PORTLAND — It’s been 55 years since the Stanfield Tigers won a game in the OSAA postseason. But after playoff appearances in three of the past four seasons, coach Steve Sheller thinks 2012 could be the year the Tigers get out of the first round.
Stanfield (7-2, third Blue Mountain Conference) will have to do it in upset fashion when the Tigers travel to the city today to face Portland Christian (9-1, champions Northwest League). Kickoff for the Class 2A first-round game is slated for 6 p.m. at David Douglas High.
The matchup between No. 6 seed Stanfield and No. 3 seed Portland Christian has the makings of a high-scoring free for all. The game features the two most prolific scoring units in 2A football this season. Nobody has scored more points than the Royal’s 399, but the Tigers have the slight edge on points per game 40.6 to 39.9.
Portland Christian, a team that’s been in the 2A playoffs in six of the last seven years, has only been held under 30 points once this season. That came in its only loss two weeks ago, a 31-21 defeat to another NWL playoff squad, Knappa, on the road.
Stanfield was bruising its way through the Blue Mountain Conference until three weeks ago when consecutive losses to Weston-McEwen and Grant Union put it on life support, needing a win last week at Enterprise to make the postseason. The Tigers pulled out the one-point victory 35-34 to keep their season alive.
Despite the flash that both teams possess on offense, Sheller believes this week’s matchup will come down to defensive takeaways. The Tigers will need to blanket the Mumford brothers of Portland Christian — junior quarterback Steven and sophomore receiver Nathan.
The Royals run a double-wing offense, pairing up blocking ends on one side or the other or sometimes both to help run the ball. Sheller said his linebackers will have to play lights-out assignment football to slow down the attack.
“It looks on paper that it could be a track meet but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned into a 21-14 type game,” Sheller said. “It just depends on who has the most turnovers.”
The Royals have given teams fits on defense as well. Portland Christian only allows 10.5 points per game.
Whichever team prevails in Portland will face the winner of seventh-seeded Oakridge or second-seeded Heppner in next week’s quarterfinals.
No. 7 OAKRIDGE at No. 2 HEPPNER, 1 p.m. — The Mustangs are back in the spot that they’d grown accustomed to over the last decade and a half: Blue Mountain Conference champions and heading into the OSAA Class 2A state playoffs.
Heppner (7-3, champions BMC), is making its 15th straight playoff appearance, a run that included a streak of 13 consecutive league titles that was broken last year by Weston-McEwen. The Mustangs are back on top in their league but are anything but complacent with a first-round match against Oakridge coming up Saturday at 1 p.m.
They see this home match at Morrow County Fairgrounds as a blessing.
“I think they feel their clock ticking every time they put on a uniform and go out on that field,” Heppner coach Greg Grant said of his players. “They’re really enjoying it. It’s the fruits of all their labor.”
In Oakridge (4-5, second Mountain View Conference), Heppner gets another perennial-type 2A program that’s much stronger than its season record would suggest. The Warriors faced a strong schedule with six of their nine contests against teams with winning records, still taking enough conference games to guarantee a seventh straight postseason trip.
Oakridge runs a split veer offense with a pair of backs forming a wishbone with the quarterback. This turns into an option-run style with the quarterback taking off around an end with the choice of tossing the ball to one or more of the backs.
It’s a popular style in high school schemes and one Grant has already planned to defend against.
“I think that everybody needs to make sure they don’t try to do somebody else’s job,” Grant said of stopping the run. “Be disciplined.”
That task might be a little harder this week with big defensive end JC Putman out of the game with a sprained MCL in his knee. The 6-foot-3 junior injured the knee in the second half last week against Weston-McEwen while his team was locking up the BMC championship.
If the Mustangs can control the line of scrimmage, and the Warriors’ previous game scores this season indicate that they can, Heppner could be well on its way to its first playoff win since 2009. The winner of Saturday’s first-round matchup is then lined up to face either Stanfield or Portland Christian the following weekend.
No. 7 ECHO at No. 2 LOWELL, 1 p.m. — According to the OSAA, the prep football playoff season starts this weekend in Oregon. As far as the Echo Cougars are concerned, they entered playoff mode more than a month ago.
Echo (6-3, third Special District 3) won its last four games of the season, all against league foes, to take the final postseason spot out of SD3. And though ranked 12th in Class 1A football, the Cougars drew a tough match against the state’s fourth-best team Lowell. The second-seeded Red Devils will host the seventh-seeded Cougars at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Lowell.
But must-win situations have become the norm in Echo. The Cougars started league play with straight losses on the road to Sherman and Dufur, a pair of No. 3 seeds in this year’s championship bracket. At 0-2, and with two of SD3’s three playoff spots likely charged to the Huskies and Rangers already, the Cougars needed a major run to make the playoffs.
And they found one, finishing it up by knocking off Ione last week to earn a postseason berth.
“Since we lost to Dufur and Sherman, we’ve kind of been treating them all as win or go home,” Echo coach Rick Thew said. “I think the boys have been acting that way.”
Lowell (9-1, champions Special District 5) beat Echo the last time both teams made the 1A playoffs in 2010. The Devils throttled the Cougars 84-34 in the first round to end their season but this year’s team is just as tough.
They score oodles of points, about 55 per game with quick quarterback Josh Cardwell leading the way. With a posse of running backs to complement Cardwell, the Devils’ ground game has skipped along this season.
But even that and a road atmosphere don’t have Thew thinking on to next season already.
“I feel pretty confident because they don’t look like more than we’ve seen from Dufur and teams around here,” he said.
If the Cougars can find a victory, what would only be their second in the playoffs in the school’s history dating back to 1949, they’d have another potential matchup with Dufur on the horizon. The third-seeded Rangers host Crow, a sixth seed, on Saturday for a quarterfinals spot.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or (541) 966-0839.