When Brian Crum learned that Neil Elshire was interested in returning to Mountain View, the Cougars’ head coach was eager to find an opening.

After all, Elshire, a former Oregon Ducks standout and six-year NFL defensive end in the 1980s, had been the defensive coordinator that helped Summit win the Class 5A football state championship in 2015. And he was Mountain View’s DC — and an assistant along with Crum — during its state title run four years earlier.

“It was no question that when he and I first talked about the possibility, I said I’d do whatever I can,” Crum recalls. “Because he’s that good.”

Looking ahead over the summer, Crum had a strong hunch about how stout Mountain View’s defense could be this season. So far, the Cougars have made Crum seem prophetic.

“They’re pretty relentless,” Crum says of his defense. “They’re well-coached, they practice hard, and when they get on the field, they’re relentless. They’re going to go make plays. That’s their mindset, and it starts with those front four. … It’s hard to get much going, and it makes teams one-dimensional.”

That is exactly what Mountain View has done this season: smother offenses.

Mountain View’s defensive unit, featuring Riley Straly and Luke Schulz, among others, has been staggering this season, helping the Cougars (10-0 overall) allow the fewest points in 5A (11.4 per game). That group has helped the No. 1-seeded Cougs to the program’s best season since 2010 and a 7 p.m. home quarterfinal matchup against No. 8 Silverton on Friday.

“With our defensive coach, he made us have a new appreciation and a new level of (knowledge of) offensive fronts and how defenses should function and blitz and come into play,” says Straly, a defensive lineman who at 6 feet 4 and 290 pounds is the Goliath of the Mountain View roster. “It’s really upped our game.”

“We started gaining our identity (early in the season),” adds Schulz (6-3, 205), a defensive lineman. “We were learning that we could stuff teams.”

Elshire opened the eyes of Mountain View players, Straly and Schulz agree, by urging them to study opponents’ tendencies out of specific formations. That focus has helped the Cougars learn to make reads on the field that have contributed to their defensive dominance.

“It’s a new learning experience that we’ve all gone through,” Straly said. “I think it’s definitely a huge part of Mountain View football.”

While Mountain View possesses a home-run-hitting running back in Jonas Larson, the leading rusher in 5A this season who has rushed for 1,725 yards and 22 touchdowns behind a dominant offensive line that includes many of the Cougs’ defensive linemen, the team’s constant has been its defense. (Larson left last week’s game in the first half but is expected to return this week.) Six of the Cougars’ 10 opponents had their lowest-scoring games of the season when facing the 5A Special District 1 champions.

“That’s why I coached that second half the way I did,” says Crum, referring to last Friday’s 3-0 first-round home win over No. 16 Milwaukie. “I wasn’t worried about having to score. They just weren’t going to go 80 yards on us. When you’re the lowest-scoring defense in 5A, it takes a lot of pressure off other things.”

Silverton (7-3) could test Mountain View a week after beating No. 9 Thurston 31-14 at home. During its run to third place in the Mid-Willamette Conference and an appearance in the state quarterfinals, the Foxes have averaged 32.8 points and nearly 390 yards of offense per game. Quarterback Levi Nielsen has passed for 1,673 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, but he has been intercepted 10 times. Running back Hunter Meissner, meanwhile, has rushed for 921 yards and seven scores for Silverton, which looks to advance to the semifinals for the fourth time since 2012.

Still, the Cougars are not likely to be intimidated by statistics or résumés. Their defense also does not care that, perhaps, it goes overshadowed by a Larson-led Mountain View attack. The Cougs will simply lurk in that shadow and crush opponents with quick reaction off the snap and physical play at the line of scrimmage.

“We only worry about us,” Schulz says. “Do what we do.”

It has been a few years since Mountain View last boasted a defense quite like this 2017 unit. Arguably, says Crum, since 2011 — when the Cougars won the program’s lone state championship. Perhaps this year, these Cougs can repeat history.

But, Crum concedes, “we still have a couple games to prove how good we are.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0307, glucas@bendbulletin.com

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