Prep Football: Previewing the 4A playoff field
With the regular season done and dusted, the playoff bracket for the OSAA 4A Football State Championship has been set. A trio of undefeated programs come into the tournament, but there is plenty of upset potential among the 16-team field. Madras, in particular, is in position to pull off a shocking upset.
By virtue of finishing third in the Tri-Valley Conference, Madras earned the No. 16 seed in the OSAA 4A Football State Championships. In the team's first 4A playoff appearance since 2012, the Buffs will take on the top-ranked Pirates of Marshfield High School.
No. 1 Marshfield (11-0, 4-0) hung on in a 48-41 thriller against Marist Catholic this past Friday to earn the top overall seed in the tournament. The Pirates won the Special District 4 title after posting an undefeated record that includes wins over five of their fellow playoff teams. The Marshfield offense has been a juggernaut behind senior quarterback Dom Montiel, a three-star college prospect who guided the offense to an impressive 46.5 points per game this year. Meanwhile, the White Buffalos travel to Coos Bay after securing their first 4A playoff appearance since 2012 and finishing third in Special District 2. The Madras defense finished with second-fewest points allowed per game in the league, but the Buffs will have their hands full slowing down the Pirates' marauding attack.
"You can't focus on just one guy with them," said Madras head coach Kurt Taylor about the Pirates. "They've got dudes across the board, period. They have tremendous team speed. They're technicians in their front five. Their tailback (Miguel Velazquez) is fast and strong. They've got several very good receivers. (DJ Daugherty) is a game-changer. He's incredibly fast. Offensively, they've got guys everywhere, and they're coached very well. On defense, the same thing."
"They're just a good ball club," said Taylor of Marshfield. "You don't go 11-0 in the regular season, with a couple forfeits, and not be a good ball club."
Marshfield joined Cascade and Estacada as the only teams in the 4A classification to go undefeated in the regular season. By rule, Madras and Estacada could not have played in the first round as members of the same league. That left only the Pirates and Cougars for Madras, and Taylor is happy with how things turned out.
"It's going to be fun. We're super excited," Taylor said. "We're actually pretty glad we're matching up with (Marshfield), because they match up with us a little better than a team like Cascade that wants to ground-and-pound. We've got some decent athletes in the backfield, and hopefully we're going to match up with them."
Still, as the lowest-ranked team in the field, there are not many picking the Buffs to win it all this month. Regardless of the rankings, Taylor says the team's focus remains on winning a state championship.
"It doesn't matter who it is," Taylor emphasized. "That's exactly what we're thinking. We do the same thing in the regular season, so we don't change it any different. Each week is its own week. The only thing we're focused on right now is Marshfield."
At the end of the day, Taylor and his White Buffalos are playing with house money at this stage of the season.
"We don't have anything to lose," said the coach. "We're gonna go play the No. 1 team in the state, and if we do things right, we could make it a heck of a ballgame. I think we can come away with a victory, but we have to play really well. We have to play really hard. We can't let our ego or our mental fortitude get in the way. We just have to do us."
For the Buffs, there is one downside to drawing Marshfield instead of Cascade: the travel. It will take roughly six hours by bus for the team to reach Coos Bay for their first-round date with the Pirates. Worse still, it will take that same six hours on the way back. That means the team will not arrive back in Jefferson County until at least 4 a.m. on Saturday morning.
"We have to stop three times," explained Taylor. "We're going to do a walkthrough in Eugene. You have to keep them engaged. You just have to stop. If (the athletes) are just sitting all day, it takes it out of them. Same with the coaches. You have to keep the coaches doing the same thing. It's so easy to take a two-hour nap, to look at your phone for two hours. That's why you have to keep everyone engaged."
"It's a haul, man," Taylor added.
Even if the Buffs do shock the world and beat Marshfield, because of their low ranking, they are guaranteed to play on the road throughout the tournament. Their next foe would be either No. 8 Tillamook (6-4, 4-1) or No. 9 Henley (8-1, 4-1). The Cheesemakers and Hornets are both about three hours away from Madras, but the trip to Klamath Falls would be a straighter shot for the Buffs.
Leading the other pod on this side of the bracket is No. 4 Banks (8-1, 5-0), winners of Special District 1. Banks has four victories over this season's playoff field, including over their first-round opponent, No. 13 Hidden Valley (5-3, 3-2). When the two teams met back on Sept. 17 in Grants Pass, the Braves won 35-0. No. 5 Mazama (7-2, 5-0) was tops in Special District 5, so the Vikings will host their first-round tie with No. 12 North Eugene (4-3, 2-2).
One of two undefeated squads on the right side of the bracket, No. 2 Cascade (9-0, 4-0) won Special District 3 running away. The Cougars are scoring roughly 54 points per game, and the team was only truly threatened twice all year. No. 15 Astoria (5-4, 2-3) slides into the field as the only playoff team with a losing league record. After falling just short against a few highly ranked teams, No. 7 Marist Catholic (7-2, 3-1) is a sleeping giant due to their relatively low ranking. The Spartans' only two stumbles were a 38-33 loss to undefeated Cascade and a 48-41 defeat at Marshfield in the de facto Special District 4 championship game. They will face No. 10 Baker (4-5, 1-1) in the first round.
The lowest-ranked of the undefeated teams, No. 3 Estacada (9-0, 5-0) rolled through Special District 2, though the Rangers just allowed a season-high point total in their 52-34 win at Crook County on Friday. While Estacada may not hang points like Marshfield and Cascade do, the Rangers' multi-headed rushing attack includes a strong helping of the option, which can give opposing defenses fits. No. 14 Stayton (4-5, 3-1) has the privilege of trying to stop the Estacada run game. In the final first-round matchup, No. 6 La Grande (6-1, 2-0) won the Special District 6 title on Friday and will now host No. 11 Gladstone (5-4, 4-1). The Tigers and Gladiators share a common enemy in Estacada, which holds victories over both programs.
The first round of the OSAA 4A Football State Championship begins on Nov. 5, with game times varying by school. The Madras-Marshfield game is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. in Coos Bay. Radio coverage over the contest will be broadcast by KWSO 91.9 FM in Warm Springs.
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