Ashland's Ostmo comes through when it matters most

The New York Giants have David Tyree. The Dallas Cowboys have Larry Brown.

And the Ashland Grizzlies now have Christian Ostmo, the lineman who, like the aforementioned surprise Super Bowl stars, played mostly in the shadow of his more flashy teammates until one magical play thrust him into the limelight. Sort of.

Ostmo has racked up 14 tackles, one sack and four tackles-for-losses this season for the Grizzlies, but it was his first-ever blocked extra-point in the waning moments of Friday's regular-season finale at Eagle Point that will likely define his junior year.

Ostmo, listed at 5-foot-9 and 204 pounds, burst through a hole in the left side of the Eagles' offensive line and deflected Cody Morris' PAT attempt with seven seconds to go. Normally, preserving an eight-point deficit — the final score was 28-20, Eagles — with just seconds on the clock would inspire a few half-hearted high fives and little else. But this block meant everything to the Grizzlies.

"(Defensive coordinator Tito Soriano) was yelling from the sideline, 'They can't score, they can't score,'" Ostmo said of the decisive play, "and we were just telling it back and forth to each other, 'They can't score right here.'"

Though some of the fans on hand may have been scratching their heads at Eagle Point's double-reverse option pass moments earlier, the players and coaches on both sidelines knew the significance of the final score.

Ashland entered the game leading Eagle Point by eight points in the newly adopted Azzi tiebreaker system, voted into use by the Southern Sky Conference to replace the coin toss solution that burned Ashland a year ago. By preserving an eight-point deficit, Ostmo's block forced the use of the third and final Azzi tiebreaker — points allowed among the teams in question (Klamath Union, Ashland and Eagle Point). Ashland owned that tiebreaker by a wide margin, 35 to 54, thanks mostly to its impressive defensive performance against KU a week prior.

Now, the Grizzlies head to the playoffs as the SSC's No. 3 seed and will host Wilsonville on Friday in the first round.

The block itself was textbook. The Grizzlies had ends flying in from the sides, but Ostmo bolted through the heart of the Eagles' offensive line and arrived in plenty of time to deflect the ball off the top of his arm.

"It was a pretty good feeling because I"ve never blocked a PAT," Ostmo said. "I struggled a little bit (to get through the line) but I was basically just going for it. It hit my arm right here, that's why it seemed to fly into the air off to the side instead of straight down.

"The sideline was really happy, but on our team no one knew it was me and everybody was really surprised. (Senior linebacker) Jordan Resch said, 'Who blocked that, who blocked that?'" and he said, 'Ostmo, was it you?' and I said, 'Yeah.' Then he just started yelling."

At the time, Ashland's fate still hinged on the game in Klamath Falls between Crater and Klamath Union, a contest which went to overtime as the Grizzlies headed to the locker room. Within minutes the good news was passed on to Ashland head coach Charlie Hall: Crater prevailed in overtime, 13-7, forcing a three-way tie for second place and thereby keeping the Grizzlies' season alive for at least another week.

The series of events that allowed Ashland to sneak into the playoffs despite losing made for an unusual postgame meeting for the Grizzlies, who had a chance to tie the game with 23 seconds to go but were stuffed at the line of scrimmage on a two-point conversion attempt.

"It was very awkward because once we got to the locker room we didn't know because there was still an overtime game," Hall said. "And I told the team, 'This is a very awkward situation — I'm a little disappointed in the way we played because we had an opportunity to control our own destiny and we didn't take advantage of it, and Eagle Point was pretty physical tonight.'"

On the other hand, Hall added, the Grizzlies again showed an uncanny ability to fight back from a halftime deficit. This time, they trailed 22-6 at the break a week after fighting back from a 7-0 deficit to beat KU and two weeks after digging out of a 21-0 hole to beat Mazama.

Thanks to Ostmo, the Grizzlies will have at least one more chance to prove that they can get off to a good start Friday night against Wilsonville.

"I feel good about our ability to (finish strong), but the problem is, why can't we do that all the time," Hall said. "We always have to get to a point where it's dire straights and we flip the switch. We're such a reactive team, rather than proactive and taking care of business early in the game. That's just a frustrating component that we're dealing with. Hopefully we can take care of business earlier this week."

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