HERMISTON — It’s been nearly five weeks since the Hermiston’s last loss. But the 21-point defeat to open league play didn’t bring the Bulldogs down. It did the opposite, and they haven’t played the same since.
The winning streak continued after Hermiston was able to edge out Bend 35-32 on homecoming night. The winning drive ended with a 27-yard touchdown pass from junior Andrew James to senior Dayshawn Neal. It was fitting, seeing as how the duo’s connected 45 times this season and Neal has accounted for 10 of James’ 14 passing touchdowns.
It’s James’ second year starting for the Bulldogs (5-2 overall, 4-1 Special District 1), and his job has been a whole lot easier with the talented senior class — which will be honored Friday before taking on Redmond at Kennison Field.
James can look to Neal or Joey Gutierrez or Jonathan Hinkle. The list goes on and on, and the seniors aren’t just making their presence known on offense. The Class of 2018 has played lights out defense.
Hinkle leads the team with 56 total tackles. Behind him are AJ Tuia (36) and Gutierrez (31). Tuia has notched six sacks on the season, and Gutierrez has seven picks.
But there is more to the senior class than big plays and it isn’t just physicality.
“Their attitude. They know how to get the job done,” head coach David Faaeteete said. “They have seen it before. They are trying to work toward those things. They do a good job in the weight room. They are here almost all the time during the summer. It’s going to be sad to watch this group go, eventually.”
While the seniors will play in their last official home game Friday, the season is far from over. A win against Redmond will all but secure the Bulldogs place in the playoffs.
Hermiston currently sits at No. 2 in the league, behind Mountain View and tied with Bend. Pendleton is only one game behind the two.
However, Hermiston isn’t worried about the chaos that always comes when a playoff berth is on the line. In fact, the Bulldogs aren’t thinking about next week, or the playoffs. They have one focus.
“It doesn’t matter who we are playing against,” Faaeteete said. “We’re going to respect them and play our football game and get in the mindset of do what we do and execute and have a great time doing it. Before we get to next week that’s what we have to do, we have to take care of Redmond.”
Even though the Panthers (1-6, 1-4) have struggled most of the season, they will still pose a threat when they come to town.
One of Hermiston’s focuses have been stopping the run game with the defensive line. Before hosting Bend, the Bulldogs gave up 550 rushing yards in their previous three games. Things were better last week when they held the Lava Bears to only 136 yards, but Redmond will test their progress, and show which Bulldogs are buying in.
“At practice we’re always correcting them on stuff and we just hope that it sinks in sooner rather than later,” Faaeteete said. “It sunk in last week and they improved. We’ll see who is ready to answer the call when we play on Friday.”
The Panthers have a few key players that Hermiston will need to be ready for. They too are a part of a talented senior class.
At the start of the season Redmond was without a quarterback, but Kamau Troutman has filled that role and has a handful of targets to find on the field. Running back Dillon Taylor is touted as Redmond’s most versatile player. Wide receivers Colton Mortenson and Bradly Daniels are known to have the best hands on the team and the fastest feet, respectively.
The Panthers’ losing record isn’t because lack of talent.
“They play hard. They run the football,” Faaeteete said. “They have adjusted their offense to fit, and now they don’t have a quarterback issue. They have settled on one guy who has been able to do pretty good for them.”
The single wing offense Redmond will bring has Faaeteete a little worried, since Hermiston has trouble stopping the run. But one thing Hermiston doesn’t lack is effort.
“Every day we’re growing and we have to continue to get better every week, day in and day out,” Faaeteete said. “The focus is not on the end result, it’s on the process right now for us.”
In the pre-game festivities, expect see a lot of emotion — from the players, their parents, and their coach.
The large class possesses a lot of talent and have the experience to endure almost anything on the field and overcome it. They lead in all but one statistical category and will certainly be hard to replace.
Take for example the duo of Peter Earl and Hinkle. On offense, Earl uses his speed and quick feet to weave between defenders and Hinkle uses his strong build and big frame to run guys over. But the two are more than just elusive running backs. When paired up as inside linebackers, they are the heart of the defense.
There’s Tyler Rohrman, who only has seven receptions on the season but has made those seven count. He’s put up two touchdowns and 185 yards.
Friday night will give these players and others a chance to celebrate their successes while also giving them the motivation needed to endure a tough postseason stretch.
“It’s one of those moments where as a football player — or any kind of high school athlete — your Senior Night, your last official home game, to think back about the four years you went through, that you’ve struggled,” Faaeteete said. “Maybe you’ve sat on the bench for three years and are finally a starter, things like that. Its a testament to high school athletics and its a testament to their parents for keeping them on and keeping them out.
“When they started as a group I think they were about 33, 34 maybe more and now there’s about 17. To keep at least half of those guys out is a testament to their unity as a group, and I’m excited to celebrate that and play a great gave on Friday.”
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.