Much has changed over the years in Hermiston. Always viewed as a growing community, it has grown now to love football like never before.

Not too long ago, certainly up until the mid-to late 1980s, Hermiston football fans yearned for a winner. Years and years of struggles on the gridiron led to more years of struggle.

Not until the 1990s did Hermiston ever have a taste of postseason football.

This year has been so incredible, one might think it's a dream. Except for the fact that for 11 games, the team has given opposing teams reasons to have nightmares. This Bulldog team has claimed its first outright Intermountain Conference title and thus replacing the euphoria that came last year after claiming a shared title for the first time ever. They have also defeated Pendleton in Hermiston, something no other squad can claim. Beyond their first undefeated regular season, the 2002 Bulldogs have won in the postseason for the first time ever.

Now Hermiston is one of only eight teams playing Class 4A football.

I recall a meeting over the summer where Bulldog head coach Jerry Williams stated that he expected his team to have a goal this year of practicing on Thankgiving. They are now on the cusp of doing just that.

With a win at Clackamas Friday, Hermiston will advance to the semifinals and will then be only two wins away from a state championship.

Every team still in the hunt is certainly talented, but there should be no reason Hermiston cannot dare to dream.

A dream is what former Hermiston assistant and current head coach at North Medford John Beck must have thought he was having when his team's bus rolled into town for last week's second-round game, which Hermiston won 16-13. Not only had Hermiston grown in the 12 or more years since he lived and worked in Hermiston, but the school in which he once worked was replaced by what he called one of the best facilities in the northwest.

"It was weird for me to go back," Beck said. "The town has grown. The high school facility is phenomenal. It's a testament to the community.

"I was impressed," he said, "with the pride in community."

Beck served as defensive coordinator for Williams when both coached at Sam Barlow High School and he is not surprised at the success Hermiston football has had under Williams.

"I coached a long time with Jerry. He's one of the best high school coaches in the state," Beck said.

The former Bulldog assistant coach said that he has seen film of the Clackamas football tea and thinks Hermiston can win.

"They have a strong belief in themselves," Beck said of the 2002 Bulldogs. "Hermiston played and executed exceptionally well (against North Medford)."

Beck said that keys for Hermiston should be to control the clock offensively and defend the perimeter defensively.

So, Hermiston has had a season for the ages. Hermiston can win a quarterfinal game. A 2000-01 Hermiston wrestling team proved a state title can be claimed.

Obviously, a state title is a tall order, for any team, but this Hermiston team has already stared down history and rewritten several major chapters.

Execution has served them well to date. "They just do what they do so well," Beck said. Execution may very well lead them to practicing on Thanksgiving and beyond.

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Sports editor Christopher Halsey can be reached at 1-800-522-0255 (ext. 1-223) or by e-mail at chalsey@eastoregonian.com.

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