Beaverton, Jesuit ready for Metro League championship battle
Regular season games simply don't get much bigger than this.
True Metro League championship bouts do not come around very often, where two teams play against each other in the final game of the season to decide conference supremacy.
But on Friday night, when Beaverton hosts Jesuit, a Metro League title will hang in the balance. The Beavers are undefeated in league play at 4-0 while Jesuit is 3-1 after losing to Aloha earlier in the year. If Beaverton beats Jesuit, it takes the title outright. If Jesuit wins, it splits the title with Aloha as long as the Warriors beat Southridge in its league finale. This was one of Beaverton's preseason ambitions, reaching the last game of the regular season with a chance to win Metro. It would be one of the biggest wins in recent program history. Regardless of the outcome, the Beavers check off a big box that's on its list of yearly program objectives. But it's not the end goal by any means for either side. Each team is equipped and talented enough to play deep into the postseason. There are much bigger fish to fry.
Yet, what a great opportunity for both programs, to not only solidify their standing in the all-important Class 6A power rankings for the postseason that begins next week but stand atop a conference that's still amongst the state's elite. Jesuit can continue its tradition with another Metro banner. Beaverton can break the seven-year Crusader spell over this proud league. Get your popcorn ready. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Beaverton High School on Friday night.
"It's kind of cool, we haven't been in this kind of situation in a while, so we might as well enjoy it and have fun," Beaverton head coach Bob Boyer said. "But the only thing that matters is the next practice. I don't need them to win the game (on Monday), I need them to win the game on Friday night. We just go drill by drill, rep by rep and play in the moment."
Ironically, the last time a de facto Metro title was on the line, it was Beaverton and Jesuit in the middle of the ring back in 2015. Then, the Crusaders threw an early knockout punch and ended the clash early. It did so again in the Beaver-Crusader rematch two weeks later in the 6A quarterfinals.
This game should be much different.
Beaverton's offense is better balanced with a pair of big-time running backs in Parker McKenna and Logan McRae. Those two ball carriers operate behind a bullish, bruising offensive line that can control the trenches. McKenna is a violent runner who runs with attitude and ruggedness. McRae is loose and elusive and capable of making guys miss. The Beaver skill position players are superb. Quarterback Carson Budke has performed at a first-team All-Metro level all year. His cache of playmakers is deep and still expanding with pass-catching threats such as Cody Davidson, Trent Walker, Hayden Eiguren and Cristian Gonzalez. The Beavers have the ammunition to turn this game into a shootout. Davidson and Walker are mismatches at wide receiver, but they're not diva types who demand the ball at all times.
"It doesn't matter who it is, they're just all going out and playing together," Boyer said. "That's allowed some of the younger guys to mature up a little bit and be better players."
The Beaver defense will have its hands full and then some. Jesuit's ground game is unequaled. The Crusaders don't mask their schemes or conceal their team identity. They place a tight end on each side of their monstrous offensive line, station fullback Logan Horton in front of running backs Kade Wisher or Ted Atkinson and wreck house with physicality on the ground. Run, run, run and then run the ball again. It's simple and old school, but expertly taught by head coach Ken Potter and offensive line coach John Andreas and nearly impossible to stop. Of course, sell out to stop the ground attack and Jesuit deploys speedy wide receivers such as Joey Gatto to keep opposing safeties honest. The Crusaders can beat teams methodically with four quarters of body blows, explode for four or five touchdowns in a quarter or control the clock and pace of a game with five yards here, six yards there, another four after that. Opponents that stay in the fight until the fourth quarter have been few and far between over the last two decades or so.
"Jesuit presents the same challenge they do every year," Boyer said. "You can't get behind on them because if you 're down a couple of scores, they're just going to chug it down the field and not give you the ball back. If you can't stop their run plays and you can't match them with scores, then you don't belong on the field. I think we're ready for it. This is our goal and what we're fighting for and we'll see what happens."
These days, starting at the youth level, high school players are trained and schooled to stop the spread offense. But Jesuit takes teams back to a different era of smashmouth football where fullbacks and offensive linemen, "The Franchise" as the Crusaders call it, are celebrated.
"That's the key to their offense, if you don't have the meat to match up with them, you're going to get run over," Boyer said. "They get off the ball. They get into you. They play mean and nasty. If they were like that every couple of years, that would be more on the players, but their coaches do a really good job. You can figure out their scheme, but then you have to line up and actually do it. That's where people run into problems."
Beaverton's linebackers were a question mark coming into this year, sans McKenna. But young players like Gavin Fitzhugh, Ryan Mendiola and Mason Bloodsaw have been better than the Beavers could have hoped. Each has an interception this season and each has made game-shifting impact plays be it a takeaway, a bone-crushing hit or a scoop-and-score. Factor in McKenna, who's mad and hostile between the lines, and it's a group that can hang in with the run-dominant Crusaders.
"The kids are understanding their roles defense and playing better and better and growing into it," Boyer said. "It's not a one-man defense. They celebrate each other whenever somebody does something right. They play together as a team really, really well. That allows some of those younger, more inexperienced kids to play that way."
Before Beaverton could even conjure up ideas on slowing down Jesuit's grinding, explosive rushing attack, it had to handle crosstown adversary, Southridge. Rivalry games are rarely unchallenging. But the Beavers were all business and throttled the Skyhawks 49-14 with another high-flying offensive onslaught. Davidson caught four touchdowns, all from Budke, and had two interceptions from his cornerback position. McRae had two rushing scores and McKenna added another. Boyer said he was more nervous going into the Southridge game than he was going into Sunset two weeks ago. With Jesuit looming, the Skyhawk contest was a classic trap game scenario. Yet, Beaverton blew right through, racing out to a 49-0 first-half lead.
"I told my coaches in our meetings last week, 'There's no Jesuit talk at all, don't Tweet about it, let's just get focused,'" Boyer said. "I think the kids did a really good job of that too. A lot of them have not been in this situation before. It would've been really easy to look forward, but I was really proud of how they came out. They did the job."
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