Grizzlies' playoff hunt continues against Pels

With only two games left on the regular season schedule, this may seem hard to believe, but the fun part starts now for the Ashland football team.

They endured a stretch of five losses in six weeks that included a forfeit of what figured to be the biggest game of the season. Last week, they stared down a 21-point deficit only three Mazama possessions into the game, and admittedly their whole season hung by a thread of the football.

And after all of that, where do the Grizzlies find themselves? Well, right where they want to be, of course: in the thick of the Southern Sky Conference playoff race.

Having fun yet?

"We've still got a shot, and that's about all you can ask for," coach Charlie Hall said. "That's what keeps practice focused and guys motivated. But it's definitely been a wild ride."

The ride continues on Friday at Walter A. Phillips Field, where Ashland (3-5, 1-1 SSC) will tangle at 7 p.m. with Klamath Union with major playoff implications on the line.

The Pelicans (7-1 overall), winners of each of their first two conference games against Mazama and Eagle Point, have won three of the last four meetings with Ashland. KU's 49-26 win over the Grizzlies in Klamath Falls a year ago was Ashland's only SSC loss and, thanks to an unfavorable coin flip, proved to be the knockout blow to their postseason hopes.

"We have a really tough task with them coming in here," Hall said. "They seem to have a lot of confidence playing against us, but we still feel like we have a lot to prove, especially to them."

Klamath's one setback this year came at Hidden Valley, but the Pelicans have averaged 27 points in two league victories. Hall said his team will have to counter their speed in order to slow them down this week.

"They have a quarterback that can make you miss, a great running back and some dangerous receivers," he said. "There will certainly be some weapons out there, but we won't be doing anything too elaborate. We simply have to make tackles on their good open-field runners."

Still, the Grizzlies know the focus must remain on their own play in order to be successful.

After turning the ball over their first two possessions and then punting away the next two, the Grizzlies scored on five of their last seven drives to secure a 29-21 comeback win last week. The play of the offense in that game, though, was indicative of an entire season full of up-and-down turns in which moving the ball has sometimes become a mystery.

"It was pretty disappointing," said junior quarterback Jake Scarminach of the beginning of the game. "We kind of saw our whole season flash before our eyes and we knew we had to get it done, so we just stuck with the game plan."

Scarminach, the replacement for last year's SSC Offensive Player of the Year, Talon Haggard, was 12-for-27 in the game with a pair of picks and passing touchdowns, but also ran for a team-high 70 yards and a score.

With no real established presence at running back, he's been the team's leading rusher all year while completing 56 percent of his passes, and continues to carry much of the offensive burden on his back.

"We're just trying to put everything that's happened so far in the past," he explained. "We're looking forward right now, trying to become a better team every week. We know we can turn our season around and make the playoffs, so that's where our focus is."

With a win on Friday, the Grizzlies can put themselves in position to do more than that. If Ashland wins out, and Klamath is able to defeat unbeaten Crater next week, the three teams could be looking at another three-way tie for first place.

"What a great way that would be to end our season," Hall added. "We haven't ruled that chance out yet."

The way things have gone so far, no reason to rule anything out quite yet.

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