STANFIELD — After a one year absence, the Columbia Basin Conference championship is back in the possession of the Heppner Mustangs.
Heppner wore out and beat down the defending CBC champion Stanfield Tigers on a cold and windy October evening for a 44-15 victory. It’s the fourth straight victory for the Mustangs on the season, and one that officially clinched the school’s 21st consecutive state playoff berth.
“It’s surreal,” Heppner senior Coby Dougherty said after the game, smiling ear-to-ear. “From the beginning of the season we were doubted quite a bit, and coming into this game and being here and having a playoff spot, this is just amazing.”
“I’m really happy for my kids,” Heppner coach Greg Grant added. “They’ve gone through a lot, they’ve worked really hard, and I’ve been hard on them because I know what they’re capable of and they’re really starting to come together and they showed what they’re capable of tonight at times.”
The Mustangs (4-3 overall, 3-0 Columbia Basin Conference) established their presence at the line of the scrimmage early and often on both sides of the ball and took control of the game. Heppner ran for 303 yards in the game led by Dougherty with 128 yards on 20 carries with three total touchdowns. Heppner picked up 20 first downs, held the ball for 24 minutes of game time and was a combined 6 of 10 on third and fourth downs, thanks to a big effort from its offensive line.
“The guys on the line of scrimmage really did dig in and work hard,” Grant said. “I thought everybody blocked well tonight, I really did. I thought we all blocked for each other, with each other and that’s a beauty of football.”
Quarterback Jayden Wilson has utilized his legs more in the last few games for the Mustangs and he continued that trend Friday as he ran for 115 yards and three touchdowns. Wilson added 79 passing yards and one touchdown with one interception.
“He’s shown that he can really run,” Grant said of the freshman. “I haven’t wanted him to run a lot early in the year, but I think he’s shown that he’s capable and that’s a real weapon for us.”
The Mustangs took advantage of good field position all game long, starting with the game’s opening kickoff that gave them the ball at their own 49. Heppner drove 51 yards on 11 plays that was capped off by a six-yard plunge by Wilson. Heppner started a drive inside its own 30 just three times on nine drives and four times started outside its own 40.
Stanfield looked like it would answer the Mustangs’ opening scoring drive with one of its own, moving easily through the Mustangs’ defense all the way down to Mustangs’ 10. But the Heppner defense tightened up and Wilson intercepted a pass by Stanfield’s Shayne Keltz at the four-yard-line.
From there, Heppner drove 96 yards on 10 plays and took a 16-0 lead early in the second quarter when Dougherty took an inside handoff in the backfield, patiently followed his blockers and then attacked the hole and sprinted 35 yards through Tigers defense for the score. Another Wilson touchdown run two drives later put Heppner up 22-0 late in the second quarter.
However, Stanfield did not give in. The Tigers (2-4, 2-1) intercepted a pass by Wilson at its own 20 with just 1:06 left to play in the first half and turned to Adrian Renner to give them a boost. Renner, who finished the game with 127 rushing yards, utilized his speed and busted off a 43 yard run to put the Tigers in scoring position. After a few failed pass attempts, Renner took a sweep handoff and cut his way through the Mustangs defense for an 18-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 22-8 with 13 seconds left in the half.
The late Tigers score made Grant a little worried going into the half, thinking about a possible momentum swing for the Tigers going into the second half. However, that was not the case. Heppner’s defense held Stanfield to just 92 yards of offense in the second half, and the offense continued to wear down the Tigers, move the chains, and find the end zone. The only touchdown Heppner allowed was a one-yard rush by Keltz late in the fourth quarter.
“The kids just figured it out and played it better,” Grant said. “Maybe we were being a little too careful to start but we finally said ‘To heck with it’ and came out and got after it and we really did shut it down. But Stanfield really played hard. They ran hard, blocked hard, and challenged us.”
Up next, Stanfield will host Monroe on Friday for its regular season finale. Heppner will host Corbett as the Mustangs aim for a fifth straight victory and go into the playoffs at full strength.
“Those losses that we had early on were good for us,” Dougherty said. “We learned a lot in those games and we’ve grown so much as a team, it’s just amazing where we are now.”
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