Grizzlies head north for date with No. 1 Sherwood

The latest test for the Ashland Grizzlies will be their toughest when they hit the road to face off against the top-ranked Sherwood Bowmen Friday night.

Both teams will find out how much they've progressed after beating up on also-rans for a good portion of the regular season. The Grizzlies (7-2) have rebounded nicely after an early season shellacking from perennial power Marist. Sherwood (9-0) ran roughshod over the Northwest Oregon Conference defeating league foes and fellow playoff teams, Putnam and Wilsonville, by scores of 47-0 and 55-28, respectively.

While the red-hot Grizzlies enter the round of 16 Class 5A playoff game riding a seven-game winning streak, averaging 35 points per game, the Bowmen have gone supernova, blistering defenses with an offense that averages 56.3 points per game and hasn't scored less than 42 this season.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday night, at Sherwood.

With both teams blowing the opposition out of the water most of the season, the first defense to flinch may be in for a long night. Conversely, the first team to make a stop will have a critical advantage in a contest that could produce videogame-like stats.

The Bowmen will enjoy home-field advantage in more ways than one Friday night. Boasting a stable of talented runners, Sherwood's run-heavy offense is tailor made for the artificial turf of their home stadium. Second is the small-matter of the five-hour trip from Ashland, something not easily replicated in practice.

"We have a pretty good travel plan," Ashland head coach Charlie Hall said. "The trip shouldn't be too big of a concern for us. We've traveled to Eugene a couple times this year. We've played on turf this year. It shouldn't be too new for us."

While the trip may not be something new, playing against the Sherwood Wing T offense will be. The Wing T utilizes misdirection and trapping linemen to create confusion and the Bowmen run it to perfection.

Led by the thunder-and-lightning tandem of 6-foot, 220-pound Michael Balfour and 5-7, 175-pound Steven Long, the Bowmen are capable of smashing it up the middle or ripping off a big gain to the outside. Unspectacular, yet steady-handed quarterback Jordan Ramp will eat up yardage in the middle with a play-action attack that capitalizes on overaggressive defenders.

"It's a whole series of plays," said Hall. "They've got traps. They've got lineman who look like they trap but oh wait, it's a sweep. They've got sweeps that turn into play-action passes. Sherwood runs all of that stuff very well and they have multiple formations to change how they do it."

The biggest challenge for both squads will be preparing adequately for the opposition. Hall admits it's is tough getting the scout team ready to play at a level that reflects Sherwood's quality. He hopes that Sherwood will similarly have a tough time replicating Ashland's passing attack in practice.

"It's just not who (Sherwood) is," he said. "They don't really throw the ball like we do so they are 'unprepared' in the same ways we are for them."

Both teams must rely on their respective strengths to win the game.

Traditionally Ashland has struggled with teams that like to pound the ball on the ground. The Grizzlies give up 126 rushing yards per contest and will struggle mightily if they fail to stop the Bowmen onslaught.

Similarly, Ashland must rely heavily on it's bevy of playmakers, and maintain it's supremely balanced attack to keep Sherwood guessing. The Grizzlies will utilize can-do playmaker Jake Scarminach in almost any way to keep the Bowmen off guard. Just about any time the senior all-star does something with the football — run, throw or even catch — it turns into points for Ashland.

Because both offenses have been firing on all cylinders this season, Hall said the biggest question mark may be which defense will make the critical play.

"The first team to make an adjustment to what the other offense is doing is certainly going to have a leg up," said Hall. "That's the big challenge. Is the novelty of what we are going to do going to give them a hard time or is their novelty going to give us a hard time. After that it eventually comes down the Jimmies and Joes as they once said. You know they've got some pretty good kids there. But we do too."

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