CENTRAL POINT — Randy Waite worked a minor miracle last season when he guided a largely inexperienced Crater High football team to the state playoffs in his first season as the school’s head coach.
It helped that Waite walked into a program that had most of its assistant coaches intact, with offensive coordinator David Douglas and defensive coordinator Berk Brown among the top coordinators in the Midwestern League.
Now the Comets are loaded with experience and talent. And optimism is sky high.
“We bring back the majority of our players and so I’d be disappointed if we’re not a contender for the league championship,” said Waite, whose team features 12 seniors and 23 juniors. “Last year, simply making the playoffs was a positive step. I would say the next step forward would be to host a playoff game and then see what we could do from there.”
The Comets are in a revamped Midwestern League this fall that consists of a dozen teams with two six-team divisions. Crater is aligned in the South Division, along with Ashland, Churchill, Eagle Point, North Eugene and South Eugene. The North Division features North Bend, Redmond, Ridgeview, Springfield, Thurston and Willamette.
The top two teams from each division are assured of a playoff berth. The division champions will square off against one another in week nine, as will the runners-up, for state playoff positioning. The third-place squads will collide in a winner-in, loser-out contest.
The fourth- and fifth-place teams will also play cross-division games, but no playoff berths will be at stake.
Crater returns starting quarterback Trever Davis, wide receiver Noah Cline and four of five starters on its offensive line. Defensively, the Comets bring back seven regulars.
Davis, who shined as a sophomore a year ago, has been in a battle with senior Ethan Scott all summer for starting signal-calling duties. Scott started seven games in 2016. Davis, then a freshman, started the final two games and all of 2017.
Davis has established the advantage but Douglas — the offensive coordinator — said the edge is thin and he wouldn’t hesitate to put Scott behind center.
“I feel like either of them could start for pretty much any team in the conference,” said Douglas. “Trever is very athletic and a good runner with a strong arm. Ethan is cerebral, smooth and a slick runner who makes people miss.
“They both have control of the huddle and our offense. We’re not going to go with a two-headed quarterback, but we know we can be successful with either one of these guys.”
Whoever takes the snaps will be shielded by a veteran offensive line. Sophomore tackle Dawson Davis and junior guard Hunter Vansickle both earned second-team all-conference honors last season. Tackle Jacob Memmott and guard Gerritt Warner also return as starters, and center Jared O’Dell logged a couple of starts last season before getting injured.
Running duties will be mostly handled by junior Gavin Acrey, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound dynamo who was off to an impressive start last season before a broken ankle sidelined him in game three.
“He’s strong, tough and explosive,” said Douglas, noting that Acrey deadlifts 425 pounds. “And he has a motor that’s in the red. He’s something else. Most teams don’t know who he is because he got hurt so early last season. He’s going to surprise people.”
Senior Tony Flores, a first-team all-conference linebacker last season, will spell Acrey at tailback and line up at fullback when the Comets go to a two-back set.
Cline is Crater’s only returning starter at wide receiver, but Douglas believes the Comets have four other capable pass catchers to go with him: Dylan Kinney, Tyler Macintosh, Chase Sherer and Dawson Douglas, the coordinator’s sophomore son.
“There will be times when we’re in an empty set and all five of those receivers will be on the field at the same time,” said coach Douglas. “We’ll be spreading the field.”
The Comets will also return to a full-time, no-huddle look, Douglas said, due to the experience of the quarterbacks and the offense as a whole.
“We had to slow things down last year,” he said, “but now we’ve got the experience and the depth to go without a huddle and go quickly (between plays).”
The Comets should be much better defensively this season. The tough-minded Flores and Logan Lowder — they’re both state-caliber wrestlers — will serve as tackling machines at linebacker.
Ends Cody Fisher and Jacob Chenoweth, linebacker Tyler Ennis, cornerback Tanner Dey and free safety Kinney are also back as starters.
Acrey, one of the Comets’ few two-way starters, figures to excel at rover back. Other defenders expected to contribute are linebacker Brady Brock, cornerback Bruce Cwiklinski and free safety Robert Amoson.
The Comets open their regular season against highly regarded Wilsonville, a Class 5A state semifinalist in 2017, and end it with Churchill, last year’s state runner-up. Crater meets another state playoff team from a year ago — Thurston — in week three.
“We’re hoping the stakes are high when we meet up against Churchill,” said Waite.
HEAD COACH: Randy Waite (second year, 5-5).
Crater is coming off back-to-back 5-5 seasons after going 11-1 in 2015 and advancing to the state semifinals.
ASSISTANTS: David Douglas (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks/wide receivers), Berk Brown (defensive coordinator/defensive backs/wide receivers), John Van Buren (defensive line), Zach Warner (defensive line/JV), Beau Stanfield (linebackers), Wes Davis (director of football operations), J.R. Godley (head JV/running backs), Brad Eaton (offensive line), Tony Cobb (quarterbacks).
2017 LEAGUE RECORD: 4-3 (fourth, MWL).
2017 OVERALL RECORD: 5-5.
PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Second.
7Soldotna (at Del Norte, Calif.) 20
34South Albany 21
54Eagle Point 13
54North Eugene 19
16South Albany 23
OFFENSE (6): Quarterback Trever Davis (5-9, 175, jr.), tackle Dawson Davis (6-2, 250, so.), guard Hunter Vansickle (5-11, 245, jr.), guard Gerritt Warner (6-0, 230, jr.), tackle Jacob Memmott (6-4, 225, jr.), wide receiver Noah Cline (5-8, 145, sr.).
DEFENSE (7): End Cody Fisher (6-1, 210, sr.), linebacker Tyler Ennis (5-10, 195, jr.), cornerback Tanner Dey (5-9, 170, sr.), linebacker Tony Flores (5-9, 190, sr.), linebacker Logan Lowder (5-11, 185, sr.), free safety Dylan Kinney (5-9, 155, sr.), end Jacob Chenoweth (6-3, 220, jr.).
OTHER NOTABLES: Center Jared O’Dell (5-11, 215, sr.), running back/rover back Gavin Acrey (5-9, 170, jr.), linebacker Brady Brock (5-10, 175, jr.), cornerback Bruce Cwiklinski (5-7, 145, jr.), safety Robert Amoson (5-10, 185, jr.), wide receiver Tyler MacIntosh (6-0, 180, jr.), wide receiver Chase Sherer (6-0, 160, jr.), wide receiver Dawson Douglas (5-0, 190, so.).
Aug. 31WILSONVILLE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7WILLAMETTE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14at Thurston, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21at North Eugene, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28SOUTH EUGENE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5at Ashland, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12EAGLE POINT, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19at Churchill, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26League playoff, TBA
Reach freelance writer Don Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org