With his team already on a roll, the last thing Cascade Christian football coach Jon Gettman wants to do is see anything slow them up.
That goes more for internal factors than external, although the latter is always an issue once you get this late in the state playoff season.
The fact that the third-seeded Challengers had scored at least 50 points in seven straight games before managing a mere, yawn, 49 in a first-round rout of Harrisburg last week? Put that in your pocket.
The fact that Cascade Christian (9-1) plays host to a sixth-seeded Scio (8-2) program on Friday that it has bounced from the playoffs in each of the past two seasons? That’s history.
All Gettman wants from his players is a focus on the task at hand and a desire to play their roles to the best of their abilities in the 7 p.m. quarterfinals at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
The best part? The Challengers have already proven that is a team strength.
“This group of kids is pretty level-headed,” said Gettman, “so no matter what happens, it’s, ‘All right, let’s go ahead and just do the job.’”
Cascade Christian leaned on that philosophy last year in the state semifinals against Scio, racing to a 21-0 lead through one quarter that saw the Challengers limit the double-wing Loggers to only one first down.
The Challengers went on to build a 35-6 edge midway through the second quarter and cruised from there for a 49-28 win that catapulted them to a second 3A state title and third championship in program history after winning the 2A crown in 2006.
This year’s version of the Loggers has a new coach in Justin Guest but he came up through the system and Scio’s ground game is as potent as ever.
“They’re a little more athletic this year so we definitely have our hands full,” said Gettman.
After two straight losses to open the season, Scio has gained steam and, like Cascade Christian, will take an eight-game winning streak into Friday’s game.
In the first round against St. Mary’s, the Loggers used a 77-yard touchdown by sophomore Kade Mask to take a 24-22 lead into halftime and then scored four of the next five touchdowns to win going away, 50-35.
Mask finished with scoring runs of 45, 77, and 62 yards against St. Mary’s, while senior Adam Stratemeyer added an 85-yard TD run and senior Daniel Simmons put things away with TD runs of 20, 1 and 18 yards.
“They’ve got a number of backs that can go the distance,” said Gettman.
Making the Loggers so difficult to defend, beyond their athleticism, is how they cram the line of scrimmage with a multitude of players and try to catch you off guard with slight of hand ball movements to their trigger guy.
“You have to disciplined and paying attention because they can have you chasing ghosts out there,” added Gettman.
As was the case last year, the key for Cascade Christian will be in holding their own at the line of scrimmage and not get caught chasing glory. Seniors Spencer Weeks and Cole Ferguson stand to play a key role with Dylan Jackson in the trenches, along with nose guard Grant Couzens, whose main goal will be to hold his ground and occupy as many blockers as possible to free up opportunities for the likes of linebackers Luke Smith, Cade Sample and Elijah Smith.
“It’s really about trying to disrupt the timing of what they’re doing up front so you can get some of those tackles for loss or no gain,” said Gettman. “It really takes the whole group being disciplined with their keys. It’s going to be a physical matchup so the No. 1 thing is to maintain physicality, and No. 2 is maintain focus on your keys.”
Another thing that would help is a fast start by the Challengers on offense. Putting the Loggers in such a sizable hole to start last year paid huge dividends, and Cascade Christian certainly has the firepower to do it again under the direction of junior quarterback Kiegan Schaan.
Schaan has completed 121 of 210 passes for 1,852 yards, 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. The dual-threat QB has also run for 575 yards and 14 TDs, and will likely need to be on his toes Friday considering Scio’s penchant for bringing pressure.
“Trying to get a groove offensively will be important for us,” said Gettman. “They present some different fronts and they’re going to be aggressive in blitzing. It’s not going to be the same read every time so we may look at slowing it down a little bit with what we do normally just to make sure we’re getting good looks.”
The power of running backs Luke Smith and Elijah Smith have helped the Challengers remain balanced, with the senior Luke at 715 yards with nine TDs and the junior Elijah at 434 yards and six scores.
On the perimeter there is a Fralich barrage, with senior Ian at 21 catches for 306 yards and six TDs and his cousins, senior John (39 catches, 722 yards, eight TDs) and sophomore Kristian (31 catches, 406 yards, six TDs), regularly turning the defenders in circles.
The winner of Friday’s game will advance to face either No. 2 Amity or No. 10 Nyssa in next week’s semifinals.