Faced with playing one of the state's top teams without the services of two of his most valuable players, Ashland High football coach Charlie Hall dug into the deepest corners of his thick playbook Friday night.

Faced with playing one of the state's top teams without the services of two of his most valuable players, Ashland High football coach Charlie Hall dug into the deepest corners of his thick playbook Friday night.

And thanks largely to the mercurial moves and rocket arm of senior quarterback Talon Haggard, the Grizzlies almost pulled off a most improbable nonconference upset.

Haggard accounted for 384 yards and five touchdowns, but Willamette senior Craig Loper had the final word, running for 229 yards and three scores of his own in a 42-34 Wolverines victory at Walter A. Phillips Field.

"I'm really proud of how we played," said Ashland senior Charlie Sebrell, who gave the Grizzlies a halftime lead with a sensational catch in the end zone in the dying seconds of the second quarter. "We had a great effort and played as hard as we could. We left everything out there."

"We made some big plays," Hall said. "We just couldn't get a stop at the end."

For much of the night, it appeared the Grizzlies (2-2) might actually pull off the upset. With senior Lewis Sebreall and junior Issa Shahin both suspended following ejections the previous week, things didn't get better for the Ashland offense when senior center Matt Naylor went down with a knee injury just four plays into the contest.

But with Haggard operating out of the shotgun in a four- and five-receiver offense, the Grizzlies matched the sixth-ranked Wolverines score for score for the first 36 minutes.

"We knew if we could spread them out, we would get some one-on-one situations," Charlie Sebrell said. "I really thought we had a great game plan. We were just one stop short."

Twice in the first half, Haggard stung the Wolverines with his legs, once on a 16-yard keeper up the middle for an early 8-0 lead and later on a 60-yard jaunt down the sideline that showcased both speed and strength and put Ashland ahead 16-13.

"We all played well as a team," said Haggard, who ran for 134 yards on 11 carries and threw for 210 yards on just 10 completions. "The line blocked great. We can spread the defense out and it's easy to make reads."

For all of Hall's play-calling wizardry and Haggard's individual brilliance, nothing could mask the weaknesses of Ashland's interior defense. Time and again, Willamette's Loper and Rafael Hidalgo pounded the ball into the line behind left tackle Danny Granillo and left guard Carson Mason. With Lewis Sebrell and Shahin missing, the Grizzlies played as many as six sophomores on defense. The result was allowing 321 yards on the ground and 24 first downs.

"We had a lot of young guys who played tonight," Hall said. "We had basically a junior varsity line."

After Haggard's third rushing touchdown of the night — a 48-yard scramble down the left sideline — when pulled Ashland into a 28-all tie midway through the third quarter, Willamette took command of the line of scrimmage.

Loper, who had a scoring runs of 69 and 45 yards called back on holding penalties in the first half, was the workhorse on a 12-play, 65-yard drive that gave Willamette (4-0) the lead for good at 34-28 on Spencer Phillips' 9-yard screen pass to Eric Ruiz in the final minute of the third quarter.

After an exchange of punts, Loper rambled 25 yards for another score that extended the lead to 42-28 with 5:19 remaining.

"He's a very good player," Hall said of Loper. "One of the best running backs in the state."

Undaunted, Ashland made one last, determined march. Haggard ran for 34 yards and then running back Jake Scarminach connected with Charlie Sebrell on halfback pass that brought the ball to the Willamette 30 and the crowd to its feet.

Two plays later, Haggard threw a seemingly innocent flair pass to Nicholas Hall on the right sideline. Hall got a key block from Will Bowers, broke a tackle and raced 30 yards to the end zone, pulling Ashland within 42-34.

Faced with a crucial decision, Charlie Hall decided to forgo the onside kick and trust the outcome to his defense. But the Willamette running game was too much and Ashland never got a final chance to tie the game.

"It was frustrating," Hall said. "But our kids didn't quit."

Ashland travels to Springfield next Friday.

Willamette 42, Ashland 34

Willamette (4-0) 13 7 14 8 — 42

Ashland (2-2) 16 6 6 6 — 34

AHS — Haggard 16 run (Scarminach pass from Haggard)

WHS — Loper 47 run (Aguilar kick)

WHS — Loper 1 run (Aguilar kick)

AHS — Haggard 60 run (Haggard run)

WHS — Hidalgo 9 run (Aguilar kick)

AHS — C. Sebrell 36 pass from Haggard (run failed)

WHS — Hidalgo 8 run run (Phillips run)

AHS — Haggard 48 run (pass failed)

WHS — Ruiz 9 pass from Phillips (kick failed)

WHS — Loper 25 run (Loper run)

AHS — Hall 30 pass from Haggard (kick failed)

WHS AHS

First downs 24 15

Rushes-yards 49-321 17-133

Passing yards 108 248

Com-Att-Int 9-20-0 11-29-0

Total yards 429 381

Return yards 58 124

Penalties-yards 9-85 9-60

Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0

Punts/average 2/32.0 3/34.3

Time of possession 31:23 18:37

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING — Willamette: Craig Loper 27-229, Rafael Hidalgo 12-66, Eric Ruiz 5-19, Spencer Phillips 5-7. Ashland: Talon Haggard 11-134, Jake Scarminach 6-(-1).

PASSING — Willamette: Phillips 9-20-0 108. Ashland: Haggard 10-28-0 210.

RECEIVING — Willamette: Taylor Woodke 2-48, Wid Jensen 2-22, Craig Loper 2-8, Ruiz 1-9, Hidalgo 1-7, Cody Wirth 1-5. Ashland: Charlie Sebrell 3-90, Garrett Tygerson 3-57, Oliver Krant 2-58, Scarminach 2-13, Nicholas Hall 1-30.