HERMISTON — After his final homecoming game, Hermiston senior Dayshawn Neal was at a loss for words, reeling. First, he had to catch his breath, and second, he was reeling from the Bulldogs’ 35-32 win over the Bend Lava Bears that did not come easy.
“I’m feeling it,” said Neal, who finished with 122 receiving yards and three touchdowns. “It’s just hard to explain.”
Bend came to town on a five-game winning streak, and had yet to lose a league game. The Bulldogs (5-2 overall, 4-1 Special District 1) weren’t threatened by the Bears’ record, and came out on the hunt for a win scoring their first touchdown in the opening drive.
Junior quarterback Andrew James hit his favorite target of the night, senior Dayshawn Neal, for a 90-yard touchdown. Hermiston was up 7-0 just two minutes into the game.
The second drive with James and the rest of Hermiston’s offense on the field had the same result. This time senior Jonathan Hinkle ran in a 1-yard score after he had moved the ball 53 yards on the previous play.
However, the 14-0 lead would only last until the end of the first quarter.
After Neal recorded his first interception of the night on his own 4-yard line to stop the Lava Bears (5-2, 4-1) from scoring, Bend’s defense stepped up and opened the second quarter with a safety. Its defense continued to make big plays by recovering a ball fumbled by Neal on what would have been a Hermiston first down.
Five plays later, Hermiston senior Joey Gutierrez got a pick-6, intercepting quarterback Cooper Simmonds and running 68 yards to the house.
The two teams didn’t just swap turnovers, they swapped the lead too. It happened four more times. But Hermiston stuck with it, all 48 minutes.
“It’s a testament to their growth as young athletes,” head coach David Faaeteete said. “When adversity struck they didn’t turn on each other and start pointing fingers, they got after it. They rallied behind one another and moved on to the next play. When your team does that it just shows how much they’ve grown as a group, and how much they have each others back and what not.”
After Gutierrez’s big defensive play, Bend scored 24 unanswered points that stretched from halfway through the second quarter to over 10 minutes into the third.
Simmonds connected to junior Tysen Scott for the Bears first touchdown. The 6-foot 2-inch 195 pound wide receiver was tough to cover. Scott recorded one more touchdown just three minutes after his first. He ended the night with 108 yards on three receptions.
Bend senior Haakon Kjellesvik got one touchdown under hist belt, a five-yard run that push the Bears over the Bulldogs for the first time Friday night.
Down 26-21, the Bulldogs were struggling to make anything happen. Silly mistakes and costly penalties extended Bend’s drives and ended their own.
“We can’t let that get to us,” Neal said. “We’ve just got to start dominating, start playing.”
Hermiston was finally brought back to life near the end of the third quarter when James once again found Neal for an 11-yard touchdown. Hinkle ran in the two point conversion, and Hermiston was back on top 29-26.
Bend responded in a way that any previously unbeaten SD1 team would, and executed in the red zone for a score.
Hermiston answered with one of its own, and every fan was one the edge of their seats as Bend got the ball back with seven minutes left in the game. The Bears were down by three as the score read 35-32, but the way the game had been going no body would have been surprised if they had scored. And they almost did.
An offensive pass interference call in the end zone push Bend back outside of the 20-yard line. Desperate to make anything happen with the clock now at three minute, Simmonds throw a bullet inside the 10. The only problem for the Bears was that a Bulldog caught it instead.
Neal made the game-winning play deep in his own territory, securing Hermiston’s fourth consecutive win.
James finished 11-of-15 for 211 yards, one interception, and three touchdowns. Hinkle led the ground game with 141 yards on 16 carries. He recorded a touchdown of his own, and the two point conversion that gave the Bulldogs the edge they need to best the Bears.
“It was a great atmosphere tonight,” Faaeteete said. “There were big plays on both sides of the field and it was just a fun football game to watch and be a part of.”
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.