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Familiar foes face off in 3A semifinals

Familiar foes face off in 3A semifinals

If only the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt were true, Cascade Christian head coach Jon Gettman would be having a more relaxing week than he's already endured.

The notion that the better we know someone, the more likely we are to find fault with them makes sense in theory, it's just not working out that way when it comes to preparing to face the Santiam Christian football team.

The Challengers (10-2) and Eagles (11-1) will meet for the second straight season in the Class 3A state semifinals at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Cottage Grove and for the fourth time in two years. Santiam Christian has won the previous three meetings by an average score of 46-12, although the Challengers did get the best of the Eagles in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, 34-21.

"Santiam Christian is just unbelievable," said Gettman. "It'll take a great game for us just to play them."

"They're just an extremely well-coached team," he added. "They've got a reputation as a throwing team but they're a physical team, too. They're probably the most physical team we faced this year."

In Saturday's other Class 3A semifinal, defending champion Rainier (11-1) plays Dayton (11-0) at 11 a.m. at Hillsboro Stadium.

The Challengers will aim to be a different team than the one that was clearly overmatched by the Eagles in the third week of the season on Sept. 17.

Santiam Christian scored the first five times it had the ball, exploding for 29 second-quarter points to put the game out of reach in a 50-7 romp.

"The kids got a rude awakening, the coaching staff got a rude awakening," said Gettman, "but it was exactly what we needed."

Using the Eagles and that game as a measuring stick, Gettman said the Challengers regrouped and have gradually settled in as a more complete and together team. Cascade Christian enters Saturday's contest having won nine straight games since that loss, eclipsing 43 points in all but two contests: a forfeit win over Rogue River and last week's 21-18 quarterfinal win over Horizon Christian.

"As a coaching staff, we just looked at (the loss to Santiam Christian) like we've just got to get better," said Gettman. "And that's what we've tried to do, as coaches and players."

Leading the charge for Cascade Christian through it all has been junior running back Brandon Williams and quarterback Daniel Scottow, who have guided an attack that's averaging 357 yards per game. Williams has carried the football 146 times for 1,575 yards and 22 touchdowns, while Scottow has completed 39 of 81 passes for 897 yards and 14 TDs.

Junior transfer Levi Girardot has given the Challengers a boost in recent weeks and enters Saturday's contest with 635 yards and nine TDs on 109 carries.

As Nyssa did last week in nearly upsetting the Eagles in an 18-14 affair, Cascade Christian will look to use its double-wing offense to control the ball and the clock and keep Santiam Christian's potent offense off the field. Nyssa was able to run for 220 yards and held a 14-6 lead at halftime before ultimately being overcome and falling short when a last-minute pass from the 5-yard line was intercepted in the end zone.

While Cascade Christian's best defense may be the offense's ability to pull off sustained drives, the Eagles have a counter of their own thanks to a defense that's shown scoring capability. Senior defensive back Alex Hovelsrud intercepted three passes last week, including the game-clincher, one he returned for a TD and another that set up the Eagles' go-ahead score.

Santiam Christian, however, will be without the PacWest Conference's lineman of the year in Tyler Ropp, who injured his knee two weeks ago and is out for the season.

Defensively, the Challengers will have their hands full with junior QB Grant Schroeder and top targets, junior Joe Pelley and senior Jeff Hendrix.

Schroeder passed for 294 yards and two TDs when the teams last met and has shown a knack for making big plays. His 84-yard strike to Pelley answered Nyssa's first score and the two combined for a 73-yard score earlier against Cascade Christian. Hendrix has also hauled in several TD passes this year from Schroeder and has also shown big-play ability on the ground with a handful of TD runs ranging beyond 30 yards.

"We have to take away the big plays," said Gettman. "We're not going to eliminate all of them, but if we can really try to limit the big plays and at least make sure they're not big plays for touchdowns then we can make it a football game."

When all eyes are on the air, the Eagles also have shown an ability to chew up yardage on the ground with the likes of seniors Reese Schaffner and Anthony Alire, along with Schroeder and Hendrix.

"They have a good scheme, a great quarterback and a good number of runners and receivers," said Gettman. "If they have to win by passing, they'll pass, and if it has to be by running, they'll run, and that's not something every team can do. It puts a lot of strain on the defense."

The Challengers are allowing 257 yards per game, with Williams sporting 42 tackles and three interceptions while David Sellers and Dillon Huntley each have five sacks. Daniel Grissom (41 tackles), Dane Scott (35 tackles, two sacks, one interception) and Dominick Combs (29 tackles, five interceptions) have helped spearhead the defense, with the Challengers getting at least 26 tackles this season from Huntley, Girardot, Justin Cheney and Dillon Combs.

Despite the obvious daunting challenge, Dillon Combs said Cascade Christian will be confident heading into Saturday's clash.

"There's been lots of Cascade teams in the past that have had a lot of talent on the team and have made it just as far as we've made it so far," he noted, "but at least from my perspective, there's something special about this team because of the way we've bonded together. We're all one tight family and we hold each other accountable, and when one of us falls down, we always seem to pick each other up. I think the sky's the limit for how far we can go."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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