Unbeaten Sheldon the next hurdle in Jesuit's playoff drive

PORTLAND — For the Jesuit football team, the big-time is here. Now.

The perennially powerful Crusaders meet perennial power Sheldon in Saturday’s Class 6A state semifinal at 4 p.m. at Jeld-Wen Field, and the challenge could not be greater.

by: MILES VANCE - FACEOFF TIME - Sheldon senior quarterback Taylor Alie (shown here in his team's quarterfinal win over Southridge) and the Irish will test Jesuit when their two teams meet in the Class 6A state semifinals at 4 p.m. Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field.

The Crusader-Irish match-up features two of the state’s top-five ranked teams — Metro League runner-up Jesuit is pegged at No. 1 while Southern Oregon Conference champ Sheldon is at No. 5 — and two of the state’s best programs since 2000. Indeed, the Crusaders won big-school state titles in 2000, 2005 and 2006, and finished second in 2009, while the Irish won crowns in 2002, 2007 and 2009 and took second in both 2001 and 2011.

Needless to say, the gravity of the match-up is not lost on Jesuit’s players and MILES VANCE - GETTING READY - Jesuit coach Ken Potter and Crusader senior quarterback Elliott Nistler know they'll be tested big-time when they face Sheldon on Saturday.

“We’ll have to play — I won’t say a perfect game — but we’ll have to play very well. We’ll have to protect the ball and limit our mistakes.”

“We played ‘em last year and it was a pretty tough game for us,” said Jesuit senior running back/linebacker Joey Alfieri. “I think we lost by two touchdowns, but we learned from that and we’re going to bounce back.”

There’s more to the match-up than just history, too. The game will feature two of the state’s top-scoring Class 6A teams, with the 12-0 Irish cranking out 49.6 points per game to lead Oregon’s big schools, and 10-2 Jesuit third-best with a per-game average of 45.7 points (Tigard, which faces Lake Oswego in the other 6A semifinal on Saturday, is the second-highest scoring team at 48.9 a game).

The Irish rely on senior quarterback Taylor Alie (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) as their triggerman, a player who’s thrown for 2,399 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 66 percent of his passes. His top receivers include wide receiver Connor Strahm (a 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior who’s caught 66 passes for 839 yards and 10 TDs), wide receiver Ivan Faulhaber (a 6-3, 215-pound senior who’s made 41 catches for 502 yards and six TDs), as well as senior Dylan Herbert (388 yards and two scores) and junior Mitchell Herbert (304 yards and seven TDs).

The Irish can run too, Strahm leading the way with 467 yards and seven TDs on 61 carries, Yadie Dunmore adding 343 yards and five scores, and Alie tacking on 265 yards and five TDs of his own.

“They’re a very explosive team that scores a ton of points,” Potter said. “They throw it very well, but even though they do that, they also run the ball very well and take advantage of their one-on-one opportunities.”

Up front, the Irish are led by Henry Asay (6-3, 265), Tanner Davies (6-3, 295), Tony Tokatly (6-1, 210), Brett Nielsen (6-4, 225) and Marcus McGovern (6-1, 205).

The Crusaders are no slouches offensively, either, with senior tailback AJ Glass carrying 182 times for 1,386 yards and 23 touchdowns, sophomore tailback Chase Morrison adding 1,175 yards and 15 scores on 152 attempts, and Alfieri accounting for 501 yards and 13 touchdowns on 55 rushes.

Senior quarterback Elliott Nistler has come on in the second half of the season and thrown for 1,018 yards and nine TDs on 49.5 percent passing. His main targets have been Alfieri (19 catches for 359 yards and three TDs), junior tight end Henry Mondeaux (13 catches for 225 yards and three scores) and senior wide receiver Trent Werner (12 catches for 351 yards and two TDs).

That group is led by Jesuit’s biggest line ever — including all-league seniors Andrew Kirkland (6-5 302), Max Rich (6-7, 318), Dominic Baldocchi (6-2, 270), Doug Brenner (6-3, 284) and tight end Henry Mondeaux (6-5, 242) — a group that hopes to bludgeon the Irish all the way into the end zone on Friday.

On the other side of the ball, Sheldon fields the state’s third-toughest defense, allowing just 12.8 points per game, while the Crusaders are close behind in fifth, giving up a paltry 15.1 points per contest.

The Irish “D” is led by senior linebacker James Banks (6-2, 226), senior lineman Liam Talty (6-4, 225), senior lineman Chet Spears (6-2, 290), senior end Mike Ralston (6-6, 245 and a transfer from Jesuit) and Strahm.

The Crusaders, meanwhile, look to a host of all-leaguers on defense, led by first-team all-Metro picks Christian Martinek (a 6-4, 220-pound junior end), Alfieri (6-3, 219) and Buddy Webb (a 5-9, 173-pound senior cornerback), and second-teamers Braden Nelson (a 6-1, 222-pound senior lineman), Mondeaux at linebacker and Morrison at cornerback.

Now, the Crusaders just need to prepare as best they can and get ready — they hope — to play the best they can on Saturday.

“We’ll work hard in practice, Coach will come up with a plan and we’ll see,” Morrison said. “We’re feeling really good, feeling really good about our chances of getting (to the state championship) and winning.”

“I just think we need to play our ball and come out physical,” said senior linebacker Mike Mueller. “They’re a great team, but I think if we play our ball, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

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