The last time Dufur played Falls City in August, it was a 50-12 blowout win at the Dufur Eight-Man Classic as the Rangers expanded on a 20-6 halftime lead with 22 unanswered points.
That victory and the second-half dominance had some highlight moments, but heading into Saturday’s semifinal game it could be a double-edged sword.
Ranger head coach Jack Henderson called on his players to treat this showdown as if the two squads have never met before.
Complacency can be a killer and a season-ender.
“It is very important that we maintain our focus,” Henderson said. “Luckily, playing them the first week was a long, long time ago, it almost seems like a game played last season. I don’t like playing a team twice in football, but it is very important to leave comparisons out of preparation.”
From their season-opening game in late August until now, much has changed for both the Dufur Rangers and Falls City Mountaineers.
A few players on both teams did not suit up in that first matchup, some plays and formations have been tweaked to better execute offensively and defensively, and athletes have cemented their roles.
Ranger scatback Asa Farrell was on the sidelines, Tanner Masterson missed half the game, and for the Mountaineers, starting quarterback and defensive back Jesse Sickles did not dress.
Sickles played a huge role in his team’s 30-10 quarterfinal victory last week against No. 3-seeded Camas Valley as he tossed two touchdown passes to Austin Burgess, and Jeremy Labrado added a 21-yard run, then Burgess, an end, scored a touchdown on an inside reverse.
Since their loss to the Rangers, the No. 6-seeded Mountaineers (9-1 overall) have reeled off nine consecutive wins, one by forfeit, and outscored opponents by a 484-86 margin.
With the 1A division’s fifth-best scoring offense (49.6 points a game), hitting 60 points or more on five occasions, Falls City can attack defenses with a little bit of everything.
“Their bread and butter is going straight ahead and challenging their opponents to stop them,” Henderson said. “Jeremy Labrado is a slashing back that tends to make big plays. Austin Burgess is a 6-foot-3-inch tight end who has great hands and speed. Jesse Sickles is tough on both sides of the ball.”
Dufur (10-0), the No. 2 playoff seed, currently boasts the state’s second-best scoring defense at 15.3 points allowed a game, and that unit has given up two touchdowns or less in five games, including back-to-back efforts during the state playoffs.
In last week’s quarterfinal tilt versus Adrian-Jordan Valley, the Rangers surrendered 170 yards of offense, 63 on the ground on 25 carries, allowed a 1 for 10 stretch on third down conversions, forced seven punts and four turnovers, two on interceptions from Tabor McLaughlin.
Adrian-Jordan Valley quarterback Chase Fillmore was sacked three times and hit eight times on his 21 passing attempts.
Without Sickles at quarterback the last time these two teams played, Falls City mustered just 153 yards, 65 in the second half.
After a 66-yard opening drive that led to a score, Falls City committed four turnovers, two fumbles, punted three times and had four drives end in loss of downs.
Mountaineer quarterbacks completed 5 of 18 passes for 42 yards with two interceptions.
“We have to be able to identify their formations, align correctly against them and continue to be aggressive to the ball,” Henderson said.
One notch ahead of Dufur in scoring defense, at 13.6 points allowed, Falls City possesses talent on the line with Burgess (defensive end), Sickles (linebacker) and Labrado (safety).
The Mountaineers have two shutouts to their credit, and held teams to a touchdown or less in three games.
“Falls City runs a 4-3 defense, as well as a 3-3 defense,” Henderson said. “They blitz and play downhill really well, creating all sorts of problems for their opponents.”
Against what was the state’s No. 2 scoring defense that allowed 14.4 points a game, the Ranger offense ran 66 plays for 456 yards, 198 on the ground on 53 rushes, with Hagen Pence and Asa Farrell scoring twice on the ground, and Curtis Crawford tacked on five catches for 135 yards and two scores.
Junior quarterback Derek Frakes tallied 67 yards and a rushing touchdown, hauled in an 80-yard receiving score and completed 8 of 13 passes for 178 yards and his two scoring tosses to Crawford.
The numbers were very similar in the Rangers’ August victory over Falls City, as Frakes completed 11 of 16 passes for 197 yards with three touchdowns and he added 55 yards rushing.
Also in that game, Cole Kortge netted 98 yards on four catches, and Crawford hauled in six catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns.
Seven different Dufur players hit for 253 yards rushing on 37 carries, with Anthony Thomas going for 48 yards, Pence had 47, Abraham Kilby rushed for 40, and Ian Cleveland chipped in 30 yards on nine carries with two end zone trips.
With Farrell now added to the equation, Henderson has another wild card to insert into the state’s second-ranked scoring offense (56.2 points a game).
“We do have the luxury of having depth, which makes it difficult for our opponents to focus on one or two kids,” Henderson said. “Our challenge is to continue to improve and match our opponent’s intensity and desire to succeed.”
Aside from an earlier game versus Sherman, the Dufur Rangers have not engaged in many physical gridiron battles, so last week’s playoff slugfest was a good challenge and litmus test to see whether the players could respond to that style of play.
“Adrian was a tough opponent,” Henderson said. “Their athleticism created a lot of issues for us. Our kids worked hard and got the job done though. We will still need better consistency in all three phases this week and start sharper than we did against Adrian. Our kids continue to work hard and strive to become better each day.”
As he looks toward Saturday’s semifinal tilt with great anticipation, Henderson knows his team has so many accomplishments to its record, including a chance to finish this season undefeated with a third consecutive state crown.
It has made 2017 a special time for him in terms of the program history and the amount of success that has been built over the years.
“This season has been amazing,” Henderson said. “The opportunity to finish a third championship season with this group is exciting, and the reason that we go to practice each day. I’ve been blessed to be a part of great teams at Dufur High School. This team has a great opportunity to take their place in Ranger Football history.”
Saturday’s winning team plays the winner of the Hosanna Christian and Triad game in the championship next Saturday, Nov. 25, at a time and location to be determined.
Dufur and Falls City square off at noon Saturday from Liberty High School in Hillsboro.
Radio station 102.3 FM broadcasts the game with a pregame show at 11:50 a.m., and a stream can be found at www.gorgecountry.com.