HERMISTON — Seven weeks into the season, Hermiston holds on to third place in the Special District 1 but only by a slim one-game margin. As the Bulldogs continue to fight for one of the four qualifying spots to reach playoffs, they now have to go through the league’s top team. Well, one of them.
Bend will make the trip north to Kennison Field on Friday unbeaten in league play. On the season, the Lava Bears (5-1 overall, 4-0 SD1) have only one loss — their season opener against Central — and are currently tied with Mountain View for first place in the district.
The young team has made strides since the 35-6 loss in Week 1 and boast a five-game winning streak, most recently defeating Summit in overtime. Hermiston head coach David Faaeteete knows the Lava Bears will come to town with the will to win, but the Bulldogs (4-2, 3-1) haven’t shied away from success either.
“(Bend) is going to be excited and ready to play,” he said. “The game plan (for us) is the same. We’re going to try to be balanced and do what works, nothing more nothing less.”
What’s been working for Hermiston since its 28-7 loss to Mountain View on Sept. 15 is a balanced offensive attack led by junior quarterback Andrew James.
In its past three wins, the Bulldogs have either reached or eclipsed the 200-yard mark on the ground and in the air. James has completed 85-percent of his passes and has yet to throw an interception since the four he recorded in Week 1.
Hermiston’s season made a turn for the better after it defeated Summit and since that Sept. 12 game, seniors Dayshawn Neal and Jonathan Hinkle have been providing James with support. Neal proves to be James’ favorite target, and is the most reliable receiver on the Bulldogs’ roster. Hes put seven touchdowns on the board with a whopping 603 yards under his belt.
Once the run game is established with the help of Hinkle — who has the second most rushing yards behind James with 396 — James tends to let lose and more often than not it’s Neal he hits.
But it’s high school football, and each Friday comes with a new set of challenges. This week’s will be the dynamic Bend brings.
The Bears had to replace its entire starting offense from last season and nine defensive starters. The inexperience at the varsity level showed in their lone loss but since then a entirely new Bend team has taken the field.
“Anything can happen on Friday night,” Faaeteete said. “Guys just got to execute and we just have to worry about what we’re doing — dot our I’s and cross out T’s. At the end of the day it’s not what they are going to do that’s going to beat us, it’s how we’re going to respond and to react to what’s going on.”
The Bulldogs have struggled responding to opponents who test their defensive line. Hermiston has given up 550 rushing yards in its last three games, 300 of which where allowed in the 48-26 victory over Ridgeview.
Last season, the Bulldogs had no problem containing the Bears in their dominate 28-7 defeat. On its home turf, Bend ended the night with 193 total yards on offense.
This year, Bend has a number of senior running backs that will threaten the progress of Hermiston’s defensive line. None, however, have been as successful as Haakon Kjellesvik lately — who in the past three games ran for a total of 138 yards.
To contain Kjellesvik and Bend’s entire run game the Bulldogs will need to buy in to Faaeteete’s new technique.
“The new technique is just effort, effort and understanding,” he said. “These seniors have got three games left. If you don’t take pride in your craft, it’s going to be a short season.”
A win Friday will give Hermiston a little breathing room, as its next opponent, Redmond, is in second to last place in the league standings.
But if they give Bend too much room to get comfortable and find its rhythm, the Bulldogs will be in trouble.
Kick off is at 7 p.m.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.