There’s little question Cascade Christian and St. Mary’s are high school rivals.
It just hasn’t seemed so in football.
St. Mary’s coach Jamie Young always thought it’d be “a cool thing” to be looked at in that light.
“I’ve never seen it that way,” says Young, whose Crusaders have been on an uphill climb in his nine seasons as head coach while the Challengers have been among the state’s best Class 3A teams over the same period under coach Jon Gettman, also in his ninth year.
“So to me,” says Young, “it hasn’t been much of a rivalry because we’ve been in a position where we’ve been trying to build our program.”
The rivalry appears to be in full force this week.
Cascade Christian — the defending state champion and winner of 39 straight league games over more than a decade — and St. Mary’s are both 4-0 in the District 2 South Division entering their matchup at 7 Friday at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
It’s the regular-season finale and each has secured a state-playoff berth.
But there’s still plenty at stake.
“This literally determines the league champion,” says Young. “What a great place to be. Where else would you want to be as far as going into the final game of the season?”
Gettman and third-ranked Cascade Christian (7-1 overall) have been there, done that, but he shares in Young’s enthusiasm.
“Absolutely,” he says. “It’s the first time that I know of both teams playing for the league championship. It’s exciting.”
Certainly, their paths could not have been much more diverse.
Young was the defensive coordinator for the Crusaders in 2009 when they went winless, then became the head coach the following season. They made it through six games before low player turnout forced forfeiture of the final four games.
There was a question as to whether football “had a place on campus,” says Young, who now is also the athletic director.
A group of young players didn’t want to give up, so they continued to practice the final month despite having nothing to play for.
“That really sparked some interest,” recalls Young.
St. Mary’s played independent schedules the following three seasons before re-entering league play in 2014 in the Southern Cascade League.
It made the playoffs in 2016 for the first time in 22 seasons, dropped below .500 last year and suffered a 70-14 loss to Cascade Christian, then rebounded this season.
“We’ve had quite a journey in the last 10 years,” says Young, who is 44-38 at the helm.
So, too, has the school a half-dozen miles across town.
Cascade Christian has gone 87-21, including 29-0 in league, since Gettman took over for the late Andy Maurer.
Under Gettman, the Challengers also won state in 2013, were runners-up once and semifinalists two other times. They’ve been to the playoffs every year since 2005.
Cascade Christian last lost a league game on Oct. 11, 2008, when Gold Beach triumphed 43-7 in Sunset League play.
Friday’s task is daunting for St. Mary’s, 6-2 overall and just outside the top 10 in the coaches’ poll.
Especially when one considers the shellacking the Challengers put on the Crusaders last year.
Gettman and Young, for two, are not paying heed to past results.
“I think they’re vastly improved over last year,” says Gettman. “I don’t put any stock into what happened last year, other than they’re definitely ready to beat us and kind of take back from what we did last year.”
The 56-point whooping hasn’t come up in his camp, says Young.
“It’s certainly nothing that I feel the need, as a coach, to motivate my kids with,” he says. “That was last year. We’re a different football team this year.”
Both teams are on six-game winning streaks.
Cascade Christian has scored at least 50 points each game during its streak, averaging 53. It has three shutouts on the season and held another foe to one touchdown.
Gettman praised the work ethic of his team, going back to the last winter and through the summer, when “70 or 80 percent of the guys were working out each and every day,” he says. “Those are the things you take with you. In a game like this there’s going to be ups and downs and you have to be able to work through it.”
Junior quarterback Kiegan Schaan has been a leader on offense and defense.
He’s completed 102 of 174 passes for 1,523 yards and 16 touchdowns against four interceptions. He’s second on the team in rushing with 421 yards and has a team-high 11 rushing scores.
Schaan, a defensive back, has a team-high five interceptions and is tied for second with 32 tackles. Senior linebacker Luke Smith leads with 37 stops, and junior linebacker Elijah Smith has 32.
Luke Smith and junior Cade Sample each have a team-high five sacks.
Luke Smith has 539 rushing yards and seven scores, and Elijah Smith has 297 yards on the ground and four TDs. Senior John Fralich is the leading receiver with 30 catches for 542 yards and five touchdowns.
Elijah Smith has stepped to the forefront and “surprised some people,” says Gettman, adding, he’s “made a number of big plays for us throughout the year.”
Same with Luke Smith, he says, who has “been able to put a full year together being healthy, which is what we need out of him.”
Senior offensive linemen Logan Flenner, Cody Miller, Spencer Weeks and Cole Ferguson have played consistently well as a group, says the coach.
Against St. Mary’s, the goal is to control both sides of the line and avoid turnovers.
Stopping the Crusaders figures to be more difficult than last year, given the maturation of junior quarterback Aliiloa Kaeo-Wailehua and the ever-present threat of running back Gavin Rajagopal.
The senior Rajagopal has gained 943 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns. As a junior, he was first-team all-state and ran for more than 1,400 yards.
“It starts with him and trying to limit him as best we can,” says Gettman, “but I think the big thing is their passing game is so much improved from last year. You can’t just sit back and say, ‘Stop him and you have the game.’ They could win it either way, running it or passing it. There’s a lot to prepare for.”
Kaeo-Wailehua has thrown for 1,372 yards and 21 touchdowns.
His top target is junior tight end Cobey Aldrich, who has 321 receiving yards and four TDs.
Like Gettman, Young says preventing turnovers is a key.
The Crusaders have done remarkably well at that in the past six games — when they’ve averaged 48.5 points and held each of four opponents to a touchdown. St. Mary’s has only one turnover during its win streak, and that came on a fumbled snap to the quarterback.
“We’ve done a really good job of not turning the ball over,” says Young. “That makes a big difference.”
And it’s one reason this rivalry, finally, has come to a crescendo.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or email@example.com