The last time the Ashland High football team traveled to West Albany for a playoff game against the Bulldogs, the result wasn't pretty for Grizzly fans (or, for that matter, prep football fans in general): West Albany 75, Ashland 0.
Now, three years later, the Grizzlies will be trying to exact a little postseason revenge against a West Albany team that, like its 2009 version, has spent most of the season blowing away opponents behind a ground attack led by a dynamo named LaCoste.
This time, it's Jake LaCoste, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior who is on pace to pass his older brother, Anthony, for No. 3 on Oregon's all-time career rushing yards list. The younger LaCoste's 2012 numbers are mesmerizing: 2,442 yards rushing (that's 271.3 per game), 10.1 yards per rush, 34 rushing touchdowns.
When/Where: 7 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium, West Albany.
What: Class 5A first round playoff game (round of 16).
On the web: livestats available at ashlandfootballclub.com.
Derailing that freight train will be Ashland's top priority when it faces West Albany (8-1) in a first-round Class 5A playoff game Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
"Our defense is definitely going to be challenged," said Ashland head coach Charlie Hall, whose team has won five games in a row to improve to 7-3. "We're not going to stop him; we're just hoping that we can slow him down. The front seven has to have a great game."
LaCoste is a dynamic back, says Hall, who can power his way through defensive lines like a fullback then, in the blink of an eye, bounce a play outside and beat everybody around the corner. He did plenty of that in West Albany's regular season finale, a 59-32 rout of Corvallis in which LaCoste rushed for 346 yards and three touchdowns.
"If you suck everybody in and you don't have perimeter people (in position), he can run around you," Hall said.
LaCoste's monster season has helped make the Bulldogs, ranked No. 6 in the final OSAA power poll standings, the second-highest scoring team in 5A football with a 49.8 points-per-game average. West Albany can pass, too, however. Quarterback Cody Lahoda has completed 55 percent of his passes for 1,277 yards and 17 touchdowns with five interceptions, and receiver Brendon Breslin has 30 receptions for 700 yards and seven TDs.
Considering LaCoste's big-play potential, Ashland's best defense may be an efficient, chain-moving offense, and to that end the Grizzlies received some good news Tuesday when the OSAA overturned running back Jon Volz's suspension. Volz was booted from Ashland's play-in win over Corvallis for delivering a late hit in the final seconds of the first half. Ashland appealed the ruling, arguing that the 15-yard penalty Ashland received was sufficient, and after analyzing the game film Tuesday the OSAA agreed.
Volz, a 5-11, 165-pound slasher, is the leading rusher (501 yards, four touchdowns) and fourth-leading receiver for an Ashland team that's averaging 383 yards and 32.5 points per game.
While the Bulldogs lean heavily on their I-formation rushing attack, the Grizzlies are decidedly more balanced, averaging 227 passing yards and 156 rushing yards per game. Ashland's two-quarterback system featuring Connor Kaegi and Danial White defines that balance, with Kaegi starting the game as the designated passer and White jumping in off the bench occasionally as the dual-threat change-up.
So far, the strategy has worked exactly as Hall had hoped when he made the switch away from a White-led offense in Week 6. Kaegi's ability to burn opponents deep has produced big plays for the Grizzlies, and White's breakaway speed forces opponents to adjust.
"The challenge is going to be protecting the quarterback," Hall said. "They're going to try to put pressure on our quarterbacks. Obviously (Kaegi's) strength is throwing the ball down the field, and sometimes those longer throws take more time. But I think we have some opportunities to take advantage of some things in the (West Albany) secondary."
If the Grizz offense can capitalize on those opportunities, they may be in position to spring the upset and earn a quarterfinal date with either Silverton or Putnam.
"It's a good challenge," Hall said. "We have a five game winning streak against teams that we probably should have beat. If we can maintain the level that we've been playing at, then I think we'll have a shot."