Playoffs in Grizzlies' sights

Only one thing seems to be certain about the Ashland football team's remaining schedule right now: the Grizzlies will play their Southern Sky Conference finale at Eagle Point Friday.

Beyond that, the postseason hopes of every SSC team will have be decided on the field, and isn't that how it's supposed to be?

With a win at Eagle Point and a Klamath Union loss, the Grizzlies would secure the league's No. 2 seed and go on the road to face a Northwest Oregon Conference team after a first-round bye.

But if things turn out differently, well, that's when things get a little confusing. But above all, here's what you need to know:

If Eagle Point defeats the Grizzlies, and KU loses at first-place Crater, Eagle Point, Ashland and Klamath Union would finish the regular season in a three-way tie for second place with matching 2-2 records. In accordance with the Azzi Plan now in place, if the Grizzlies lose by less than eight points, they'll still grab at least the No. 3 playoff spot. If Ashland loses by more than two points in this scenario, they'll concede the No. 2 seed to KU.

In another scenario, Ashland could still force a three-way tie for first place with a win and a KU upset of Crater. Under the Azzi plan, though, there is no scenario which could land AHS the No. 1 seed in the conference.

The good news is there will be no coin toss to determine the Grizzlies' playoff fate this year. The bad news is that nothing about the SSC playoff race, besides the fact that there is one, will be for sure until the conclusion of Friday's games.

But the way things have been going for the Ashland football team, coach Charlie Hall isn't sure that's such a bad thing for his team.

"I feel good about the way we're playing right now," he said. "We're getting hot at the right time, and that's about all you can ask for. The kids see the opportunity in front of them, so they're having fun with it."

Hall also said that he wouldn't mind if the Grizzlies got the No. 3 seed instead of the No. 2. If they do, there will be no bye, but AHS would host a home playoff game against the Northwest Conference's fourth seed.

"An extra game and a chance to play at home in the playoffs? Great, that would be just fine with us," Hall said. "I'm looking at the big picture for this program, too, and to experience an extra playoff game instead of 10 extra days of practice (with a bye) wouldn't be such a bad thing at all.

"So much of this is out of our control right now though," he added. "Let's just go beat Eagle Point and let things take care of themselves."

That the Grizzlies are even in a position to talk about playoff positioning at all going into the final week of the regular season would have been a stretch a couple weeks ago, and just unreasonable today if not for the clutch play of the defense.

Last week, it stopped the Pelicans' offense nine yards short of a game-winning drive to seal a 13-7 Grizzlies' win. Seniors Issa Shahin and Jordan Resch brought down the Klamath quarterback as time expired to leave the Grizzlies in second place.

It was the second week in a row and third time out of Ashland's four wins that the defense has shut out the opposing team in the second half, and each of the wins have been by eight points or less — all of the comeback variety.

Hall said the play and timing of Resch, a 6-foot-2 linebacker, keyed Ashland's best defensive showing of the season, also noting the breakout game by Shahin, who had three sacks.

At the beginning of the year, Hall implemented a different defensive scheme than he's gone with before, using more blitzes and taking chances to put pressure on opposing offenses. He admits there have been plenty of growing pains, but the Grizzlies appear to have come into their own at the right time.

"They're really starting to understand how to penetrate and time up with the blitzes right now," Hall said. "But this is new to our coaching staff too, and we're also starting to figure out how to apply pressure in different situations and tweak things as we go along."

Eagle Point (1-2) is still playing for something too, and can likely be counted on not to roll over at home on its senior night.

"They might not have the speed that KU had on both sides of the ball, but (the Eagles) have some talented kids," Hall said. "This is a huge game for them too, because they're coming out here knowing they have a chance to get in the postseason, so we expect them to come out fired up."

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