Grizzlies seek fourth win in a row

The Ashland Grizzlies have won three games in a row, including two on the road, and have turned the red zone into their personal playground while averaging 34.2 points per game.

In other words, it appears to be a great time to square off against one of the most generous defenses in the state — North Eugene. Ashland head coach Charlie Hall isn't so sure.

"I just worry about our focus," he said, "because I think going on the road is always a little bit of a challenge. We've been pretty good, but you never know."

Well, not until Friday night, that is. The streaking Grizzlies (4-1, 3-1 Midwestern League) and stumbling Highlanders (0-4, 0-4) square off at 7 p.m. in Eugene.

The game is mostly about pride for the Highlanders, but it means much more than that for the eighth-ranked Grizzlies, who are tied with Willamette (4-1, 3-1) for second place in the MWL standings with three games to go.

Ashland has mostly its offense to thank for its recent hot streak. Since getting blanked by No. 1 Marist, Ashland has beaten Churchill, Willamette and Marshfield by a combined score of 125-68. There have been plenty of heroes — junior running back Jon Volz rushed for 200 yards against Willamette, and quarterback Danial White passed for 188 yards and ran for 113 in last week's win at Marshfield. But mostly, the Grizzlies' offense has proven to be a balanced, resourceful unit that can hurt opponents in a number of different ways. That has especially been the case inside the 20-yard line, where Ashland has excelled beyond the wildest dreams of most offensive coordinators.

Heading into Marshfield, Ashland had scored 12 touchdowns in 13 red-zone opportunities. Incredibly, the Grizzlies actually improved upon that 92 percent success rate, going 4-for-4 while beating the Pirates, 50-36.

"It's been something that, obviously, when you're doing something that well kids get a lot of confidence and you keep going with what works," Hall said. "If it's not broke, don't fix it."

At least part of Ashland's red-zone success can be attributed to the offensive change-up it often throws at opponents once it gets inside the 10. Usually a spread offense team, the Grizzlies have burned opposing defenses with their own variation of the wildcat offense once they get inside the 10.

It's nothing that hasn't been done before — even a few NFL teams are going wildcat on occasion these days — but so far it seems like every time Volz takes a direct snap he either bolts up the middle for a touchdown or hands off to a teammate for a touchdown.

Even Hall, a former offensive coordinator of the year award-winner at NCAA Division I FCS Northern Arizona, shakes his head in wonder at his team's phenomenal success rate when it gets in scoring position.

"There are only two plays in that (wildcat) package, and we can run them both ways," Hall said. " "We don't have another variation — we don't throw the ball out of that package. If we have to throw it we have other phases of the offense where (White) would be under center and throw the ball. But "… if it's blocked right, I don't think it can be stopped. It's just a matter of our execution against their execution, and if everybody does their job then either one of those plays should work."

Defensively, North Eugene presents a unique challenge because it's one of the few teams Ashland will face that does not run the spread. The Highlanders run the fly offense, designed to fool defenses with misdirection and backfield motion. North Eugene's fly sweeper is usually running back Sean Collum, who has 184 rushing yards on 19 carries.

Hall says the Grizzlies' defense must be disciplined in order to prevent the big play. Cheating off an assignment, he warns, can have dire consequences, which can lead to exactly what the Grizzlies are trying to avoid — a close game.

"It's kind of an assignment thing," he said. "Everybody's got to stay home. We've got outside linebackers who have got to take care of the perimiter, and we've got inside guys that have got to take care of the trap. And the other guys have to stay (home). They predetermine all of their plays, but if you're not there and they see you not covering something very well they're going to come back and run that play the next time."

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