Joining the Midwestern League took care of any isolation issues the Ashland and Eagle Point football teams had been feeling since last year's reshuffling of districts but, as the lone Class 5A teams here in the Rogue Valley, a new league did nothing to take away from a natural rivalry for the Grizzlies and Eagles.

Joining the Midwestern League took care of any isolation issues the Ashland and Eagle Point football teams had been feeling since last year's reshuffling of districts but, as the lone Class 5A teams here in the Rogue Valley, a new league did nothing to take away from a natural rivalry for the Grizzlies and Eagles.

Those two programs will meet at 7 tonight in Eagle Point and highlight play in the eighth week of the season for Southern Oregon squads.

"It's the closest thing we have to what would be a traditional rivalry game and I think our kids do treat it that way," said Ashland head coach Charlie Hall. "They see each other on the basketball court or on the baseball field and get to know one another, so I think they're all just excited when we get together."

In tonight's Class 6A Southwest Conference action, Grants Pass is at Crater, North Medford plays host to No. 7 Roseburg, No. 3 South Medford plays at South Eugene and Thurston is at No. 1 Sheldon.

For the Eagles and seventh-ranked Grizzlies, there will still be plenty on the line tonight, even though conference ranking isn't much of a factor anymore. Ashland (6-1, 5-1 MWL) is second in the league standings and that isn't likely to change regardless of the outcome, while Eagle Point (3-4, 3-3) could conceivably climb into fourth place.

"I think it would help our confidence more than anything going into the playoff rounds," said EP head coach Jacob Schauffler of a potential win tonight. "I don't know how much jockeying there is for playoff position with only one more game left, but it would be a huge lift for us mentally and obviously physically before getting a bye and starting a playoff run."

Due to an offseason change in 5A playoff qualification, the only real factor that matters is each team's power ranking and how it compares to the other teams in a South group that includes the MWL, Mid-Willamette Conference and Intermountain Conference. The bottom three teams in the 5A power rankings from the South do not advance to the play-in round in two weeks, while the bottom two teams from the North do not advance. The Nov. 4 play-in round will then pit the top 16 teams from each division against one another, with the highest-ranking team playing the lowest and so on. Winner then advance to a 16-team state playoff bracket, reshuffled again by power rankings.

While that's all well and good for those interested in computers, Hall and Schauffler are more concerned with the mindset of their teams as they close out the regular season tonight.

"I think we're excited and we're just trying to finish strong and put a good ending on the regular season," said Hall. "A win for either team puts them in the best possible position moving forward."

Ashland has been a model of consistency thus far, using an effective ground game and stout defense to help take the pressure of sophomore quarterback Danial White, who has more than held up his end of the bargain in his first year as a starter.

White has completed 86 of 129 passes for 1,033 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions and also has rushed for 485 yards and 10 scores on 65 carries. Jon Volz leads the Grizzlies with 728 yards and seven TDs on 100 carries, while a number of receivers have stepped up thus far for Ashland.

"They're just so consistent in what they do," Schauffler said of the Grizzlies. "Their kids just do exactly what they're told and they play extremely hard. They don't necessarily have the biggest or fastest or best athletes but they just do everything so well and do their job right and don't make mistakes. If we're going to beat them Friday, we're going to have to beat them because they're not going to make mistakes and lose a game."

Ashland has committed only five turnovers thus far and enters tonight's game with a plus-seven turnover ratio. Another helpful fact has been how many different players have stepped up thus far for the Grizzlies, especially at receiver. Five Ashland players have at least 11 receptions, led by Taylor Humphrey (19 for 346 yards), Franklin Lime (18 for 303) and Sam Geisslinger (21 for 225).

"Every week there's been sort of a new guy that shows up and makes plays for us," said Hall. "That's just good that we have kids that can step up, and anytime you can run the ball in high school football you're going to be successful."

The run game will play a pivotal role tonight for the Eagles, as well. Eagle Point has run for nearly three times as many yards this season as it has passing and will lean heavily on the efforts of Garrett Snow (113 carries for 700 yards, 10 TDs) and Jakob Combs (86 for 609) to position itself for an upset of Ashland.

The Eagles also have their own sophomore signal-caller in Jorge Quintero, who has completed 43 of 93 passes for 592 yards. Carlos Flores has been EP's leading receiver at 14 catches for 210 yards, but the team possibly could get a boost with the return of two-way starter Loren Nesberg, who will look to return from torn ligaments in his ankle and a bout of whooping cough.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT, www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry