HERMISTON - Behind a warrior-like effort from Tyler Hartsteen and Justin Ramirez, the Bulldogs edged North Medford 16-13 in the OSAA/US Bank/Les Schwab Tires 4A football playoffs, advancing to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history Friday.
"I knew the only way we were going to win was if I got in there to get him (North Medford quarterback Beau Hovland)," said Hartsteen. "We have one of the best lines in the state and we know it."
After the Bulldogs took the lead on a Dean Peters 22-yard field goal with 2:22 left in the fourth quarter, the game was turned over to the Hermiston defense.
"I didn't want to leave that much time on the clock, but we had to score," said Hermiston head coach Jerry Williams.
North Medford started their final drive on the ground, but Hartsteen stuffed Tyler Engle for a short loss. After Hovland dumped a 6-yard pass to Brian Clifton, Hartsteen sacked Hovland for a 5-yard loss, setting up a fourth-and-14 with 1:39 remaining.
"Tyler played great. He reached within himself and played tonight," said coach Williams.
On the next play, Hovland dropped back to pass, but saw nothing and James Williams stopped Hovland shy of the first down, sealing the game for the Bulldogs.
"I am so proud of these kids. I am as proud tonight as I've ever been of a team," said coach Williams. "I thought they came out and played with everything they had, win or lose."
North Medford set the tone on its first drive of the game scoring on Hovland's 2-yard touchdown run, capping a nine-play drive to go up 7-0.
"This was a great game and we played a great team tonight," said coach Williams. "They played hard."
Hermiston responded with a mixture of rushes from Ruben and Justin Ramirez on the ensuing drive, and James Williams nabbed a 5-yard touchdown pass from John Barnett to cap the 84-yard drive.
The Bulldogs looked to tie the score, but Peters' extra point kick missed to the right and Hermiston trailed 7-6.
North Medford put together a nice drive on the next possession, but the Bulldogs forced Hovland to fumble and Marcus Mattox recovered on the Bulldog 15-yard line.
Neither team could capitalize the rest of the first half and Hermiston trailed at the break 7-6.
In the second half, the Black Tornado forced Hermiston to punt early in the third quarter and Hovland connected with Tyler Engle for a 38-yard pass that led to a Rob Folsom 7-yard touchdown run on North Medford's next drive. Shawn Hale's extra-point attempt was no good and North Medford went up 13-7.
"We've had some luck this season and you don't go undefeated without some luck here and there," said coach Williams.
The Bulldogs would not buckle and Barnett marched the Bulldogs 69 yards down the field, keyed by a Justin Ramirez 26-yard run, and Peters scored two plays later on a 2-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 13-13.
"I was running for the seniors and we proved a lot of people wrong with this win tonight," said sophomore running back Justin Ramirez. "I feel like the young one, but they take care of me out there."
On the Bulldogs' final drive of the game, coach Williams turned to the ground game and the Bulldogs' offensive line overpowered the Black Tornado, allowing for Justin Ramirez to run for three key first downs to set up Peters' game winning field goal.
"The line did a great job and we just keep proving people wrong day by day with our play," said Justin Ramirez.
Justin Ramirez finished with 123 yards rushing and Ruben Ramirez added 48 yards to lead the Bulldogs. Barnett threw for 121 yards and James Williams reeled in 92 yards.
"Justin ran the ball hard and he's just a sophomore," said Barnett. "Nobody has gone this far in the history of Hermiston football and this feels incredible."
Hermiston remains un-beaten on the season and improved to 11-0 overall, setting up a meeting with Clackamas next week in the quarterfinals.
Sports reporter Joe McHaney can be reached at 1-800-522-0255 (ext. 1-236) or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.