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Giants of the gridiron

Prep Focus: Crusaders could be among the greatest ever
by: JAIME VALDEZ, Owen Marecic and the Jesuit Crusaders have steamrolled everyone in their path on their way to their second state finals appearance in a row.

A lot of people are saying a lot of things about the Jesuit football team these days, the main theme being: Is it among the best Oregon prep teams ever?

Three opinions:

'Jesuit's as good as I've seen since I've been doing it, for 15 years,' says Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury, whose Lakers lost to Jesuit 31-20 - the Crusaders' closest game - earlier this season.

John Hilsenteger, a longtime Portland statistician and former Oregon School Activities Association executive, offered a two-word answer to the question: 'Oh, yeah.' Overwhelmingly good, he adds.

Robin Pflugrad, an Oregon Ducks assistant coach, watched Jesuit beat Sheldon 65-7 two weekends ago. His son plays for the Irish.

It's one of the best all-around prep teams he has witnessed and, specifically, 'across the front line, from tackle to tight end and with a tremendous fullback, I thought it was the best line I've seen in high school football,' says Pflugrad, a college recruiter since his Portland State days, 1983-85. 'Coach (Ken) Potter has done a great job. Fundamentally extremely solid - good old-fashioned blocking and tackling and coverage.'

The Crusaders (12-0) play Metro League foe Southridge (9-4) in the Class 6A championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium - in the previous matchup, it was Jesuit winning 38-0. Following up its stunning win over Sheldon in the quarterfinals, Jesuit beat Canby 63-21 in the semifinals last weekend.

Official stats had Jesuit netting 615 yards offense - in essentially three quarters of play because the Crusader offense had the ball for 13 seconds of the fourth.

In other words, it could have been 800 yards and 84 points against Canby.

'They have everything - execution, big guys, good playmakers, well-coached,' Coury said shortly after Southridge beat Lake Oswego 27-7 in the other Class 6A semifinal. 'One game, though, you still got to play. I wouldn't count (the Skyhawks) out.'

Indeed, Southridge will show up at Autzen Stadium and step on to the FieldTurf, knowing that in last year's season opener the Beaverton school beat the Crusaders, Jesuit's last loss before 25 consecutive wins.

In a nationally televised game, Jesuit beat the Skyhawks 38-0 last month, but Southridge managed 156 yards rushing and nearly five yards per pop. Kevin Coleman, a power runner, and David Smith, speedy and shifty, switch off playing behind Southridge's physical offensive line, which plowed through Lake Oswego in the second half.

'I think we can run the ball against them,' Coleman says. 'We did for two series (in the 38-0 loss). Everybody has a weakness. Everybody can lose.'

Says Southridge coach Brad Mastrud: 'We have to control the football, not turn the ball over and play good defense.' Limit Jesuit's offensive opportunities and the Skyhawks can pull off the major upset.

'They're awfully good,' he adds, of senior-dominated Jesuit, the No. 16-ranked prep team by USA Today, 'but I don't think any football team on any level is so much better they can't be beat. They've been blowing people out … we just want to stay on the field and be competitive.'

With some new linebackers, Jesuit actually has given up some ground yardage after being stifling last season. Opponents average 128 yards and 4.1 yards per carry, and Canby's T.J. Gorman ripped off two long runs - a 76-yard run against the first-team defense - and finished with 223 yards.

But the Crusaders have been tough to pass on, led by cornerbacks Raphiel Lambert and Jamaine Olson. Jesuit has limited teams to 44 percent and 92 yards per game with 17 interceptions.

'We're not soft against the run,' says Olson, a Division I recruit who has been offered a scholarship by Stanford. 'Maybe late in games we get relaxed and they catch us. We're an all-around team. We can handle the run.'

Skyhawk backup steps up

Southridge had started sophomore Kellen Mastrud at quarterback in three playoff games, ahead of senior Tom Farinacci. But Mastrud suffered a foot injury against Lake Oswego, and Farinacci played well and helped Southridge score 27 unanswered points to win going away. He threw two touchdown passes, including a clincher to 6-6 Marcus Mathews, a Brigham Young wide receiver recruit.

But the question remains: Can Southridge do anything defensively to stop Jesuit? Paul Weatheroy, who chose Jesuit over Southridge for high schoool, has cruised to 2,323 rushing yards and 36 TDs. Lambert and Michael Lowe present matchup problems at receiver - and Lambert eventually could be better running the ball than Weatheroy.

Fullback Owen Marecic and the O-line have been impenetrable, and quarterback Dan Wagner keeps defenses off balance with his 65 percent passing, 16 TDs and only two picks.

Jesuit averages 338 yards rushing.

'We have so many athletes, and a great offensive line,' Wagner says. 'We just have to be patient and not jump the gun on plays. Don't hurt ourselves.'

And, go out and not take Southridge for granted, he adds.

'Our coach keeps us humble every week. He really makes sure we don't get too caught up in ourselves.'

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On the Web

For complete coverage of Saturday's Jesuit-Southridge state championship game, go to www.localnewsdaily.com.