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Challengers attack behind cohesive front five

They’re the unsung heroes, the faceless allies stationed in the shadows, anonymous and, let’s face it, uncelebrated. They’re linemen, specifically offensive linemen — because defensive linemen, in contrast, occasionally bask in the glory of a sack, forced fumble or fumble recovery.

But for an offensive lineman, attention is something which must be avoided at all cost because it can only mean one thing, and that thing is disaster: a drive-killing sack, a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, maybe even a blocked kick or a turnover. So for Cascade Christian center Logan Flenner, left tackle Cole Ferguson, right tackle Cody Miller, left guard Spencer Weeks and right guard Gabe Pierson, obscurity isn’t shameful; it’s basically the goal.

“The line doesn’t really get the glory,” Ferguson said with a shrug after Tuesday’s practice at U.S. Cellular Community Park, “but that’s fine because we’re like the bassists. We lay the ground work, we help everyone else.”

That ground work has led the No. 3 seed Challengers all the way back to the Class 3A state championship game against top-seeded Rainier Saturday in Cottage Grove, where the defending state champions will be gunning for the program’s fourth state title and second in a row.

If it’s true that behind every great offense is a great offensive line, then Cascade Christian must have one of the best front fives in Oregon. The statistics certainly say so.

Cascade Christian, which runs a spread, usually rolling out four receivers and one running back, has put up some gaudy numbers while winning 11 of 12 games (including 10 straight) heading into Saturday’s final. The Challengers average 403 yards and 47.8 points per game, good for second in the state in the second category (the top scoring team, Amity, fell hard to Cascade Christian, 49-24, in the semis). Equally impressive is Cascade Christian’s almost perfect balance. The Challengers are gaining 202 yards per game through the air and 201.8 yards per game rushing.

Their scheme and athleticism at the skill positions accounts for some of that, of course, but the offensive line has made life easier for the likes of leading rusher Luke Smith (910 yards, 15 touchdowns) and quarterback Kiegan Schaan (2,309 yards, 29 touchdowns passing) by outflanking their counterparts. Listed at 6-feet, 295 pounds, Flenner is the biggest of the bunch as well as the captain responsible for making the calls, while the others range in size from 5-10, 175 (Ferguson) to 6-3, 230 (Miller). Hardly huge, but as far as head coach Jon Gettman is concerned, just right for what they’re required to do in the Challengers’ system.

“We want athleticism up front, the ability to move,” said Gettman, who also guided Cascade Christian to state titles in 2013 and 2017. “That way you can pull, you can do more things if we got kids who can move. But this group specifically, I think their biggest strength is they’re pretty low key. We want them to talk more and they’re getting better at that, but nothing fazes them. They don’t get rattled.”

Offensive and defensive line coach Mike Schaan says the spread offense eases the pressure for linemen to be “that stereotypical toe-to-toe smash-mouth” group, which plays into Cascade Christian’s hands.

“Their strength,” he said, “is their cohesiveness as a group. They all get along very well. They’re a quiet bunch, but they just go out and they have a workmanlike attitude. They don’t get rattled, they just go to the next play.

“They just stay the course, and that’s big to me. The fact that they don’t get agitated and rattled when things don’t go right. They just come together and regroup and go to the next play.”

That quality proved especially useful against Amity, which surprised Cascade Christian by jumping out to a 24-13 lead in the second quarter. The rough start may have been somewhat alarming for the Cascade Christian faithful who made the trip north, especially considering the Challengers had outscored their previous two playoff opponents by a combined count of 106-21. But Flenner says he and his fellow linemen never panicked.

“It’s a little distressing at first, I think, but then I realized I started to just trust in our team and what we do and what we stand for,” Flenner said. “I think it was definitely a little surprising to have a team come out on us like Amity did because we hadn’t had that really all year, and that was a little bit of a worry for us at one point. But standing on the sideline, I don’t really get in that mindset. I was just thinking, all right, we gotta go back on offense and score. And if we score then we can keep within distance.”

Shortly after Amity completed the 80-yard drive that led to its largest lead of the day John Fralich scored on a 63-yard kickoff return, and Cascade Christian was back in business. A 50-yard drive capped by Smith’s 2-yard touchdown run gave the Challengers a 26-24 halftime lead, and they outscored Amity 23-0 in the second half to win going away.

Efficient as usual, Cascade Christian amassed 391 yards of total offense — 250 passing and 157 rushing. The highlights on TV and in print, of course, zeroed in on the spectacular, such as Cade Sample’s 19-yard pass from Kiegan Schaan in the first quarter, and Fralich’s kickoff return. That’s fine by Ferguson, who moved to the O-line for the first time ever this season and has taken to life in the trenches.

“It’s hard work,” he said, “but I got my boys to support me so that’s all that really matters.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

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