip of a coin the morning after Halloween.

"It's the biggest game of the year," says Ashland senior quarterback Talon Haggard. "We're taking it like a playoff game."

The eighth-ranked Grizzlies (6-2, 2-0 SSC) have won four straight but have needed fourth-quarter heroics in each of them, thrice coming from behind in the closing minutes.

The Pelicans (5-3, 2-0 SSC) have rebounded from an 0-3 start with five consecutive victories. The winner takes the outright lead in the league, although the Pelicans can't guarantee themselves a playoff spot this week.

An Ashland win would assure the Grizzlies of no worse than a two-way first-place tie and give them the tiebreaker advantage against either KU or Crater (who play each other on Oct. 31 in Central Point) by virtue of wins over both. A three-way tie between Ashland, Crater and KU (all at 3-1) would result in a coin flip to determine the league's two playoff participants.

"They're a team that's playing very well right now," Ashland coach Charlie Hall says of the Pelicans. "They're balanced offensively and their defense flies around pretty good."

The game showcases the league's top two individual stars, in dual-threat quarterbacks Haggard and KU senior Jon Amos.

Haggard leads the SSC in rushing with 1,028 yards and 17 touchdowns and has accounted for at least two scores in every game this season. Amos, the son of Pelicans' coach Wayne Amos, has a razor-thin edge in passing stats, completing a league-best 58.8 percent of his throws for 1,366 yards and 14 scores against just two interceptions.

"He's been around the game a long time and he can certainly hurt you as much with his arm as with his legs," Hall says. "He has the ability to be a college quarterback someplace."

As fun as the two signal-callers are to watch, Haggard vowed not get caught up in a one-on-one battle.

"I try to keep it strictly as one team against the other," he says.

When the chips are down, Haggard most often looks for senior receiver Charlie Sebrell, who is second in the SSC with 41 catches and has a league-high 734 yards and seven scores.

Amos spreads the ball around more, with Eric Chadderdon (17 catches, 395 yards, seven TDs), Randy Denson (21-327) and Gary Fonseca-Fisher (18-244, one TD) all getting a piece of the action.

Klamath's bread-and-butter offense, however, is running the ball between the tackles behind a powerful offensive line. That's been a cause for concern for Ashland's young defense, which has allowed better than 200 yards on the ground four times in eight games this season and ranks fourth in the five-team SSC against the run (196.4 yards per game).

Senior tailback Luke Porter is averaging 7.9 yards per carry — second only to Haggard among SSC regulars — while Amos (4.9 per carry) and Fonseca-Fisher (5.2) have also found success on the ground. Porter ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries and also caught a TD pass in a 35-14 win over Eagle Point last week.

"I definitely expect them to run the ball," Hall says.

CRATER AT MAZAMA — Crater (4-4, 1-1 SSC) is coming off "probably one of our best defensive games we've ever played of all time," said coach John Beck, and hopes to carry the momentum into its contest with the Vikings (3-5, 0-3).

Last week, the Comets blanked Class 6A Oregon City, 17-0. They allowed the Pioneers 28 total yards and only two first downs.

"It's pretty encouraging," said Beck. "We're pretty excited about the rest of season."

Crater needs to win its final two games to nail down the No. 2 seed to state. Next week, it is host to Klamath Union, which shares first place with Ashland at 2-0.

The Comets enjoy playing on the road, says Beck, because they've had success there. They're ready again.

"We've had another good week of practice," he says. "We've got good competition going on on the offensive line."

A key for Crater tonight will be to stop Danny Saltenberger, who ranks fourth in the SSC in rushing with 519 yards. The Comets' Kenny Fahndrich (592) is third.

It also will try to get pressure on Mazama quarterback Brandon Quirk.

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