Only two local teams remain in this year’s OSAA playoff brackets, and on Friday both notched convincing victories to advance to the next round.
The Sheldon Irish (12-0 overall, 7-0 league) continued their dominant play this season with a road win over the Southridge Skyhawks (8-4, 6-1) in the quarterfinals, 62-27. The game marks the tenth time this season that Sheldon has blown out their opponent by a margin of 35 or more points.
The postseason matchup was the second time this year the two teams have met, having played each other in the season opener. In that contest, the Irish came back from a 14-21 halftime deficit to win the game by one touchdown, 35-28. Back then, Sheldon quarterback Taylor Allie was making his first career start in place of departed first team all-state QB Dillon Miller, and since then his confidence level and on-field performance have improved with every win.
Conversely, the Skyhawks have featured a rotating cast at quarterback all season long. Senior Reza Aleaziz, who led the team to the second round of the 6A playoffs as a junior last season, decided to forego his final year of football eligibility after committing to play baseball for the University of Oregon. Junior A.J. Woodin started the year at quarterback instead, but after losing three of his first five starts Woodin was replaced partway through game six by sophomore Peyton King.
King held on to win that game, but suffered a knee injury the following week during a win over Jesuit. Luckily for the Skyhawks, Aleaziz decided to rejoin the team a few weeks previously and by week eight had participated in enough practices to satisfy OSAA regulations governing late-season roster additions. With him back under center, Southridge’s inconsistent offense scored an average of 48.25 points a game through their final two regular season games and first two postseason matchups.
In their rematch against Sheldon, however, the Skyhawks were shut out in the first quarter while the Irish built a 20-0 lead as Allie threw touchdown passes to tight end Mike Ralston and wide receiver Mitchell Herbert, then ran one in himself for a third score (the point-after attempt following Herbert’s touchdown failed).
Southridge was able to produce three touchdowns in the second quarter, but that success was negated by the Skyhawks’ inability to prevent the Irish from scoring at will. Aleaziz began the quarter by running for a touchdown, which was quickly countered with a touchdown pass from Allie to running back Connor Strahm. Sheldon then answered a rushing touchdown by Southridge RB Jacob Pruit with back-to-back touchdowns on runs by Strahm and fellow RB Mitch Lewis. Aleaziz was able to throw a TD pass to receiver Kevin McClean before the end of the half, but that still left his team in the hole, 41-21.
Before the night was over, Allie added two more touchdown passes to Strahm, one apiece in the third and fourth quarters. Pruit managed to score a rushing TD for the Skyhawks in the fourth, but whatever solace the team may have taken in those points was short-lived as Irish receiver Dylan Lewis returned the ensuing kickoff all the way back for a touchdown.
Next Friday, Sheldon will square off against the Jesuit Crusaders (11-2, 6-2) in the semifinals, with kickoff scheduled for 4:00 at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland. Jesuit is a strong team this year, having scored the third-most points and allowed opponents to score the fifth-least in the entire 6A division, but Sheldon has a better rank in both categories (second and third, respectively).
While both teams have proven they can score points in droves this season, they go about earning their touchdowns in entirely different ways. With a rushing attack that has averaged 35.58 carries per game and an intimidating 6.38 yards per attempt this season, the Crusaders are equipped to grind out wins on the ground, but the same cannot be said for their passing game. On average, Jesuit’s quarterbacks throw the ball just 8.5 times per game and have completed fewer than half those attempts (44.74%, to be exact). Bottom line, the Crusaders are good at controlling the tempo of a game when they’re playing with a lead, but their anemic passing attack is unlikely to earn them many come-from-behind wins.
By contrast, Sheldon’s rushing averages are somewhat lower than Jesuit’s (34.67 carries per game, 5.31 yds/att), but they more than make up for that with their production through the air, averaging 27.67 throws per game for 257.42 yards and a 69% completion rate. With a passing attack that explosive, the Irish will have no trouble mounting a late-game comeback should the need arise.
Perhaps more importantly, Sheldon has won their most recent two run-ins with Jesuit, 52-37 back in September of 2011 and 50-43 in December of ’09. The Crusaders never held the lead in either contest, and there’s little reason to believe that the outcome will be any different this time around.
The Redmond Panthers (11-2 overall, 5-0 league) have fielded one of the top offenses and defenses in the 5A division this season, outscoring their opponents by an average of 25 points a game. But as good as they’ve been, the Marist Spartans (11-1 overall, 7-0 league) have been better, which they proved in an impressive 40-8 dismantling of the Panthers in the semifinals.
The star of the game for the Spartans was unquestionably running back Andrew Park, who rushed for 6.41 yds/att, totaling 109 yards in all, and scored four of his team’s six touchdowns. Park’s superlative performance was particularly encouraging for Marist as it came just one week after losing Austin Baird, a track star who has averaged a borderline-preternatural 9.43 yds/att on the ground this season, to a torn ACL.
But as well as the Spartans played on Friday, you would never have guessed they were missing their most explosive offensive player. Like clockwork, Marist marched down the field for two touchdowns in each of the first three quarters before easing off the accelerator in the fourth. Park punched in both first quarter scores from one yard out, then was relieved in the second quarter by quarterback Kamerun Smith, who threw touchdown passes to two different receivers, Liam Henshaw and Josh Harper. Smith played efficiently throughout, completing 60.9% of his passes for 136 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Park then took over the scoring again in the third quarter, scoring two rushing touchdowns each from 9 yards out.
That said, Marist’s performance was far from perfect. On his five point-after tries, Kicker Clark Morton converted two, missed one, and had his kick blocked twice (the offense also had a successful two point conversion on a pass by Smith to receiver Austin Owen). The Spartans also made two glaring errors that led to the Panthers’ only two scores of the night. On a passing play in the third quarter, two Marist defenders took each other out of the play when both decided at the same time to go for an interception, thereby allowing receiver Matt Dahlen to haul in the pass unopposed for a 54-yard touchdown (the point-after try was missed). Two minutes later, the Panthers scored again when a bad long snap flew well over the head of Owen, who doubles as the team’s punter, and out of the end zone for a safety.
Next, Marist will travel up I-5 for a 7:30 game at Hillsboro Stadium, where they will face the Sherwood Bowmen (12-0, 7-0) for the 5A finals. Along with the state championship being on the line, the Spartans have some extra motivation to win the contest – not only did Sherwood hand Marist its only defeat of the season, a 20-38 loss back in week two, the two teams also faced one another for the 5A Championship in 2010, which the Bowmen won in overtime, 23-26.
The Spartans have scored the second-most points in the 5A division this season with an evenly balanced attack that has proven equally proficient at moving the chains both through the air and on the ground. The Bowmen, on the other hand, have a much more lopsided approach to offense – their running game has accounted for 87.7% of their yardage and 85.4% of their offensive touchdowns this season – but despite that disparity they appear to be the more dangerous team on that side of the ball. Aside from being the highest scoring offense in 5A by a sizeable margin, Sherwood has averaged more yards per game on the ground (479.9) than Marist has with its running and passing game combined (412.42).
The outcome of the game will likely be determined by the Spartans’ defense, which has given up fewer points than any other team in 5A this season. If they can figure out a way to hold the Bowmen to something well below their season average of 10.38 yds/att on the ground – easier said than done, considering that Sherwood hasn’t scored fewer than 35 points in any of their games this year – they can keep the score manageable and buy their offense the time it needs to gain some traction against the Bowmen’s fourth-ranked defense. If not, Sherwood will bulldoze their way to victory, one inhumanly effective carry at a time.
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