For the first time since 2018, two-time reigning 6A football champion Central Catholic will leave the friendly confines of Hillsboro Stadium for a playoff game.
The fourth-seeded Rams, who have played 11 consecutive postseason games on their home field at Hillsboro Stadium since losing at Lake Oswego in the 2018 quarterfinals, will visit No. 4 Jesuit for a quarterfinal Friday in the latest chapter of the Holy War rivalry.
The atmosphere will be a switch, but Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne downplayed the significance of a road game considering the Rams play all of their home games across town from their campus.
“Every game is a road game for us,” Pyne said. “That's how we approach it. Even at home, it's a road game. We're probably the only team that has to travel 45 minutes to get to their home field.”
Not landing a top-four seed – and ensuring home games through the quarterfinals – didn't sit well with Central Catholic (9-1). The Rams dominated Oregon competition and split two games against two nationally ranked teams, defeating Bellevue (Wash.) 24-23 and falling to St. John Bosco (Calif.) 49-0.
In the final OSAA power rankings, Central Catholic was slotted behind No. 1 West Linn (9-1), No. 2 Sheldon (10-0), No. 3 Tualatin (8-2) and No. 4 Jesuit (9-1). The Rams were hurt by playing in a lower-rated league, the Mt. Hood Conference.
“It's frustrating, honestly,” Pyne said. “When you boil it down, it penalizes you for playing out-of-state games against quality competition. There's got to be some recalculating of how they determine that.”
As it turns out, Central Catholic wouldn't have been able to play at home this week, anyway. Hillsboro Stadium is hosting Portland State football Friday and the OSAA soccer championships Saturday.
All that aside, the biggest issue for the Rams is finding a way to stop Jesuit's rushing attack. The Crusaders are averaging 299.4 rushing yards per game and 8.4 yards per attempt. Payton Roth, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior, has rushed for 1,786 yards and 22 touchdowns, gaining 10.6 yards per touch.
Jesuit's offensive line -- seniors Sylus Wallace (6-2, 298), Roice Cleeland (6-2, 280), Sean Khouri (6-2, 275) and Taj Scott (6-1, 201) and junior Liam Cassidy (6-7, 310) – has been flattening opponents all season.
“We have been fortunate – knock on wood – to have our offensive line stay healthy this year,” Crusaders coach Ken Potter said. “We anticipated that our running game would be good based upon experience in both the line and in the backfield. They have a great work ethic and great communication.”
Jesuit did suffer a setback a three weeks ago, though, when senior fullback Noah Staley was lost for the season with a knee injury.
“Unfortunately, a big part of our run game is at fullback,” Potter said.
Much will hinge on how Central Catholic's defensive line -- led by junior Matix Carpenter (6-0, 225), senior Zugo Mbelu (6-3, 275) and sophomore Kainoa Hayes (6-1, 210) – can resist Jesuit's push up front.
“Those guys will have to hold their ground and let our linebackers flow and get there,” Pyne said. “And our outside backers have to do a good job of setting edges.”
Central Catholic's defense – which is improved from last year, according to Pyne – presents the Crusaders with their biggest obstacle since they fell to West Linn 31-20 in Week 3.
“Defensively, they are aggressive and have big and strong D-linemen and linebackers,” Potter said. “They will have a great game plan and will make it difficult for us to run the ball. We have to be flexible and adjust.”
If the Rams overcommit against the run, they could be vulnerable to Jesuit's efficient passing attack. Junior quarterback Jacob Hutchinson has thrown 14 touchdown passes, six to junior Jace Burton.
“They'll lull you to sleep and then they play-action and take a deep shot down the field,” Pyne said. “Our secondary has to have great eye discipline.”
Central Catholic's offense features junior quarterback Cru Newman, who has thrown for 1,968 yards and 23 touchdowns and run for 685 yards and 11 scores. Nearly half of his rushing yards have come in the last three games.
“They have a magician at QB that beats you with his arm, legs and mind,” Potter said. “Very talented skill players that can go the distance on any play.”
One of those skill players is explosive running back Timmy Mitchell Jr.. The 5-11, 170-pound junior suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 2 and missed six full games, but has returned to give Central Catholic a boost on both sides of the ball.
“He can take it to the house any time he touches the ball,” Pyne said. “And defensively, he's a guy who's a lock-down corner. And as a kick returner, he's electric.”
Jesuit has a 23-17-1 edge in the series against Central Catholic. The teams have met every year since 2010, including three times in the playoffs, all won by the Rams: 38-28 in the 2013 final, 21-9 in the 2016 quarterfinals and 35-28 in last year's semifinals.
A look at other notable matchups in the second week of the playoffs:
No. 6 Mountainside (9-1) at No. 3 Tualatin (8-2), 7 p.m.: The first time Mountainside made the quarterfinals was in 2019, its second varsity season, and the Mavericks fell to Barlow 20-16. They have worked their way back, and can reach the final four for the first time with a win over the Timberwolves, last year's 6A runners-up.
Columbia Cup (6A)
No. 22 Lakeridge (4-6) vs. No. 19 Oregon City (5-5) at Pioneer Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.: The powerful Three Rivers League has three teams in the 6A quarterfinals, and the Pacers and Pioneers – battle-tested in the league – seem to have as good of a chance as anyone to win the Columbia Cup. Oregon City defeated Lakeridge 29-28 in Week 7.
No. 6 South Albany (7-2) at No. 3 Bend (9-1), 7 p.m.: South Albany has never made the semifinals, getting as far as the quarterfinals in 2017. The RedHawks, who won a combined four games in 2018, 2019 and 2020, can break new ground with a quarterfinal win over the Lava Bears, but must deal with a tough Bend defense that has registered five shutouts.
No. 7 Pendleton (8-2) vs. No. 2 La Grande (8-2) at Eastern Oregon University, 6 p.m.: La Grande won at Pendleton 33-20 to decide the Special District 3 title in Week 8. In that game, the Tigers opened a 20-0 lead in the first quarter and cruised to the win.
No. 5 Estacada (9-1) vs. No. 4 Henley (9-1) at Mazama HS, 6 p.m.: Since losing to No. 1 Mazama 26-14 in the opener, Estacada has dominated on a nine-game winning streak. The Rangers now face the other Klamath Falls power in Henley, which also has lost only to Mazama, a 44-36 defeat in Week 8.
No. 6 Santiam Christian (9-1) vs. No. 3 Banks (10-0) at Hare Field, 6 p.m.: Two of the state's top defenses square off as the Braves, unbeaten in 3A after dropping down from 4A, meet the Eagles. Banks is holding opponents to 4.1 points per game, the lowest in the state for all classifications. Santiam Christian is third at 5.2.
No. 5 Regis (9-1) vs. No. 4 Heppner (8-2) at Morrow County Fairgrounds, 1 p.m.: A clash of styles as pass-happy Regis goes up against the rushing attack of Heppner. Rams quarterback Kollin Schumacher has thrown 30 touchdown passes. Heppner rushes for 232.4 yards per game.
No. 6 Adrian (8-2) at No. 3 Lost River (8-1), 1 p.m.: Two-time reigning champion Adrian defeated Lost River 62-20 in last year's semifinals, but the Raiders got revenge in this year's opener by beating the Antelopes 44-28 in the Dufur Classic. Like last year, Lost River enters the game with a loss to St. Paul as the only blemish on its record.
No. 4 Spray/Mitchell/Wheeler (8-1) vs. No. 1 Powers (9-0) at Wilsonville HS, 3:30 p.m.: Spray/Mitchell/Wheeler, the unofficial six-man champion last year, faces Powers in the neutral-site semifinal. SMW won 60-12 in the quarterfinals against Siletz Valley, a team Powers defeated 41-0.
No. 3 South Wasco County (8-1) vs. No. 2 Triangle Lake (9-0) at Wilsonville HS, 12 p.m.: Explosive Triangle Lake, which leads the state in scoring (all classifications) at 56.1 points per game, plays in the semifinal against the Redsides. South Wasco County is averaging 45.7 points in a six-game winning streak since losing to Spray/Mitchell/Wheeler 43-20.