PENDLETON — For the past two seasons, the Hermiston-Pendleton football game had a different feel for the Pendleton Buckaroos.
With Pendleton’s playoff hopes dashed by Week 9 both times, the Buckaroos were out playing for pride and bragging rights with nothing to lose. And on the other sideline, Hermiston was trying to better its stance in the playoffs.
However, this season the Buckaroos (5-3 overall, 4-2 Special District 1) have much more on the line with Hermiston (6-2, 5-1). A win over the Bulldogs can clinch a playoff spot for the Buckaroos for the first time since 2014, while also snapping a five-game winless streak against the Bulldogs. On top of that, its the final time the schools will meet before Hermiston’s departure for the WIAA and the Buckaroos want bragging rights back.
“There is no doubt it’s a different feeling this week,” Pendleton coach Erik Davis said at practice on Wednesday. “Our goals are still in sight and I’d be lying if I said they think it’s just another football game. We respect the tradition, respect the rivalry.”
Historically, the rivalry has been one-sided toward Pendleton as the Buckaroos won 69 of the first 72 meetings between the schools. But Hermiston has overtaken Pendleton over the past decade and has won five straight games and Pendleton’s senior class would love nothing more than to snap that streak and clinch a playoff spot in the same night.
“It would mean everything to every senior,” Pendleton senior defensive back Brendan Bedolla said. “All through our high school career we haven’t beaten Hermiston in football and to go out on top one last time would be a lifelong memory.”
“It’d be huge,” added senior wide receiver Tanner Stephan. “It’s the last time we get to play them (Hermiston), we’re the last people to get to play them and that means we have to win this game. We have to bring it home for our parents and all the previous generations of Buckaroos, we have to bring it home for everybody.”
A loss to Hermiston will not completely dash Pendleton’s playoff hopes, but it would require some help from a few teams. Currently, Pendleton and Bend are tied at 4-2 in the district, with Pendleton in third and Bend in fourth with the Buckaroos’ head-to-head tiebreak, and Summit sits just one game back at 3-3. If a Pendleton loss is coupled with a Summit loss to Hood River Valley, the Buckaroos would still be in. A Pendleton loss with a Bend upset over Mountain View and a Summit win would push Pendleton out.
The most complicated scenario would be a Pendleton loss, plus a Bend loss to Mountain View and a Summit win would make a three-way tie for third at 4-3. The tiebreaker for third place will be the team with the highest OSAA ranking, and then the fourth place team will be decided with a head-to-head tiebreak. The only way Pendleton misses out in that case, is if Bend has the highest ranking and takes third, giving Summit the fourth spot.
But the Buckaroos know the easiest way for them is to just go out and win.
“We just have to stay focused and think that if we don’t win this, then it’s over in a sense,” Stephan said. “You just have to go in with your hair on fire, play every play like it’s our last and give it our all and make sure we win.”
Hermiston is looking to do the same, but a win for the Bulldogs will simply boost their seed entering the postseason. Their fate has been sealed, as Hermiston has maintained its hold on to second place in the league.
However, the Bulldogs won’t enter this game lightly. That’s just not their style.
“We’ve been telling the guys that every single game is a playoff game,” head coach David Faaeteete said at the Linebackers Club luncheon on Thursday. “In order to get seeded where we want to, we have to win all of our games.”
With a win Hermiston can jump as high as No. 4 in the OSAA’s 5A rankings, and host a playoff game — possibly two, and that’s all the Bulldogs can hope for.
“That’s what the kids want,” Faaeteete added. “They want to play at home one more time, they want to host.”
It is unlikely that the Bulldogs will be able to break into the top three but again, if there’s an upset it could be possible. Hermiston currently sits at No. 5 in the rankings. In front of the Bulldogs are No. 1 Mountain View, No. 2 Crescent Valley, No. 3 Churchill and No. 4 Wilsonville.
An undefeated No. 1 and 2 team will likely come away with a victory, but Churchill and Wilsonville face teams that may give each a run for their money. If either losses, and Hermiston tops Pendleton then the Bulldogs can inch up the rankings before they freeze at 10 p.m. Friday.
Hermiston will need every advantage it can get if the Bulldogs want to end their Farewell Tour with their last Oregon state title. The trip won’t be easy, though. The Bulldogs have only made it past Round 1 five times since 1991 — the most notable was during its 2014 championship season.
“Their mantra this week — they see it as a big rivalry, but they understand they have bigger goals than this game,” Faaeteete said. “Their mantra has been prepare like we prepare for any other game and practice like we practice for any other game.”