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Sawyer Cleveland

Crescent Valley quarterback Sawyer Cleveland and the Raiders play at South Albany on Friday in a game that could ultimately decide the Mid-Willamette Conference's fifth and final 5A state playoff berth. 

South Albany High had eight or nine regulars watching its varsity football game at Central last week from the sideline. Crescent Valley had its share against Dallas as well.

Two banged-up teams, hobbled by injuries to key players and in desperate need of a win, meet Friday night at South.

The Raiders (3-2, 3-2 Mid-Willamette Conference) and RedHawks (2-3, 2-3) have found themselves, based on some tough games ahead, knowing that Friday’s matchup is an important one if they hope to find their way back to the 16-team 5A state playoff bracket.

CV coach Scott Sanders and his staff have let their players know that each contest going forward is the playoffs.

“Every game has got to be a must-win,” he said.

South coach David Younger, with a focus on filling holes caused by injuries, said he hasn’t had much time to talk to his team about what it takes to get into the postseason.

“We’ve just been hit by a serious injury bug,” Younger said. “I think anybody we play down the stretch isn’t going to be 100 percent.”

Friday’s game is a rematch of teams that tied for the conference title after South’s 21-7 win against CV in the regular-season finale last year. Both reached the state quarterfinals. South also won 45-14 in 2016 after CV’s 26-25 victory a year earlier.

The Raiders and RedHawks each lost to Central (3-2, 3-2), which looks likely to land in the Mid-Willamette’s third or fourth spot. That could be decided Friday when the Panthers play at Lebanon (3-2, 3-2).

Central has already played the rest of the top half of the conference and finishes with North Salem (1-4, 1-4) at home, Corvallis (2-3, 2-3) on the road and Dallas (1-4) at home.

Corvallis is not out of the playoff mix if it can win three of its last four, starting with a home game against McKay (0-5, 0-5). The Spartans complete their regular season at West Albany (5-0, 5-0), home against Central and at South Albany.

But the more likely scenario is that the final playoff spot comes down between Crescent Valley and South Albany.

The Raiders host Silverton (5-0, 5-0) next week then go to Lebanon and finish the regular season at home against McKay. The RedHawks host Lebanon, go to North Salem and host Corvallis to finish out.

RedHawks senior Hudson Adams, expected to start at quarterback Friday, is the fifth player at that position South has used this season.

A tight end and outside linebacker, Adams was inserted into the Central game after an injury to Kyle Miller.

Adams was a junior varsity quarterback as a sophomore and junior, but he had not spent any time behind center this season.

“He did a nice job without taking any snaps,” Younger said.

South senior Eli Nafziger, who started the season at quarterback, remains out while recovering from a serious ankle injury suffered four weeks ago.

Younger said the team has done a good job of picking up the pieces while filling spots throughout the lineup.

“Our kids have done a really nice job of responding,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that happen in the game of football.”

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Younger added that the success of his team depends on the productivity of both lines.

For the Raiders, Sanders says it’s all about confidence.

“When we’re confident and healthy we’re going to be a hard team to beat,” he said.

Crescent Valley has been without linemen Alex Chamberlin and Kaimana “Bubba” Wa’a, running back/linebacker Omar Speights and wide receiver/defensive back Walker Riney, among others.

The Raiders hope to have Wa’a (knee) back this week. Speights has a bad ankle. He’s close to returning, but not close enough this week to worth risking further injury, Sanders said.

Senior Chase Michalczik is on the list of those being moved to fill vacancies.

Originally a tight end/H-back on offense, Michalczik went to tackle and later guard.

Sanders credits quarterback Sawyer Cleveland for helping move the team in a positive direction.

The senior passed for 205 yards and two touchdowns and ran for the winning two-point conversion in the 22-21 win against Dallas.

“Sawyer really stepped up last week,” Sanders said. “He’s really picking up speed right now.”

The Raiders have a young receiving corps that made some big catches against Dallas. That has given Cleveland and his pass-catchers more confidence, the coach added.

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Sports Reporter