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The one constant in the last two playoff games for the Orrick Bearcats has been their ability to just simply line up and run the football up and down the field. Meanwhile, the Bearcat defense has faced a variety of attacks from their opponents – from the run-it-at-you style of Hamilton, to the spread offense aerial assault faced Saturday from West Platte.
At 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, the Bearcats will take their talented rushing attack and their smothering defense to Princeton to meet the Tigers with a berth in the Class 1 state championship in St. Louis next weekend on the line. While the Tigers look for their first state title since winning the initial Class 1A state championship in 1968, the Bearcats will be gunning for their second consecutive crown.
As usual, Orrick will lead with its ground game that has rushed for an average of 306 yards through the first three rounds of post-season play. Despite losing leading rusher Aaron Blyth for the season on the final play of the first half on Saturday, coach Pat Richard knows the ground game will remain solid for one reason.
“I think we’ve got a very good downhill power running game and that allows us to grind,” he said. “The thing we have that we don’t lose – we’ve got our offensive line and they will carry us. They’ve done it for three years now, and our success is with our linemen. If our linemen can get off the ball and control the line we’ll be in good shape, especially with who we have carrying the ball.”
Princeton Coach Dave Cavanah agrees that the group of Jordyn Butler, Ray Brooks, Cam Griffin, Leslee Eubank and Cam McGlothlin is the driving force.
“They’re quick and aggressive,” he said of the Bearcat offensive line. “They come off the ball quick. They’re not extremely fancy, but they’re effective. We’ve played teams that physically have been bigger, but I’m a believer that quickness can set you apart and they have it.”
The Orrick ground game came up big especially in the second half of last week’s 48-39 battle with West Platte as the Bearcats put together second half scoring drives of 75, 68 and 53 yards.
“I think in the second half, we just hit a different gear,” Richard said. “We continue to grind and play hard and keep finding ways to win. The second half has typically been ours the last couple of years and hopefully that will continue.”
The Orrick defense faced its toughest challenge by far Saturday with Blue Jay quarterback Eric Humes throwing for over 300 yards as the Blue Jays did the most damage to the Bearcat defense than any other opponent during their 27-game winning streak.
Although Orrick expects more of a ground attack from Princeton this week, the Bearcats also remember last year’s semifinal game when Tiger quarterback Troy Milken’s arm helped his team to an 18-14 halftime lead.
Most of the damage was done with the combination of Milken hitting tight end Ethan Stark for a total of 278 yards. Stark has since graduated, but current Tiger receiver Mace Ormsby is just as effective. Ormsby, who is the main receiving target for Princeton, caught 4 passes Saturday for 116 yards.
“I think we know we have to defend the fade route from the tight end,” Richard said. “Defensively, I think we have a good plan for them. Brian (O’Dell) does a great job of getting their tendencies. Our kids are watching a ton of film and I think we’ll be very well prepared on defense for Saturday.”
Cavanah knows his team will have to put together two good halves against the Bearcats at Eddie Allen Field.
“We played them well for the first half,” he said. They got up two scores on us in the second half and we had to do a couple of things a little bit different. When you do things like that, there’s a better than 50 percent chance it’s going to backfire.”
Richard adds that the Princeton ground game – like Hamilton’s – has several good options.
Running back Vance Purdun picked up 143 yards in the Tigers’ 54-28 quarterfinal win at Wellington-Napoleon. He also threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Ormsby on the final play of the first half. Aaron Martin, who has good speed for a fullback, added scoring runs of 48 and 35 yards on his way to a 140-yard afternoon, while another running back, Chris Parsons, pulled away for a 63-yard touchdown run last Saturday.
Princeton rolled up over 300 rushing yards, while the defense held Wellington-Napoleon to 300 total yards.
PHOTO: The Bearcat offensive line has been opening holes all season for the Orrick running backs. Kalija Rogers finds room for some of his 77 yards in last week’s quarterfinal win over West Platte, (Photo by Russ Green/The Daily News.)