After splitting its first two non-league games, the Hermiston football team will buckle down for the brunt of its 2016 schedule. It will start with its first league road trip to Mountain View High School, to face the Cougars on Friday at 7 p.m.
Last year was the first time these two met since 2009. With the all-time series record at 1-1, each team has something to prove. The Bulldogs (1-1) will head down to Bend with one shut out victory under their belts, as they defeated Lewiston (ID) last week 26-0. That was Hermiston’s first win of the season.
The Cougars (2-0) had an easy go to open their season after rallying back from a 1-0 deficit in the first quarter against South Albany, and were finally tested in a nail biter against Central. Both the 28-21 win over Central, and the 28-7 victory over South Albany were on the road.
When Hermiston began its OSAA farewell tour in September, head coach David Faaeteete stressed the importance of putting in championship work both every day at practice and on Friday nights. Now with the start of league play, that mindset will be paramount if the Bulldogs want a chance to take home an Oregon state title for the last time.
The team has shown they have the ability to execute. In the final 10 minutes of their season opener and in most of their home opener, the Bulldogs offense oozed confidence on the ground and in the air while their defense made big-time plays that changed the momentum of the game.
Despite these celebratory performances, the Bulldogs remained focused on the championship state of mind and know there is still much that needs to be worked on.
After last week’s performance, quarterback Andrew James stressed that there were still many things he needed to clean up.
But James seemed hopeful that the wrinkles would be worked out, and so did Faaeteete.
“[There’s] some mechanical things he needs to fix and a lot if it is spacing inside,” the head coach said of James’ Game 2 performance. “Our routes are about spacing and areas and attacking … it was just a little off and he’ll get that fix.”
With air quality no longer being an issue, and the team once again being able to practice outside, Friday will test whether or not James has figured it out especially against a tough offensive line.
Mountain View returns five senior offensive linemen, who have all had starting experience since their sophomore year. Most notably, Riley Straly who will play on both sides of the ball. The 6-foot 4-inch 290-pound lineman will most certainly be a force to reckon with. James will need to stay light on his feet, and rely on targets down the field like senior Dayshawn Neal who already has 229 yards and three touchdowns on his resume.
To travel back to Hermiston with a win Friday, the Bulldogs will need their defense to show up, James to connect with his receivers, and the team to focus on playing smart football. Like Faaeteete says, they have to focus on playing fundamental football and not accrue unnecessary penalties.
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