Yes, nobody likes to open the postseason with a rematch. And, yes, Corvallis should have a considerable "been-there-done-that" advantage over Ashland, considering that the Spartans won the Class 5A state title last fall while Ashland failed to make the playoffs for the sixth straight year.

But Ashland head football coach Charlie Hall says the third-ranked Grizzlies (10-0) have plenty of reasons to be confident, and are, heading into Friday night's second-round playoff game against ninth-ranked Corvallis (6-4) &

the Grizzlies' first postseason game since 2000 and first at home since 1998.

Leaning back in a sofa in the team's meeting room, Hall points to the dry erase board up front, specifically some squiggly lines that represent heights and weights of this week's opponent. The numbers aren't terrifying. Also, Ashland will have the home field advantage. And, oh yeah, the Grizzlies did beat the Spartans in that Sept. 14 game, 14-9, in Corvallis.

"There is maybe some comfort in knowing that we've played them, we've played them well, we know what to expect from them," Hall said. "We match up good against them. I don't think they're going to shove it down our throat."

They didn't last time. In that defensive struggle, Ashland held Corvallis to 328 yards of total offense, including 77 by Chris Henry, the Spartans' dangerous running back. The problem for Ashland that day was the Spartans' defense, which held the Grizzlies to just 166 yards. How did Ashland win after getting outgained by more than 150 yards? The Grizzlies intercepted two passes by Corvallis quarterback Kevin Younger, recovered three Corvallis fumbles and got a little lucky, too, when dropped passes smothered some key Spartan drives.

"I thought we played well in the first half defensively, I thought we played well in the second half, but our offense didn't play very well at all," Hall said.

Indeed, Ashland quarterback Matt Dierks struggled through one of his least effective outings of the season against the Spartans: 10-for-18 for 105 yards and no touchdowns. A lot of time has passed, however, and Dierks has since come up big in some crucial Southern Sky Conference tests against Crater and Klamath Union. And his best game was his last, a 14-for-18, 229-yard, six-touchdown gem against Crook County on Nov. 2.

"Matt Dierks is seven games better than he was in that game, a little more confidence," Hall said. "That was really his first big test as a starting quarterback on the road. He was very nervous, I thought, and now he's played in other big games. I'm sure he'll be nervous, but I think he'll have a little more confidence going into this game. That'll make a difference."

Dierks is looking forward to the challenge.

"They have a really good defense, probably one of the toughest defenses we've faced," Dierks said of Corvallis. "They've got some weaknesses and we're eyeing them, but I can't tell you what. That's secret."

Offensively, the Spartans rely heavily on Henry and Younger, who ranked second and third at their positions, respectively, in the Mid-Willamette Conference. Younger has thrown for 1,741 yards and 21 touchdowns while Henry has rushed for 1,090 yards and nine TDs, averaging 6.2 yards per rush.

Corvallis' other big-play threat is wide receiver Daryl Watkins, who has 37 receptions for 764 yards and 13 scores. Hall compares Watkins to Ashland receiver Josh Hogeland, another compact (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) wideout with big-play ability &

Hogeland has 26 receptions for 512 yards and 13 touchdowns.

When the Grizzlies have the ball, they'll try to establish their running game behind junior Lewis Sebrell. The power runner has 1,017 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.

Though Ashland is one of only three undefeated teams left at the 5A level, it has been far from dominant. Four of its 10 wins have been by seven points or less, including a 13-12 win over Marshfield and a 16-14 win over Crater. The catalyst: turnover margin. The Grizzlies are a plus-20 in that department, a massive advantage that has helped Ashland remain perfect despite outgaining opponents by just 30 yards per game on average.

Friday's winner will face either Churchill or Glencoe in the state quarterfinals next week. If Ashland advances, that game will be held Nov. 24 (a Saturday) away from Phillips Field.

But first, the rematch.

"Everybody's going to be excited and fired up to play," Ashland senior safety Sam Gaviglio said. "I just can't wait to get on the field."

Grizzly notes: Ashland defensive coordinator Dave Kitchell, a cancer survivor who became ill before the Crook County game, is back in the Rogue Valley and will soon begin chemotherapy, Hall said. "We're all thinking about him, praying, it's just a difficult time," Hall said of Kitchell, who was on the sideline for each of Ashalnd's three state championship runs. "But our kids have done a good job of keeping focused and keeping him in our thoughts, because he would want us to do that. He wouldn't want us to be solemn."

DateOpponentScore/Time

Aug. 31HenleyW 21-13

Sept. 7at PhoenixW 41-0

Sept. 14at CorvallisW 14-9

Sept. 21RooseveltW 35-14

Sept. 28MarshfieldW 13-12

Oct. 5CraterW 16-14

Oct. 12at MazamaW 40-12

Oct. 19Klamath UnionW 15-8

Oct. 26at Eagle PointW 32-22

Nov. 2at Crook CountyW 50-7

Nov. 16Corvallis7 p.m.

Team Statistics

AshOpp

Pts Per Game27.711.1

First downs151135

Rushes-yards351-1,748323-1,370

Passing1,3291,397

Punt Returns18-1999-24

Kickoff Returns18-27147-775

Interceptions Ret.16-2244-52

Comp-Att-Int99-169-4122-228-16

Sacked-Yards Lost10-7620-127

Punts40-37.542-32.1

Fumbles-Lost18-1122-18

Penalties-Yards66-59553-455

Time of Possession avg.24:0723:53

Offensive Leaders

RUSHING""L. Sebrell 169-1,017, Hutchinson 60-327, Dierks 71-117, Shahin 14-83, Meza 10-55.

PASSING""Dierks 99-166-3 1,329.

RECEIVING""Hogeland 26-512, C. Sebrell 23-287, Gordon 17-181, Gaviglio 14-179, L. Sebrell 9-121.

Defensive Leaders

INTERCEPTIONS""Sayler 3-61, Hogeland 3-55, Gordon 3-55, Gaviglio 2-14, Bowers 2-0.

TACKLES-ASSISTS-SACKS""Ewald 35-17-6, Rassmussen 30-21-0, Scarminach 31-18-3, Gordon 29-22-0, Shahin 29-15-4, Sayler 26-20-0, Gaviglio 25-17-0, Hogeland 16-6-0, Cowan 14-8-1.