HILLSBORO — A common clichè in football is that defense wins championships.
For the Hermiston Bulldogs on Saturday night against Churchill, it was more than just a saying. Their defense provided a pathway to the Class 5A state championship, just as it had all postseason long. The unit didn’t exactly do their part in the sense of a dominant front seven that completely shut down the opposition, but instead earned it by a knack for creating turnovers in clutch situations.
The Bulldogs picked off Churchill quarterback Jack Blackburn twice and recovered one fumble, bringing their postseason tally to 13 forced turnovers in the four games and a season grand total of 34. The Bulldogs say credit goes to defensive coordinator Scott Hammond having his players prepared for every situation and a mindset to be great.
“It just goes back to what we started doing with our fundamentals,” senior cornerback Tyler Rohrman said after Saturday’s win. “It was always aggressive, aggressive, aggressive. It’s just the attention to detail and mindset we’ve developed. (Defensive coordinator Scott) Hammond always says at practice great players make MAD (Make-a-difference) plays and that’s what we do.”
Junior cornerback Youbani Razon was the first player to step up Saturday with a phenomenal interception in the second quarter. With Hermiston holding a 12-7 lead, Razon played soft coverage on his outside receiver and backpedaled a few yards after the snap. He read Blackburn’s eyes and saw the slot receiver settle into a spot in the Bulldogs’ zone defense roughly five yards in front of him jumped the route and beat the ball to the receiver.
It was a huge swing as the Bulldogs cashed in on the turnovers with a touchdown to make it a 18-7 game.
On Churchill’s first play of the next drive, linebacker Jonathan Hinkle stepped in front of a short pass for an interception. Once again it set up a touchdown that Hinkle scored himself for a 25-7 lead with 2:34 left to play.
“It’s that mindset that they have,” Hermiston coach David Faaeteete said. “They don’t believe that the play that just happened, happened, they just move on to the next. And you know, we got our hands on balls, we got some interceptions, put in the coverage we knew we were going to be thrown to and our guys came up big with turnovers.”
However, Churchill continued to hang around with a late first half touchdown and in the second half the Lancers would seemingly answer each Bulldogs touchdown. Yet late in the fourth quarter, the Hermiston defense was able to sniff out a turnover to swing things in their favor for good.
With the Lancers facing second-and-seven at midfield trailing the Bulldogs 31-28 just over five minutes left in the game, a wild snap evaded Blackburn and bounced around the turf to his right and Hermiston defensive end Eric White pounced on it.
The turnover gave the Bulldogs great field position, which the offense turned into the game-clinching touchdown pass from Andrew James to Dayshawn Neal.
“The ability to have a gut check,” senior safety Joe Gutierrez said of the team’s knack for turnovers. “And that’s when our backs are against the wall, when we need a big play we’ll make it because we’ve just got that in us,”
When all was said and done, Churchill out-gained Hermiston 376-343, scored on all three trips to the red zone, and hung 35 points on the Bulldogs.
But the Lancers are the ones taking home a second place trophy while the Bulldogs make the 200 mile trip back east with first place because of a detailed preparation and a mindset that was second to none.
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