With two of its top players suspended for Friday's nonconference showdown against undefeated, sixth-ranked Willamette, the Ashland High football team is looking for any help available. Even a Twelfth Man.
The Grizzlies (2-1) enter the contest riding a nine-game winning streak at Walter A. Phillips Field. While there have been several close calls along the way, Ashland fans haven't witnessed a home loss since a 7-0 setback to Corvallis on Sept. 15, 2006.
"We have a great advantage in playing at home," Ashland coach Charlie Hall said. "That will be something of an intangible that, no matter who's on the field, they'll play hard and try to defend that."
"There's so much tradition and so much honor here," said senior Charlie Sebrell, one of a handful of players who has played in all nine of the home wins. "The fans and community in Ashland make it an awesome place to play."
That streak figures to be sorely tested Friday.
Try as they might to put behind them last week's 33-28 loss to Marshfield — the Grizzlies' first setback in 13 regular-season games — the residual effect can't be easily ignored.
Starters Lewis Sebrell and Issa Shahin were both ejected from the contest with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Under OSAA rules, those ejections also carry an automatic one-game suspension, meaning neither will dress for Friday's 7 p.m. game.
"It would definitely be nice to have Issa and Lewis, but we got to adjust without them," said Charlie Sebrell, who leads the team in catches (18), yards (533) and receiving touchdowns (3) and figures to play an even bigger role against Willamette.
Lewis Sebrell is the team's leading rusher (284 yards, 2 TDs) and Shahin is his backup. Sophomore Jake Scarminach, who ran for a touchdown in a mop-up quarterback role against Phoenix, gets his first varisty start on offense. He'll also start at his usual outside linebacker spot.
"I really hate to put that kind of load on a sophomore to be a two-way starter," Hall said. "But Jake's a very mature kid. He's worked very hard and he'll be ready for it."
Scarminach even took a few snaps at quarterback this week, with starter Talon Haggard — a converted receiver — split out wide. Haggard, second to Sebrell with 238 yards rushing and a team-high five TDs, also figures to carry an even heavier load. At the very least, the Ashland offense should be unpredictable.
"We're definitely going to pass the ball and spread them out," said Charlie Sebrell. "I do think with Lewis and Issa out, I do need to step up my game."
Of greater concern to Hall is the defense, where Shahin leads the team in tackles from his inside linebacker spot and Sebrell is part of a three-man rotation with Mack Gargus.
"That's probably the bigger dilemma because, if you look at our defensive statistics, we really haven't done a good job of stopping people or slowing people down," Hall said.
Compared to the senior-dominated team of a year ago, the Grizzlies are allowing far more rushing yards (253-140), total yards (331-276) and points per game (23.3-12.2) through three games.
"We've got to try to be a little creative," Hall said. "Some guys that haven't played a lot are going to get a lot of experience."
"It's all about making improvement," Hall said. "Some guys are going to make their initial benchmark this week because they haven't played much this year."
With Patrick McCrea still sidelined with a back injury, the Grizzlies could have as many as six sophomores on defense against an experienced and explosive Wolverine offense that returns its quarterback and three running backs from a 10-2 state quarterfinalist squad.
Quarterback Spencer Phillips earned all-Midwestern League honors a year ago and is dangerous as both a runner and passer. Craig Loper (1,500 yards, 17 TDs in 2007) and Rafael Hidalgo split time in the backfield with fullback Eric Ruiz. Receiver Kenny Gebhardt helped break open a tight game against North Medford a week ago with a key second-half catch.
"They're so good on the perimeter," Hall said. "They have so much speed. Loper and Hidalgo are faster than anybody we have. So we have to be smarter. (Outside linebackers) Jake and T.J. (Murphy) have to turn those players inside and our safeties have to come up and make tackles."
Hall said he expects the Wolverines to run the ball early and often against his young defense.
"We have to pack it in there a little bit, but that leaves your DBs vulnerable," he said. "You gotta try to stop something. Their forte is running the ball. That's not our forte right now."
The Wolverines will be making their second trip to Southern Oregon this month. Two weeks ago, they edged Southern Sky Conference rival Klamath Union 22-21.