TURNER -- Offense, led by a young quarterback and a pair of talented running backs, continues to improve for the Central football team.
Defense, however, remains a major issue.
"We're right in the game, we just need to make a big play," Central coach Shane Hedrick said regarding his squad's 49-32 Oregon West Conference loss to Cascade Friday.
"We do have some assignment adjustments we need to make. Kids on defense will try to do more than their responsibility, it takes them out of position, and that's kind of where we are."
Friday's loss marked the second straight game the Panthers (1-4, 0-2 OWC) have given up 49 points. It also marked the second straight contest Central played without several key players.
Branden Cutsforth (tight end/linebacker), Grant Lindley (wide receiver), J.J. Biester (defensive back) and David Powell (wide receiver/defensive back) all were out with injuries.
Behind the legs and arm of quarterback Cody Crawford, Cascade (5-1, 1-1) took advantage.
Crawford broke open a 21-12 Cascade halftime lead with three scores in the second half, running for touchdowns of 73, 12 and 9 yards. He added a 10-yard TD pass to James Vettrus in the second quarter.
While Crawford did his damage, the Central offense did some of its own.
Junior quarterback Ben Finnegan completed 13-of-26 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns, including a 78-yard bomb to Kelton Chapman in the first quarter.
"He's making really good decisions and each week he keeps getting better and better," Hedrick said. "I'm very impressed -- he does a nice job of getting the correct mindset of what you want your quarterback to have."
The running game, behind an ever-improving offensive line, was also strong, led by Tell Cruickshank's 115 yards on 19 carries. Fellow running back Wes Riddell gained 55 yards on the ground and caught four passes for 44 yards.
"The offensive line, those kids played really well Friday night," Hedrick said. "They're just getting better and better."
Colby Jackson scored Central's final TD of the night, catching a 48-yard pass from Finnegan with 10 minutes to play.
With Taft (1-5, 1-1) coming to Panther Stadium Thursday for Central's homecoming game, Hedrick said his team will be focused on one thing: itself.
"It's really just that Central needs to take care of business -- not so much that it's Taft or anyone else," he said.
"(The game) is against Central. The big objective is to get back to playing fundamental football on defense and if we can do that, we're still a pretty good football team."
Taft (1-5, 1-1 OWC) at Central (1-4, 0-2 )
Thursday, 7 p.m.
Panther Stadium, Independence.
With the struggling Tigers traveling to Independence Thursday for Central's homecoming contest, the Panthers, who have lost four in a row, could use a victory. They'll still have to earn it. The Tigers are coming off a 42-6 loss to Philomath, but won their first contest in Week 5, beating OWC foe Stayton, 14-6. Senior running back Tyler Lopez (5-7, 140 pounds) rushed for both TDs in the victory. Central won this matchup in 2011, 56-6.