Southern Sky playoff spots up for grabs tonight

Scoreboard watching will take on an added emphasis tonight as four Southern Sky Conference football teams look to somehow land one of the league's two spots in the Class 5A state playoffs.

Ashland, Crater, Eagle Point and Klamath Union each have just as much opportunity to advance as they do to turning in their equipment, so tensions are pretty high heading into tonight's key clashes.

"We're lucky because there's not very many teams in the state playing for a possible playoff game (tonight) so we've all got to be excited we have that," says Eagle Point coach Jacob Schauffler.

Klamath Union is the only team that truly controls its own destiny, with the Pelicans (6-3, 3-0 SSC) able to clinch their first conference crown since 1976 with a win tonight over Crater (5-4, 2-1) at Dutch Meyer Field.

Providing a roadblock to that scenario is the fact that KU has never beaten a team coached by John Beck, spanning his days with the Comets and North Medford.

And, like everyone else, Crater has no intentions of going down without a fight.

"It's a do-or-die," says Beck of the 7 p.m. tilt. "If this season hasn't prepared us for this game, I don't know what has. Nothing in this game should be able to faze us."

The Comets' only chance at assuring a playoff berth is to beat KU and have Eagle Point win at Ashland tonight. The rest of the scenarios, other than wins by KU and Ashland, put Crater into a three-way tie where playoff spots are determined by a coin flip.

"There's just too many variables, but when you only have five teams and two spots that's going to happen," says Beck.

Ashland (6-3, 2-1) had a chance to shore up its playoff chances last week but struggled in a 49-26 loss at Klamath Union. The Grizzlies will be looking for a win and a win for KU to avoid a potential coin flip.

"We had our chances to control our own destiny and we kind of blew that shot last week," says Ashland coach Charlie Hall, whose team advanced to the state quarterfinals last year. "We can certainly help ourselves by winning the game (tonight), but we can't control everything. We've just got to hope for the best."

"I think our kids are staying focused and positive and we're relying on the success we had last year to kind of keep hope alive," adds Hall.

Unlike Crater's stronghold over the Pelicans, the Ashland-Eagle Point series has gone back and forth in recent years. The Grizzlies have won the past two meetings, including a 32-22 win last year, but Eagle Point won in the three years prior.

"The idea that we're a team at this point of the year who still has a chance to get in the playoffs is pretty amazing," says Schauffler, whose Eagles are 1-2 in SSC play and 3-6 overall. "Like we've been telling the kids, we have to take care of business (tonight) and once we're able to do that it's a one-in-three chance."

Eagle Point's only chance at a playoff spot involves a win over Ashland and a win by KU that would force a three-way tie for second place.

Adding to the playoff mystery is the simple fact that a win by any of the aforementioned teams is certainly possible in what has shaped up as a pretty balanced league battle.

The Comets were able to edge Mazama (3-6, 0-4) in overtime last week despite not having the services of starting quarterback Josh Lokeno and inside linebacker Darrio Mobley until about 8 minutes remained in the fourth quarter.

Crater also had to deal with a first-quarter injury to starting tailback and inside linebacker Kenny Fahndrich, but received outstanding support from Christian Massey and the Comet defense to stave off an upset.

"One good thing is with all the adversity and injury we've had this year, the kids just took it all in stride and kept playing," says Beck.

The Pelicans have used the top scoring offense (30 points per game) and defense (14 points) to climb up the SSC standings, and boast the top-rated quarterback in the league in senior Jon Amos. Amos has thrown for 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions, completing 106 of 171 passes for 1,620 yards.

"He's got a lot better line up front than he's had before and a lot better running game to complement what he's able to do in the pocket," Beck says of Amos.

Ashland and Eagle Point each boast dynamic one-two punches with its quarterback and primary receiver, which should make for a game filled with big-play potential.

Grizzlies quarterback Talon Haggard leads the league in rushing with 1,105 yards and 19 TDs and has passed for another 1,484 yards and 12 scores. Haggard's primary weapon on the outside has been fellow senior Charlie Sebrell, who has a league-high 802 yards on 46 receptions with seven TDs.

Eagle Point counters with junior quarterback Austin Marlia, who has passed for 1,185 yards and nine TDs and run for another 383 yards with five scores. Senior receiver Garrett Davis has been dynamic in scoring seven TDs apiece through the air and on the ground. Davis leads the league with 62 catches for 753 yards and has run for 382 more yards on fly sweeps.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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