Ashland won't try to pick teams apart through the air this season as much as it has in the past. But that doesn't mean senior quarterback Matt Dierks won't be a big part of the Grizzlies' offensive attack.




The 6-foot, 180-pound senior completed 14 of 23 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions in the Pacific Rim Bowl loss to Japan back on July 27. The efficient, if not spectacular performance helped put the Grizzlies in position to win, which is exactly what head coach Charlie Hall is looking for.




"Any time you can rush for positive yards and have a good completion percentage and no turnovers, that's really the key to what we're doing," Hall said of Dierks, who also had a 10-yard run in the game.




Dierks and the Grizzlies will get their second test of the 2007 season &

and first that counts &

when Henley pays a visit to Walter A. Phillips Field on Friday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.




The Grizzlies traditionally spread the field offensively, utilizing three- and four-wide-receiver sets. But this year, Ashland's strength appears to be on the ground. With running backs Lewis Sebrell, Pat Hutchinson and Julian Ewald doing most of the heavy lifting, Hall wants Dierks to be a game manager, a sort of Trent Dilfer type who can run the plays while keeping mistakes to a minimum.




Dierks, who celebrated his 18th birthday on Wednesday, did that well against the Japan all-stars. His highlights: a 22-yard touchdown pass to Lewis Sebrell to cap the Grizzlies' opening drive; a 45-yard pass to Josh Hogeland; and a 29-yard pass to Charlie Sebrell.




Dierks also did a good job leading Hogeland, the Sebrells and Sam Gaviglio so that they could run after the catch.




"I trust my receivers to get the job done," Dierks said prior to Wednesday's practice.




Hall added that Dierks will try to emulate "quarterbacks who can manage a team and not hurt them and make sure that the ball gets to the guys that can help us, and I think Matt can do a good job of that."




Dierks' PRB performance represented a major improvement from his only other start. In Ashland's 2006 season opener, while filling in for injured starter Gus Gaviglio, Dierks completed 6 of 16 passes for 75 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. After that, he spent the rest of the season starting as a defensive back and watching Gaviglio run the offense. Then in the offseason Dierks took over the reigns, working on his fundamentals and his timing while quarterbacking the team in passing leagues.




The hard work seems to have paid off, earning Dierks the respect of the coach and the players.




"I like Matt's toughness," Hall said. "Matt's a tough kid and he's a leader, and he's been in our system for three years. We've just done a good job putting Matt in a situation where he might be successful as a quarterback."




Henley, a Class 4A team which is also playing its season opener, is coming off a successful season in which it finished 7-4 overall and 4-1 in the Skyline Conference. The defending Skyline co-champions are picked to finish fourth this year.




Ashland, which was rated third in the Southern Sky Conference preseason coaches poll, finished 4-5 last year, including 2-2 in the SSC. The Grizzlies and Hornets squared off in a junior varsity game last season. Hall used that game film to prepare for Friday's game, but isn't sure how much it will help.




"We think they'll be a little more sophisticated at the varsity level," he said, "but we have a pretty good idea that this is their foundation, what they do offensively and defensively."




Friday's game will be broadcast live on KCMX (101.9-FM).




"I just hope our kids are not somewhat content with playing well," Hall said. "We didn't win the (Japan) game and everybody's telling them that they played so well, but hopefully we're still hungry and we'll go out there and get it done."




Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.