Forrest Welk
The La Grande Observer

Of the eight teams left in the Class 1A playoffs, No.10 Powder Valley is the lowest ranked squad left. That hasn’t hindered the team’s confidence, as the Badgers look to ride the momentum from their 58-54 win over Hosanna Christian last Friday.

Head coach Riley Martin said the players believe they can compete with anyone, which will help the Badgers when they visit No. 2 Crane Saturday in a quarterfinal matchup.

“The pressure’s on us,” Martin said. “We embrace being underdogs, but we’re confident. It’s not like this game is out of reach for us. We know we’re capable of winning as long we go down there and play hard. We feel like we have a great chance of winning.”

Powder Valley’s first game against Crane on Oct. 28 was in reach after the Badgers came back from a slow start. They rallied to nearly eliminate a 22-0 deficit, but ultimately suffered a nailbiting 44-40 loss.

Badger wide receiver Gus McGinn is determined to get over the hump in the rematch. The key to that, he said, is starting quickly.

“We started a quarter-and-a-half late last time against Crane,” McGinn said. “Last time, I think some of the kids were nervous, because (two years ago), we got defeated pretty badly (by Crane), and we weren’t sure how good their team was this year. We just need to come out and play.”

In last year’s league playoff game, Crane thumped Powder Valley, 60-8. This time, Martin feels things are different based on the various weapons on his team that opposing defenses struggle to shut down. Powder Valley quarterback Seth Dixon has helped lead the offense to 59.4 points per game. He’s been helped by a deep receiving corps that includes players like McGinn, Isaac Colton, Cade Brown and Korey Grende.

“It hasn’t come down to one individual,” Martin said. “That’s been a blessing for this team. It’s spread out. You look at all our touchdowns across the board, they’re really even in touchdowns and yardage. If one goes down, it sucks, but we got other people out there that can perform.”

That diversity of talent spreads to the line play on both sides of the ball.

Powder Valley lineman Shane Hoopai said all the linemen need to step up if they want to give Dixon a chance in the backfield.

“We need to talk about who we’re going to block” Hoopai said. “For the most part, we don’t have a bad line. It’s just talking that kills us a lot of the time.”

Now that Powder Valley has seen Crane once before, Hoopai said the Badgers will be prepared to meet Crane’s line and protect Dixon.

That readiness goes for defense as well. Both Martin and Hoopai were surprised that Crane quarterback Miles Maupin aired the ball out as much as he did. Martin had game-planned for a run game. Hoopai doesn’t anticipate giving up as many passing yards this time.

“I think we’ll be prepared for the pass game,” Hoopai said. “That came out of nowhere. We didn’t expect that at all. We’re going to expect the pass going into this game, and I think that’s going to help us a lot.”

If Powder Valley can shut down the Crane offense, Martin thinks the game might not be a shootout like last time. He aims to slow down Crane’s offense, which has put up 54 points per game on average.

Crane didn’t have to take the field at all last week. Its first round opponent, Triangle Lake, forfeited due to a lack of players.

After what was essentially a first-round bye, Crane faces its first playoff test in Powder Valley. Martin and the Badgers are up for the challenge.

“Whoever wins this game has a leg up on who wins state,” Martin said. “It should be a good match. Obviously, there’s some other really strong teams out there like Sherman and Dufur. But whoever wins this game has an advantage. I feel good about that. These kids can take care of Crane.