HEPPNER — To say that Heppner’s defense is stingy is an understatement.
The Mustangs, who have allowed an average of 10 points a game this season, allowed Regis just one trip to the end zone in beating the Rams 8-6 in a 2A state quarterfinal game on Saturday, Nov. 12, at Les Payne Field.
“We are ecstatic,” Heppner coach Greg Grant said. “That team was a real challenge. Our defense played how we wanted it to, but our offense didn’t. We just had a lot of gutsy plays when we needed to.”
The Mustangs (9-2), who have won seven games in a row, will play top-ranked Oakland in the 2A state semifinals at 2:15 p.m. on Nov. 19 at Hillsboro Stadium.
“We went there (semifinals) last year and I was disappointed with the outcome,” Heppner running back Caden George said. “We need to push through this next week and move on. One week at a time.”
Regis, which turned the ball over on downs three times on the afternoon, finished the season 9-2.
“We knew what we were going into,” Regis coach Alex King said. “We wish we could go back and change a couple of things. We were happy with our defense keeping us in it.”
The Rams turned the ball over on downs on their first possession of the game, and the Mustangs took over at their own 35-yard line.
Heppner melted six-and-half minutes off the clock, and closed out the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run by Saul Lopez. George hit Cameron Proudfoot with a pass for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead.
The Rams made it all the way down to the Heppner 18-yard line on their ensuing possession, but got stopped on fourth-and-1 by the Mustangs.
The teams traded interceptions — Kollin Schumacher had one for Regis, while Proudfoot picked off Schumacher with 4:40 to play in the second quarter.
Heppner moved the ball from its own 16 to the Regis 2-yard line, helped by a 37-yard run by George down the right sideline.
A false start and a bit of confusion led to the Mustangs turning the ball over on downs at the 5-yard line.
“The end of the first half was more about me than the kids,” Grant said. “I had no quarterback in there and I had burned all my timeouts. I put them in too much of a hurry there. I told them we would outplay them in the second half.”
Heppner had the ball to open the second half, but fumbled three plays into the drive, putting the Rams at the Mustang 42-yard line.
On the fifth play of the drive, Schumacher connected with Noah Koenig for a 23-yard touchdown with 9:33 to play in the third.
Koenig took the handoff for the 2-point conversion, but was stopped by George and Lopez, as the Mustangs clung to an 8-6 lead.
On its next possession, Regis drove all the way down the Heppner 2-yard line. Facing fourth-and-2, Luis Perez-Villegas was stopped at the line of scrimmage with 4:45 left in the third quarter.
With 8:44 left in the game, Heppner took possession at its own 28-yard line. The Mustangs ran the ball 12 times, and with the help of a face mask call on the part of the Rams, ended up at the Regis 6-yard line with 1:24 to play.
Heppner ran the ball once, then took a knee to run out the clock.
“I just think they have heart, and it shows,” Grant said of his team. “The most pleasing part was when we drove it at them and finished things off. When we got that last first down, I took a deep breath.”
The Mustangs held the Rams to 99 yards rushing and 134 passing, and limited a team that averaged 41 points a game to just six.
“Grant always has a good game plan on defense,” George said. “We take pride in our defense — it’s easy to win when the other team doesn’t score as many points as you.”
George finished the game with nine tackles, and also showed his worth on offense, running the ball 31 times for 152 yards, and throwing for 41 yards.
“My line got yards,” George said. “They are the toughest guys I know. It came down to who wanted to push harder.”
Lopez added 50 yards rushing, while Proudfoot had five catches for 41 yards, and five tackles. Schumacher completed 11 of 31 passes for 134 yards.
“We had a couple of times I wish we would have connected, King said. “We moved the ball, we just couldn’t finish.”