HERMISTON — The only sure thing about Saturday’s 5A state championship game is that it will be the last time this Hermiston football team suits up as a group, and as a member of the OSAA.
The Bulldogs (10-2) are getting ready for a unprecedented move to the WIAA, but not before they take one last run at an Oregon state title.
“We’re one of two teams left,” head coach David Faaeteete said.
He also preached the same message that has led to Hermiston’s success on its ‘Farewell Tour,’ and what will help the Bulldogs with a win Saturday in Hillsboro.
“The message is going to be and continue to be focus on the details,” Faaeteete said. “Dot our i’s, cross out t’s, finish, take care of the little things so they can take care of the big things in the end.”
But a victory will be no easy task. Churchill remains unbeaten after taking down No. 1 Mountain View for its first finals appearance in program history, and with a win the Lancers (12-0) could be one of five teams in the entire state with a perfect record.
The Bulldogs punched their own ticket to the state championship after holding off a strong second half effort from Wildcats and coming away with a 35-27 win, and now have to prepare to face an even greater threat in Churchill.
“They are a very explosive team,” Faaeteete said. “They have got multiple plays for 80-plus yards this season.”
Leading the impressive offense is quarterback Jack Blackburn, who is the mastermind behind some ridiculously good plays this season. However, Blackburn’s success in the pocket will be disrupted if Hermiston can throw off the junior’s timing.
He hasn’t made many mistakes this season but Blackburn has thrown eight of Churchill’s 12 interceptions with four of the eight coming in the postseason.
“We’re going to have to contain an opponent passing offense game and two really good running backs on defense, and we’re going to have to compete against one of the tougher defensive fronts we’ve seen in awhile,” Faaeteete said. “We’ve got to take care of the football, execute that game plan and contain their offense.”
Hermiston’s semifinal appearance highlighted what the defense is capable of against a high-powered, streaking offense.
“It just showed us that stats aren’t a big deal,” junior quarterback Andrew James said. “The stars, whatever you want to say, it’s not a big deal. It’s about you against the other guy right in front of you and who is going to be who.”
In the semifinal game, Hermiston shined in the first half by scoring more points than Wilsonville has allowed in an entire game all season, and holding the Wildcats to a lone touchdown before the break.
James led the offensive efforts and the Bulldogs had another 300-plus yard performance. James, along with senior running back Jonathan Hinkle, will be essential in winning the first-down battle on both sides of the ball, something Faaeteete says is a key to a victory.
“Hold them to negative yards on first down or one or two and for us (on offense) it’s capitalizing on two to three to five yards on first down and make our second down series easier,” he said, “our third down series easier and taking care of the football.”
James has the third most passing yards for any quarterback in Class 5A during the playoffs (603) and has completed 36-of-60 passes in the postseason. James has thrown eight passing touchdowns to get to the finals with help from seniors Joey Gutierrez, who is good for three, and Dayshawn Neal, who has two touchdown receptions in the postseason.
Although James’ arm is sharp, and getting sharper, the running game is where the Bulldogs offense truly excels. James, a true dual-threat quarterback has racked up 217 of his 1,091 yards in the three games leading up to Saturday, and Hinkle continues to dominate, 504 yards on just 49 carries in the postseason.
“It’s really just the guys around me,” James said. “I do my part, I work hard. I work hard at practice, I worked hard all summer. But these guys around me (their hard work) shows ... you’ve got leaders everywhere and when you have that that’s how you win and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Kickoff is at 6 p.m. at Hillsboro Stadium.
Contact Alexis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.