HERMISTON — As the Hermiston football team prepares for the 5A semifinals, they will be pitted against an equally, if not more, successful opponent.
On paper, Wilsonville has the better record as the Wildcats are 10-1 after 11 long weeks of football. They entered the post season seeded No. 2, and have been annihilating their competition since their lone loss in Week 1.
Hermiston has also bounced back from its only league loss — a 28-7 defeat of No. 1 seeded Mountain View in Week 3 — and have been winning ever since. The Bulldogs (9-2 overall) have also trounced on their adversaries, winning all but two games by 20 or more points.
The matchup Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium will, in all likelyhood, be decided by less. The two teams will faceoff at 5:30 p.m. with only one moving on to face the winner of the Mountain View-Churchill game, which will take place just two miles away.
One key for a Hermiston victory is simple, in theory. Executing it however, may be a bit more difficult.
Fans were on their feet early in the quarterfinal game the Bulldogs hosted. En route to the 40-22 victory, Hermiston opened with a 60-plus yard kick return from senior Dayshawn Neal, which set up the team’s first scoring drive. The touchdown less than two minutes into play set the tone for the rest of the game.
But the Bulldogs haven’t also performed that well in the first quarter. Their play in the opening 14 minutes has been inconsistent most of the season, and only recently have they been putting up double digits on an almost regular basis — Hermiston was held scoreless in the first quarter by La Salle Prep in Round 1 of the postseason.
On average, Hermiston has scored 8.8 of its 36.5 points in the opening quarter. One of the most common demoninators to the Bulldog’s success when they do score in the first quarter is scoring fast, like they did against South Albany. And Pendleton. And Redmond. And Lewiston.
Doing this, however, against the future University of Washington defensive lineman Draco Bynum and crew will be a challenge.
Wilsonville has been as steady as one can be on the defense. Overall, they have allowed the fewest points in Class 5A (132) and have held almost every opponent scoreless in the first half. Only three teams have been able to find the end zone before halftime, and all three came in the second half.
During the regular season, St. Helens took one to the house and Bend and Lebanon followed suit in the postseason.
As scary as Wilsonville’s defense is, its offense is also very threatening. If Hermiston can get the edge early and then bring the pressure to junior quarterback Nathan Overholt, the Bulldogs will better their chances at celebrating on the four-plus hour drive home.
For Wilsonville to return to the 5A finals for the second consecutive year it must assert itself at the line, and not just defensively.
RUN RUN RUN:
It has been a theme in every Hermiston game. The Bulldogs establish the run to then open up the passing game. It is also something that has worked for the Wildcats. But unlike Hermiston, who has both junior quarterback Andrew James and senior workhorse Jonathan Hinkle, Wilsonville counts on mostly one player: Cooper Mootz.
The 5-foot 9-inch 165-pound junior has racked up all but 800 of the Wildcats total rushing yards. Mootz has ran for 1,135 yards and 23 touchdowns on 180 carries. His impressive season may continue if he can impose his will on Hermiston’s defensive line.
In Wilsonville’s last four wins, the Wildcats have ran for 300 or more yards. Hermiston hasn’t given up 300 yards or more since Week 6 against Ridgeview. Since that 48-26 win, the Bulldogs have only given up 200 or more yards once. But the Bulldogs have yet to face anyone like Mootz yet, and he doesn’t even have to have an extrodinary night on the gridiron.
Throughout the season, Hermiston has only allowed three players to collect more than 100 yards in a single game: Redmond’s Jack Taylor and Mountain View duo Jonas Larsen and Dalton Payfer-Locking. The Bulldogs are 1-1 when allowing a player to run all over the field, and Mootz will threaten that record Saturday.
But all he has to run enough to get Overholt going. If Hermiston’s defense struggles to bring the pressure, Overholt will be have another one of his near-perfect performances and Mootz .
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.