After a long nine weeks, the Hermiston football team will begin its run at a last chance for an Oregon state title.
The Bulldogs ended the season on a hot streak, winning six in a row to claim a 7-2 record.
Last week’s win over Pendleton highlighted the progress they have made over the season, and after the math worked out in Hermiston’s favor, the experienced group was seeded higher than it expected.
“We’re excited about that” head coach David Faaeteete said. “They are jumping at the bit. We’re excited, but being a three seed team also comes with challenges. You can’t overlook any opponents, because every team in the playoffs is a good team and every team has a winning record.”
Hermiston will have home-field advantage in Round 1 of the playoffs Friday when it hosts the La Salle Falcons at 7 p.m.
La Salle is going to make the three-hour trip fresh off a loss last week. The Falcons (5-4) were bested by Wilsonville 44-20 after allowing five touchdowns on the ground. The loss, however, is not indicative of La Salle’s season.
“They are an athletic football team that is very balanced in their offensive attack,” Faaeteete said after studying film on the Falcons. “But we match up pretty well across the board. They have got quite a few guys that are bigger than our guys, but that’s the story of the season.”
The Falcons defensive efforts have been led by a trio of seniors, linemen Tony Huynh and Ben Wease and linebacker Chris Bianca, whose combined mass is 650 pounds. They have given up 203 points on the season, one of the lowest totals of any No. 3 seeded team in Class 5A — only Pendleton has given up fewer (168).
Their efforts propelled La Salle to a blowout victory in Week 7 when they defeated St. Helens 45-6, and played a big role in two back-to-back wins in Weeks 3-4 — including a 41-31 comeback victory over Hillsboro in which the Spartans were held scoreless in the second half.
But shutting out Hermiston will be no easy task. The Bulldogs pack an offensive punch that has led to four wins by 25 points or more and have scored in 27 of 36 quarters this season.
With quarterback Andrew James at the helm, La Salle cannot leave a single stone unturned when preparing for this week’s match up.
James is good for 1,608 yards in the air and a whopping 874 on the ground. His ability to scramble, bob and weave through defenders has extending the minutes Hermiston’s offense is on the field. And even when they aren’t, the defense is just as potent.
La Salle senior Justin Owens and junior Ethan Edgerly have traded starts at quarterback, and have both relied on senior receiver Tae Brooks. Brooks is to La Salle’s offense what Dayshawn Neal is to Hermiston’s, and the scoring charge in the wins over Putnam, Hillsboro, and St. Helens — recording a punt return of a touchdown against Putnam and turned his only two receptions into scores against St. Helens.
But with a Hermiston defense that has 12 interceptions of the course of the regular season led by Gutierrez’s five, La Salle’s pass game will have to be sharp to beat the Dawgs.