The quarterbacks will definitely be the center of attention when the Astoria and Rainier football teams open the 2003 Cowapa League season, Friday night at Rainier (7 p.m., KAST 1370 AM, Matt Richert and Chris Hunt).

For the Fishermen, the priority will be protecting their own; for the Columbians, quarterback Chris Ware and the Rainier offense will be looking to bounce back after an off week.

Astoria is still searching for its first league win since a 14-8 victory at Banks to conclude the 2000 regular season; the Columbians, meanwhile, are hoping to preserve their unblemished 4-0 record.

Something's got to give.

"They're 4-0 and off to a great start ... it will definitely be a good challenge for us," said Astoria coach Howard Rub, who has the Fishermen off to a 2-2 start.

"They bring a lot of pressure," he said of the Columbians. "They're not a sit-back-and-read defense - they like to blitz and constantly bring pressure."

Nobody can attest to that more than Taft, Rainier's opponent two weeks ago.

The Columbians grabbed the Tigers by the tail, literally, holding Taft to just 20 yards in total offense, and sacked the Tigers' quarterback 14 times (six by Aaron Drabandt).

Astoria started Keenan Borgardt at quarterback last week, and Borgardt responded in his first varsity start by completing 8-of-15 passes for 184 yards in a 24-6 win at North Marion. James Jasper was the primary target, catching four for 77 yards.

"I thought Keenan looked really good for his first varsity start," Rub said. "Offensively, it was just good to basically have a 400-yard day (399) in total offense. We haven't had that in a while."

The Columbians - who picked up a single vote in the latest top 10 poll - have opened the season with four straight wins, holding opponents to an average of 6.5 points per game.

Ware has taken command of the Columbians' offense, which has struggled the last two weeks in wins over Taft and Stayton.

Ware transferred to Rainier from Knappa over the summer, after his father (Thor Ware) took over as the Columbians' varsity football and baseball coach.

In Rainier's season opener, Ware rushed for 82 yards and racked up 166 all-purpose yards in Rainier's 20-14 win over Clatskanie.

The following week, Ware ran all over Riverside, rushing for 224 yards and throwing for an additional 141 in a 32-6 Columbian win.

In Rainier's win over Taft in Week 3, Ware compiled 164 yards rushing on 29 carries, with three touchdowns.

The Columbians do have other weapons, namely Nick Byrd, who saved Rainier last week with a 90-yard kickoff return in the closing minutes.

Elsewhere Friday night, Seaside opens league play at Tillamook (7 p.m., KSWB 840 AM). The Gulls are still searching for their first win, while the Cheesemakers are off to a 1-3 start.

Perhaps the most interesting Cowapa League game of the night will take place in Banks, where the Braves are hosting defending state champion Scappoose.

Northwest League action includes Clatskanie at Knappa, Vernonia at Corbett, and Portland Christian at Neah-Kah-Nie. Warrenton plays a nonleague game Saturday (11 a.m.) at Battle Ground, Wash.

Jewell hosts Falls City in a Casco League opener at 7 p.m.

College football note: The Oregon at Utah game, scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Friday, has been switched to KKEE 1230 AM.

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