NEWBERG — Ever since the St. Paul Buckaroos handed the Heppner Mustangs a 40-0 shellacking on Sept. 1 at Les Payne Field, the Mustangs had hoped for a rematch with the Buckaroos.
Heppner got its wish on Saturday afternoon as the No. 8 Mustangs played the No. 1 Buckaroos in the Class 2A Quarterfinals. The Mustangs knew how far they had come since Week 1 and wanted to get revenge. However, the Buckaroos showed why they are unbeaten to this point and ranked No. 1 as they defeated the Mustangs 26-0 at Newberg High School.
Heppner’s defense came out with a solid plan against the Buckaroos (10-0 overall) offense, stuffing the run up the middle and holding the Buckaroos scoreless through the first quarter. The defense played a solid game overall, but eventually St. Paul broke through by utilizing jet sweeps and passes to the flats to stretch the Mustangs (6-4) defense to pile up 358 yards of total offense.
“The outcome didn’t come as we planned but I feel like we had a good game against them,” Heppner senior Coby Dougherty said afterward. “They’re just a really tough team and they deserved it.”
Dougherty was part of a Mustang backfield that had really hit a groove over the last six games, but wasn’t able to get going against the Buckaroos defense. As a team, Heppner had just 70 rushing yards on 30 carries, with Dougerty leading the team with 31 yards on 13 carries.
Three times Heppner put together solid offensive drives to get inside St. Paul territory, but all three times the Mustangs stalled out after getting the ball to the Buckaroos 35.
“It goes back to the little things,” Dougherty said of the offense. “We’d get a drive going or a big play and then take a wrong step or slip up and that’s all it takes to knock us down.”
Coming out of the halftime break trailing 13-0, Heppner’s offense resorted to trying to play catch-up with the passing game which was not its strong suit. Freshman quarterback Jayden Wilson threw the ball 19 times, completing just five passes, for 40 yards with two interceptions.
“We just wanted to fight as hard as we could,” Heppner senior lineman Wyatt Steagall said. “(Coach Greg) Grant said whoever was going to lose would be the first team to weaken, and we couldn’t be first person to weaken. I don’t think we weakened, we fought as hard as we could and we left it all on that field, it’s just the way it went.”
St. Paul’s left-handed quarterback Holden Smith completed 9 of 14 passes for 109 yards with one touchdown, and running back Saul Martinez ran the ball 25 times for 141 yards and one touchdown. Justin Herberger added 99 rushing yards and 32 receiving yards with one touchdown as well.
The Buckaroos will now play No. 5 Santiam in the 2A semifinals next week.
But for Heppner, the season comes to an end, a season that head coach Greg Grant said in the postgame huddle that he is lucky to been a part of. There was some doubt surrounding the Mustangs team this season, and its ability to extend the program’s streak of 20 consecutive playoff appearances. The Mustangs graduated numerous all-state players over the previous two seasons, leaving large voids on the field that were being filled by a lot of young and inexperienced players.
Things didn’t start off promising, as Heppner dropped its first three games of the season. However, not long after the Mustangs began to come together as a team and play like Heppner teams are supposed to, wrapped up another league title to get into the playoffs.
“We’re proud as heck about it,” Steagall said.
Added Dougherty, “I’m really proud of this group. We came into the year young, had a lot of kids playing positions they had never played before that had just stood on the sideline and cheered. But everyone stepped up tremendously.”
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