HEPPNER — Heppner has played stellar defense all season, and nothing changed Saturday afternoon against Warrenton.
The Mustangs had five interceptions, and Matt Orem had 11 tackles and one sack as Heppner topped the Warriors 32-7 in the Class 2A state quarterfinals at Les Payne Field.
“We weren’t sharp on offense, but the defense did great,” Heppner coach Greg Grant said. “They are tough, they play hard, and they made it happen.”
The Mustangs (11-0) will play Knappa (9-2) at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium in the semifinals. Knappa beat Coquille 36-30 to advance.
Warrenton finished the season 7-3.
“They have a great defense,” Warriors coach Ian O’Brien said. “The second half, we had some things clicking and had the lead. They got that kick return, and that took the air out of us. I’m disappointed, but I’m proud of my kids. Three years ago, we were a one-win team.”
Through 11 games, the Mustangs have given up 73 points (6.6 per game) and posted six shutouts.
“That’s pretty cool,” Orem said of the Mustangs’ stingy defense. “It was a good game and we played our hearts out.”
Jason Rea added nine tackles, Mason Lehman and Blake Wolters each had eight, and Hayden Hyatt had a fumble recovery.
Neither team had much success moving the ball in the first quarter. Heppner’s Kason Cimmiyotti and Jace Coe picked off Warrenton quarterback Jacob Morrow in the first quarter, which ended scoreless.
The Mustangs chewed up 6 minutes of the clock in the second quarter, ending with a 2-yard touchdown run by Wolters.
Wolters, who finished with 93 yards rushing, had a burst for 12 yards in the series, in which he dragged Warrenton’s Hordie Bodden Bodden most of the way.
“There is some heart in that kid,” Grant said. “He plays with every ounce of energy he has.”
Heppner would lead 6-0 at the half.
“We had a tough time in the first half,” Grant said of his offense. “I gave my kids too many things, and that’s my fault.”
A bit of a hush fell over the home crowd when Warrenton’s Morrow scored from 16 yards out with 6:36 remaining in the third quarter to give the Warriors a 7-6 lead.
Not to worry.
Jackson Lehman took the ensuing kickoff 64 yards for a touchdown and a 12-7 Heppner lead.
“Casey Fletcher laid a nice block, and I went off that,” said Lehman, who also had an interception. “We started off slow, but we came out strong in the second half and went to work.”
The touchdown was just what the Mustangs needed to get fired up.
“That kickoff return was key,” Grant said. “They had the momentum, and we got it back.”
Five minutes later, Jayden Wilson tip-toed down the right sideline for a 38-yard touchdown run to give the Mustangs a 20-7 lead after three quarters.
“At the half, Grant said they (Warrenton) aren’t better, we just needed to go harder,” Wolters said. “It paid off.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Cimmiyotti got his second interception of the game, and Mason Lehman scored three plays later, running 28 yards and using his size to reach the ball over the goal line to give his team a 28-7 lead. Lehman finished with 110 yards rushing on 10 carries.
“Without the pressure from the defensive line, he (Morrow) wouldn’t have thrown it so low, and I wouldn’t have gotten it,” Cimmiyotti said. “I just did my job.”
Two plays into Warrenton’s next drive, Jackson Lehman picked off Morrow and returned the ball to the Warriors’ 10-yard line.
Wolters took the ball into the end zone on the first play of the drive, giving Heppner a 32-7 lead.
“I’m really proud of my line,” Wolters said. “I wouldn’t do what I do without them. They fight for their lives, and ours.”
Warren finished with 242 yards of offense — 148 of that coming on the ground — but too many mistakes cost the Warriors in the end.
“We made some good plays, and sometimes it didn’t go our way,” O’Brien said. “Congrats to Heppner.”