PENDLETON — After having the luxury of four straight home games to begin the 2017 season, the Pendleton Buckaroos are finally hitting the road.
Pendleton (2-2 overall, 1-1 5A Special District 1) will make the roughly eight-hour round-trip drive to Central Oregon on Friday to continue league play with a game against the Redmond Panthers (0-4, 0-2). The Panthers were a senior-heavy playoff team last year that have played a very tough schedule so far, losing to Silverton (45-6), Bend (33-0) and Mountain View (56-16) who are all three top-10 ranked teams in Class 5A.
And with that, Pendleton knows that the Panthers are better than their record and playing in their home environment will be a challenge.
“They’re a good team, no doubt,” Pendleton quarterback Nick Bower said. “They’re 0-4 but losses to top teams in the state so the biggest thing for us is don’t undermine them and we have to play our absolute best.”
“We expect them to be a good football team,” Pendleton head coach Erik Davis added. “They played a tremendously difficult preseason schedule, so they’re battle-tested. They beat us last year so we’re going to continue to play that underdog role each and every week and see if we can’t come out with another win.”
It’s a crucial game for Pendleton in the Buckaroos’ journey to the playoffs. A win helps the Bucks keep pace with the top half of Special District 1 while a loss could be a setback as the Buckaroos regular season creeps over the halfway mark Friday. And it won’t be easy for the Buckaroos, as the Panthers on offense deploy a tricky, run-heavy scheme, using pre-snap motions and hard counts to keep opposing defenses on their toes.
It helped the Panthers defeat the Buckaroos 49-21 one year ago inside the Round-Up.
“They’re going to run the ball hard and we’ll have to be ready for it,” Pendleton linebacker Kirk Liscom said.
“It seems like every week we’re facing a run-heavy team, but I think our linebackers and our front seven have stepped up to the challenge,” Davis said. “This is an offense that we have to be very strict in our assignments ... this is a huge test because they were a playoff team, we were not, so we have to go in an continue to win the battle in the trenches.”
The Buckaroos offense is still trying to find a consistent balance in its attack, but is coming off of its best game yet where they ran for 142 yards and passed for 228 against Ridgeview. Pendleton will have its hands full against a physical Redmond defense, but one that has been exposed as the Panthers have allowed 162 points (40.5 average) in its four games.
“They run a 4-2 (front) and they’re fast and the corners are decent,” said Bower, who has 994 passing yards and 12 TDs this season. “Hopefully we can establish a run and get the play-action off of that. It all starts with the offensive line — passing, running, nothing can happen without them but after that it’s just getting the ball into our athletes’ hands. The quicker I get it to them, the quicker they can do their thing.”
For Davis, who also is Pendleton’s offensive play-caller, he says the key to the offense — and perhaps the game — falls on his shoulders as well.
“Part of it is me calling the offense and being willing to stick with the plan, the run game and not vacate that too early,” he said. “We have some kids that are workhorses and do well at moving the chains. So it’s a combination of me making sure to stick to the plan and the offensive line winning the battles up front, and if so I think we have a good shot.”
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