Marist Catholic senior Brady Bidwell leads his team in catches (53) and receiving yards (689). (Photo courtesy Marist Catholic)
Marist Catholic senior Brady Bidwell leads his team in catches (53) and receiving yards (689). (Photo courtesy Marist Catholic)

It wasn't hard for Charlie Landgraf to recognize the strength of his team when the first-time head coach took over at traditional 4A football power Marist Catholic this year.

With an up-and-coming quarterback prospect in 6-foot-3 junior Nick Hudson and a stable of tall, athletic receivers, Landgraf wasn't going to reinvent the wheel in replacing Frank Geske, who won 120 games in 15 seasons with the Spartans.

“We knew we had a talented group returning and we didn't want to change it up on them,” Landgraf said.

Behind one of the state's best passing attacks, Marist Catholic once again looks like a legitimate state-title contender. Before the No. 2 Spartans (7-1, 5-0) turn their attention toward the postseason, though, they will play for the Special District 3 championship Friday when they visit No. 8 Junction City (7-1, 5-0) in the regular-season finale.

Marist Catholic – which has seven seniors on its roster -- has won six in a row since a 36-34 overtime loss at 5A No. 7 Springfield in which the Spartans couldn't hold a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“When you play a young group, early on you're going to have some growing pains,” Landgraf said. “But it's been cool to see them develop and gain some confidence and play with a little bit of swagger.”

Hudson, the JV quarterback last year, is having a breakout season. He has completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 2,190 yards and 30 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Landgraf said Hudson grows every week as the game slows down for him.

“He's seeing the field a lot better,” Landgraf said. “He's thrown a few interceptions, but we talk about being aggressive and taking your shots. He's just done a great job of managing the offense. He's such a talented player, he can make any throw on the field.”

Hudson also excels as a leader and strategist, working closely with Landgraf and offensive coordinator Tyler Dennis on designing the offense.

“It's been cool to kind of collaborate and build this system together,” Landgraf said. “I don't know that a lot of high school quarterbacks have a lot of say in the game plan each week, and Nick does have that.”

Hudson benefits from a terrific cast of receivers in 6-6 senior Kaden Erlenbush (10 touchdowns), 6-4 senior Brady Bidwell (six touchdowns), 6-4 junior Aaron Bidwell (six touchdowns), 5-10 junior Christian Guerrero and 5-9 sophomore CJ Guistina.

“We feel really strong about that group,” Landgraf said. “A lot of size, which creates a lot of stress for defenses.”

Junction City's secondary has a tall task.

“We don't have a 6-6 cornerback, but we have some kids in the secondary that are 6-2, so we can match up a little bit,” Tigers coach Max Wall said. “But it's a hard thing. They do a really good job of putting you in situations. … I don't think you can stop it, you've just got to kind of slow it down, because they're going to get theirs.”

The Bidwells are the sons of former Oregon and NFL all-pro punter Josh Bidwell. Brady Bidwell leads the team in receptions (53) and receiving yards (689). Aaron Bidwell grabbed six touchdown catches in the first five games before suffering an upper-body injury. He is expected back in the postseason, according to Landgraf.

In last week's 22-15 win over No. 9 Cascade, Brady Bidwell ran 30 yards out of the wildcat formation for the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. It was his first run out of the wildcat this season.

“We just felt we needed a different look, a change up to our run game,” Landgraf said. “It speaks volumes to Brady's versatility. He's got such great vision and balance. We feel good about that package moving forward.”

The reigning district champion Spartans will have their hands full with Junction City, which is playing for its first league title since 2004. The Tigers' wing-T offense will test Marist Catholic's defense, led by senior middle linebackers Aiden Hazen and James Harvey.

“It's kind of like Mazama. They've been running it for so long and they're so good at it, it's a well-oiled machine,” Landgraf said. “It always feels like they've got answers to a lot of things you present defensively. We've just got to be ready to play a physical game.”

Junction City's running game features seniors Tylen Franks (5-10, 190) and Levi Walker (6-4, 190). Franks leads the team with 638 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Walker has rushed for 569 yards and two scores.

The Tigers pass the ball sparingly. Senior quarterback Cooper Rothenberger, who converted from receiver this year, has completed 48 of 82 passes for 842 yards and 11 touchdowns with four interceptions. His top target is 6-2 senior Keivon Riley (18 catches, 414 yards, seven touchdowns).

Rothenberger is “getting better all the time” at quarterback, according to Wall.

“He's taking better care of the ball,” Wall said. “The first three games of the year it was like he didn't value the ball very much. Now he's understanding what not to do.”

Other top matchups in Week 9:


6A No. 3 Sherwood (8-0, 4-0 Pacific Conference) at Liberty (6-2, 4-0), 7 p.m.: The teams meet to decide the Pacific title. Two-time reigning Pacific champion Sherwood has won 17 consecutive conference games. Last week, the Bowmen became the first team to post seven consecutive shutouts since Heppner in 2007. They can be the first to record eight shutouts in a row since Phoenix reached nine in 1963.

6A No. 5 Lake Oswego (6-2, 2-2 Three Rivers League) at 6A No. 7 Lakeridge (6-2, 2-2), 7 p.m.: The Battle for the Lake not only carries bragging rights, but could mean a first-round playoff home game for the winner as the Lakers and Pacers enter No. 5 and No. 6 in the OSAA power rankings, respectively. Lakeridge won 14-9 last year.

South Medford (6-2, 4-2 6A SD1) at North Medford (6-2, 5-1), 7 p.m.: The 38th Black and Blue Bowl is one of the state's most hotly contested rivalries, with North Medford holding a 19-18 edge in the series. The Black Tornado and South Medford stand No. 14 and No. 15, respectively, in the OSAA 6A power rankings, so a victory could mean a berth in the 16-team championship bracket.

5A No. 8 Canby (6-2, 3-0 SD1) at 5A No. 1 Wilsonville (7-1, 3-0), 7 p.m.: The district title is on the line as the Wildcats host the surging Cougars, who have won six in a row since starting the season with losses to Mountain View and Oregon City. The teams haven't met since 2021, when Wilsonville won 38-12 in Week 9 for the district championship.

Baker (4-4, 4-0 SD5) at 4A No. 6 Pendleton (7-1, 4-0), 7 p.m. The Bulldogs and Buckaroos collide to determine the district champion. Pendleton is unbeaten in Oregon, its only loss coming against Lewiston (Idaho) in Week 3. Since starting 0-4, Baker has averaged 46.8 points in a four-game winning streak. Pendleton won at Baker 49-7 last year.

3A No. 2 Cascade Christian (8-0, 8-0 SD3) at South Umpqua (6-2, 6-2), 7 p.m.: Reigning state champion Cascade Christian leads 3A in scoring offense (389) and defense (33). The Challengers have won 18 consecutive district games since losing to South Umpqua 28-26 in 2021.

Gaston (6-2, 6-0 2A SD1) at Knappa (5-2, 5-1), 7 p.m.: Gaston, which opened with losses to Regis and Colton, is looking to run the table in the district and claim the title. Knappa, which shared the district title with Nestucca last year, can split it with Gaston with a victory.

2A No. 6 Gold Beach (7-1, 6-0 SD3) at 2A No. 3 Oakland (7-1, 6-0), 7 p.m.: Last year, state champion Oakland won at Gold Beach 50-8 in a game that ultimately decided the district title. Now, Gold Beach gets a chance to return the favor as it goes for its first league title since 2017.

1A-6 No. 4 Joseph (6-1, 5-0 SD1) vs. 1A-6 No. 2 South Wasco County (6-1, 4-0) at Echo HS, 1 p.m.: The district championship game matches the Eagles, who have won five in a row since losing to Prairie City/Burnt River, against the Redsides, who have won five in a row since losing to Harper Charter. South Wasco County defeated Joseph 49-28 last year.


1A-6 No. 8 Alsea (8-1, 6-1 SD2 North) at 1A-6 No. 6 Elkton (8-1, 6-1 SD2 South), 1 p.m.: Both teams will try to bounce back from their first losses of the season, Alsea falling to Eddyvlle Charter 40-22 and Elkton losing at Powers 26-19. The teams haven't met since the COVID-shortened season in early 2021, when Alsea won 47-34.