HEPPNER — At this point of the season, there are no secrets or secret weapons. It all comes down to execution and discipline.
The Heppner Mustangs (11-0) are quite adept at both heading into Saturday’s Class 2A state semifinal game against the Knappa Loggers (9-2). The game will be played at 2:15 p.m. at Hillsboro Stadium.
“The location is different, that’s all,” Heppner coach Greg Grant said of the game. “We have to have great practices and be ready on game day.”
Knappa coach Aaron Barendse is familiar with Heppner, having lost a 26-16 game to the Mustangs in the 2014 semifinals.
“They are well-coached and do the things the right way,” Barendse said. “They have a great defense — they are one of the top in the state. You don’t do that (allow just 73 points in 11 games) without having a good team.”
The Mustangs, led by quarterback Jayden Wilson, running back Blake Wolters and receiver/return specialist Mason Lehman, are looking for their first state championship game since winning the title in 2015.
“I think they are mature, smart kids,” Grant said of his players. “You have to focus on the next thing, maybe learn from the last one, and not get too far ahead of themselves.
“I felt this team could get to this point, or maybe further. You worry more during the year. The further we go, the more I relax. Nothing worse as a coach than not getting your kids prepared.”
The Mustangs have been a well-oiled machine this season. They average 221 yards rushing per game, along with 110 yards passing. Lehman has returned eight punts for touchdowns, and Heppner has forced 13 turnovers in the past two games.
The Mustangs also have outscored their opponents 81-7 in their two playoff games.
“That is quite a few,” Grant said of the turnovers. “I wouldn’t expect that in this game. Playing good defense is important. We hope to continue to do that.”
The Loggers, who have won eight games in a row since dropping a 26-6 game to Taft, have done a good job putting points on the board this season (39 per game), but they also have allowed 21.3 points per game.
“I think they are extremely well-coached,” Grant said of Knappa. “They don’t make mistakes on reads, they are disciplined, and they make you earn everything.”
Quarterback Eli Takalo, running back Cameron Miethe and receivers Kanai Phillip, Trevor Ogier and Devin Hoover have accounted for a large portion of the Loggers’ offense.
“I’d like to say they haven’t seen an offense like ours,” Barendse said. “They fly around. We are fortunate to have good athletes at running back and receiver. It depends on who we play whether we throw the ball 30 times, or like last week (36-30 win over Coquille) when we threw it 11 times. We are a dual threat team.”
No matter the outcome Saturday, Grant said his team will have tremendous community support.
“We have great support,” he said. “They are excited for the kids. It’s a really good thing to have that support and people to cheer you on. Heppner is a great place to be this time of year.”