HERMISTON — In Hermiston’s league opener at Mountain View last week, the Bulldogs faced a team that was undefeated in its already short season and were overpowered en route to a 28-7 loss. Now, Hermiston will make its way back to Bend but this time against a team that proves to be an even greater threat.
The Summit Storm (2-1, 1-0 5A-SD1) have not lost a league game since 2014, despite that streak being threatened last week in a nail-biter in Pendleton. While the Storm squeaked by with a 20-19 win, the Bulldogs (1-2, 0-1) struggled some 200 miles away.
There’s a simple explanation for last week’s game, and it’s something head coach David Faaeteete is hoping gets cleaned up quickly.
“We’re just not a very good football team right now,” he said. “We just have got to do a better job at making sure we get the most out of practice.”
But preparation is only half of the game.
The Bulldogs have had a difficult time executing this season, and allowed themselves to fall into early deficits that they just cannot come back from. Summit is a good second half team, and an even better fourth quarter team — one that Hermiston cannot afford to dig a hole against.
The Bulldogs held up well against the Storm last season, holding their dangerous offense to 27 points but struggles for Hermiston’s offense kept the Storm in front for a 27-14 victory. But Summit has not really been challenged in conference play since the double overtime win against Redmond in October 2016, which could explain their first half performance against Pendleton last week.
A surprisingly good amount of pressure was put on junior quarterback Henry Bledsoe — the son of former NFL quarterback and now Summit offensive coordinator Drew Bledsoe — forcing him to make uncharacteristic mistakes that allowed the Buckaroos to take an early lead that they would later relinquish.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have to ability to do the same.
Led by senior linebacker Jonathan Hinkle, who has notched a team-high 16 tackles, Hermiston has already recorded four interceptions for a total of 21 yards and recovered the same amount of fumbles. There is no shortage of skill or experience, as seniors Joey Gutierrez and AJ Fernandez join Hinkle as key play-makers on defense.
As important as momentum changing plays are, Faaeteete will tell you it simply comes down to playing fundamental football.
The boys need to be in the right spot every play, tackling well, forcing those turnovers, he continued. While Fernandez did notched his first inception of the season against Mountain View, the other fundamentals including good, tight coverage when playing man and good funneling when playing zone were missing.
Hermiston allowed Mountain View to run up and down the field for a total of 333 yards on 49 carries. The Cougars had 406 passing yards on 73 completions, and 12 first downs. If Bledsoe records those type of numbers Friday, then Hermiston will have another long trip back.
Summit’s X-factor comes from it’s culture.
“They expect to win when they take the field,” Faaeteete said. “After that state championship, it’s what they have been doing.”
While the Storm has turned that expectation into a reality, Pendleton proved that any team — even one that hasn’t gotten off the best start — can challenge it. Hermiston’s key will be finally finding its offensive rhythm.
Junior quarterback Andrew James has all the potential to be a true dual-threat QB. He’s leading the team in rushing yards, 383 on 59 carries, and has racked up 428 yards in the air. But his 46-percent completion rate needs much improvement.
“What’s missing is his timing is off,” Faaeteete said. “He’s just looking to run because guys drop balls or we don’t complete the pass or we jump offsides — we’re just out of rhythm and that’s pretty much it. If we can get offensive rhythm going, then he will be better but until we can establish that, it is going to be hard.”
With the keys to success at Hermiston’s disposal, the 7 p.m. match up has the potential to be every bit as exciting as a playoff game. It’s just going to be a matter of whether or not the Bulldogs can execute for the full 48 minutes.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541- 564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez