PENDLETON — One of Pendleton’s main goals prior to the 2017 season was to become a playoff team again for the first time since 2014. With the season halfway over, the Buckaroos are halfway to that goal.
Heading into Week 6, Pendleton (3-2 overall, 2-1 Special District 1) sits in a tie with Hermiston for third place in Special District 1 and are clinging to one of the four playoff spots in the district. Beneath the surface, Pendleton’s playoff resume right now is relatively weak with zero wins against teams with winning records, including two wins against winless teams (Ridgeview, Redmond). Pendleton’s time to cement itself in the district and in the state starts Friday as it faces its biggest test yet, hosting Mountain View homecoming night at the Round-Up arena.
“We’re going to have to beat the good teams to be a playoff team and this is a huge one for us,” Pendleton head coach Erik Davis said. “We know going into this if we have any shot at a conference title this is a big one. We expect Mountain View to be the team we know them to be, but we’re an improved football team as well and we’re excited about where our momentum is going into this Friday.”
Mountain View (5-0, 3-0) comes roaring into Pendleton unbeaten on the season and are ranked No. 3 in Class 5A, fresh off a dominant 35-13 victory over Summit. The Cougars have perhaps the best running game in the state, powered by a big, stout offensive line and junior running back Jonas Larson who already eclipsed the 1,000 rushing yard mark on the season.
Larson torched Summit for 269 yards and four touchdowns last week and piled up 187 yards with one score in Mountain View’s 28-7 win over Hermiston on Sept. 15. The 6-foot, 175-pound back and his Cougars are the latest run-heavy offensive team for the Buckaroos to face, but unlike Redmond and Ridgeview, there is not trickery involved.
“Watching film, their offense isn’t tricky, they’re just going to line up and run it right at you,” Davis said. “Our front seven is going to be the determining factor. We’re going to have to bow our necks and see if we can force a couple of punts early because with an offense like theirs, the clock eats up pretty fast. So we better be get some stops and be really efficient on the offensive side of the ball.”
Pendleton will take the field Friday night with some momentum as well off of two straight wins with an offense that has really found its groove. Quarterback Nick Bower has been outstanding and efficient after his four-interception game in Week 1, completing 64 percent of his passes for 865 yards and 12 touchdowns to just three picks over the last four weeks. The ground game has been a big help for Bower, taking pressure off of him and opening up the field for some big-time throws. Pendleton ran for a season-high 280 yards last week against Redmond and has piled up 422 in the last two weeks.
A big reason for the success has been the improvement of the offensive line, which has impressed Davis and the rest of the coaches.
“The o-line has improved dramatically from Week 1, Week 2,” he said, “and it tells me that the kids are putting in the work and the buy-in process is there. One thing I’ve noticed about this group, this team is they continue to get better each week and we haven’t had any letdowns.”
The Buckaroos will need to find a consistent balance on offense Friday if they want to have a chance against a Cougars defense that likes to run a Cover-0, stack the box and bring lots of pressure. Against Hermiston, the Cougars held the Bulldogs to 187 total yards in the game — 155 on the ground and 32 through the air.
“I like our matchups this week,” Davis said. “We’re going to have to get the ball into our playmakers’ hands pretty quickly. We have to have a run game or we won’t be able to throw because they’ll be bringing six or seven guys at the QB all game long. It’s very, very important for us to stay balanced and important for me to be consistent in calling the run game as well.”
Kick off is set for 7 p.m. at the Pendleton Round-Up arena.
Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.