The wait last Friday was a bit tense, Matt Craven concedes. From the time Bend High narrowly lost 31-28 at Mountain View to late into the night, the Lava Bears football coach watched the OSAA website as scores from the rest of the state were posted.
He had figured Bend would earn a spot in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs, thanks in no small part to a win over Summit earlier this season. But Craven still had to wait until the rankings were locked in late Friday night.
“At that point, there’s kind of a finality to it all,” Craven says. “You put in your best argument for the playoffs, if you will, with the nine-game schedule. And we were a little bit at the mercy of the (state) rankings and tiebreakers within the conference.”
Bend players wanted text updates, one in particular. And in the waning hours Friday, they received that message: The Lava Bears were in the playoffs.
“People were waiting on pins and needles to see if they got an opportunity to play football the next week,” Craven recalls. “Our kids were obviously really excited, our coaches were obviously really excited, and our school was excited.”
As a reward, No. 15-seeded Bend will travel to No. 2 Wilsonville for a 7 p.m. first-round game Friday. Craven, though, says the Lava Bears are not intimidated by the matchup against a Wildcats program that lost in the 5A state championship last season and is undefeated against 5A competition this year.
“They’re obviously a really good team,” Craven says of Wilsonville, the Northwest Oregon Conference champion. “We’re on the road. We understand that. But we are very optimistic about our chances, and we’re excited to be teeing it up Friday night.”
Wilsonville (8-1 overall) is among the best teams in the state on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Wildcats have allowed the fewest points in 5A this season (less than 12 per game) and have scored the third-most points in the classification by putting up nearly 44 per contest.
Quarterback Nathan Overholt has passed for 1,201 yards and 14 touchdowns this season for the Wildcats, spreading it out among a deep receiving corps. Three wideouts have at least 250 yards receiving, including Jonah Gomez, who has 362 yards and five scores. As a complement for Wilsonville, which won at home 44-20 against La Salle last Friday, running back Cooper Mootz has rushed for 940 yards and 22 touchdowns.
The key to stopping Wilsonville’s attack, Craven says, is forcing turnovers. While Overholt has been intercepted just twice, the Wildcats have fumbled 16 times this season and lost 10. Winning the turnover battle is just one aspect, Craven says. To upset the second-seeded team in the 16-team 5A bracket, Bend will need to play “a complete game.” Though that is not out of the ordinary for the Lava Bears, Craven says.
“That’s one of the things that this team has done really well is find ways to play complete games,” says Craven. “It hasn’t been about JUST the offense or JUST the defense or JUST special teams. It’s been a combination of all three for the entire 48 minutes.”
Bend (5-4) opened the year with five wins in its first six games but has stumbled of late. Still, the Lava Bears boast playmakers in quarterback Cooper Simmonds, who has passed for 1,294 yards and 18 touchdowns, and wide receiver Tysen Scott, who has 369 receiving yards and seven scores.
The Lava Bears have appeared rejuvenated, Craven says, after learning they advanced to the postseason. A grueling league schedule, which included top-ranked Mountain View and third-ranked Hermiston, has Bend heading into the playoffs “battle-tested” — which the Bend coach says will be the Bears’ advantage against Wilsonville.
“I think when that whistle blows, they’re going to be ready for a tough challenge, but I think our kids have a lot of confidence in themselves,” Craven says. “We’ve done a good job of figuring out ways to stay in games and to compete with the very best teams in (5A Special District 1) and the state, and we look forward to doing that again Friday night.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0307,