Ashland and Marshfield once squared off with an OSAA state championship on the line, but if the Grizzlies have their way tonight a rivalry that used to command the state's attention will continue its current slide into irrelevancy.
In other words, Ashland will be trying to avoid an upset that would qualify as shocking, since the Grizzlies (3-3, 2-2 Midwestern League) appear to be on another methodical, albeit bumpy, march to the postseason, while the Pirates (0-6, 0-4) are winless and as of Thursday night had scored less points than 35 of the other 38 Class 5A teams.
Not that Marshfield will be a pushover, points out Ashland head coach Charlie Hall, who recalls last year's battle in Coos Bay as a hard-fought Ashland victory — the Grizzlies won 50-36.
Where/When: 7 p.m. tonight at Walter A. Phillips Field.
At Stake: Ashland (3-3, 2-2 MWL) can take sole possession of fourth place in the Midwestern standings and remain one win behind Churchill with a win
"I think the one thing is, when you play Marshfield, they're a team that certainly has a lot of tradition and they're tough," he said. "You play those guys and they will hit you. I remember last year when we played them, it was kind of a close game and they came out hitting, especially on offense. They had some crack back blocks on our DBs right out of the gate, and I was like, 'Wow, we're in for a dog fight here.'"
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Walter A. Phillips Field.
Whether or not the Pirates can stir up a similar dog fight tonight remains to be seen, but merely keeping the game close would be a small victory considering the bumpy ride they've endured so far this season. Since suffering a 7-6 loss to North Eugene, which Ashland bulldozed 55-0 last week, on Sept. 14, Marshfield has lost its last three games to Marist, Churchill and Springfield by a combined score of 141-32. The Pirates also lost to Siuslaw, 28-13, and to North Bend, 49-16.
Ashland, meanwhile, is coming off its most complete game of the season and will be gunning for its first two-game winning streak of the season. The Grizzlies dominated the overmatched Highlanders in every possible way last week, gaining 466 yards of total offense to North Eugene's 70, racking up 19 first downs to North's five and picking off two passes, including one that was returned 33 yards by RJ Atteberry for a touchdown.
The blowout also featured the home debut of Ashland's new two-quarterback rotation, which will utilize senior Connor Kaegi in passing situations and junior Danial White in running situations.
It worked well. Kaegi completed 9 of 14 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown, while White rushed four times for 43 yards and three touchdowns.
Hall said too much has been made of who starts and who comes off the bench, since both quarterbacks will see plenty of action from here on out.
"That's obviously an issue around here, given the fact that (White's) been a starter for a full year, and now (Kaegi) starts the game," Hall said. "But I really look at it as a two-starting quarterback system. Somebody's gotta take the first snap of the game. If I play Danial for the first play and I put Connor in the second play does that mean Danial started the game? I mean, it's really that kind of a (situation), where they're running different packages. I really don't look at it like, (Kaegi's) our guy and we're going to ride him until he can't do it and then Danial comes in. It's just based on situations of the game."
White, who leads the Grizzlies in passing yards (850), passing touchdowns (five), rushing yards (310) and rushing touchdowns (six), admits that he's had to adjust to coming off the bench, but says he'll always be ready when his number is called.
"I'm just in the game, in the zone," he said. "I don't get out of the zone until the game's over."
Grizz notes: After months of rehab, Ashland junior defensive tackle Tyree Heesacker will return to the field tonight. Heesacker suffered a serious knee injury during the season-ending loss to Sherwood in the 2011 Class 5A state quarterfinals. He was cleared to push sleds two weeks ago, has been participating in full-contact drills this week and will start tonight. "He's got great strength, he's got great quickness coming off the ball," Hall said. "I feel sorry for the guy who has to (line up) over him." "…Four Ashland receivers have at least 14 catches and 150 yards receiving, led by RJ Atteberry's 28 catches and 437 yards receiving. Atteberry also leads the Grizzlies with four touchdown receptions. "…As of Thursday afternoon, the Grizzlies were ranked 11th in the OSAA power poll.