HERMISTON — On Thursday, head coach David Faaeteete said he was expecting to see a “scary athletic” team when La Salle Prep came to town for Round 1 of the 5A state championship playoffs. And that’s exactly what the Bulldogs and home crowd at Kennison Field saw from the Falcons in the first quarter of Friday’s game.
La Salle scored first and controlled the time-of-possession for much of the first 12 minutes of play. It wasn’t until a 50-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Andrew James to senior wide receiver Joey Gutierrez that set the offense up and led the Bulldogs to a 47-21 victory to advance to the 5A quarterfinals.
“Our guys were real tentative the first quarter for some reason but they woke up final and it started with that touchdown pass down the middle,” Faaeteete said. “It was the perfect call, the right time and it was fun.”
In what James describes as just simply seeing open coverage down the field was not only a catalyst to Hermiston’s 26-point routing of the Falcons (5-5), but a chance for the Bulldogs (8-2) to show off a piece of their offense that hasn’t been on display the past couple of weeks.
“You know we haven’t really shown our vertical game much the last few weeks,” Faaeteete said. “But he (Andrew) did a good job orchestrating the offense tonight and the role players, with Dayshawn (Neal) and Joey and Jordan (Ramirez), stepped up. There were more guys than just Dayshawn touching the ball tonight and it was great to see them competing the way they did.”
Tonight was a rarity in that Neal had as many carries as he did receptions. The star senior wide out had five receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 32 yards on five carries.
Neal’s limited touches down the field helped show off some of the Bulldogs’ hidden gems, like Ramirez. The junior helped extend Hermiston’s lead in the second quarter after a big defensive stop forced La Salle to turn the ball over on downs.
The Bulldogs picked up where the Falcons left off at the 35-yard and on the very first play of that drive James connected with Ramirez for a 35-yard touchdown. It was Ramirez’s second score of the season, and it put Hermiston up 18-7.
James ran in a 19-yard touchdown minutes prior, 2:18 to be exact, to give Hermiston its very first lead of the game. The three consecutive scores couldn’t have come at a better time, because La Salle would find the end zone only once more before halftime to try and chip at its deficit.
The lackluster first quarter was the best football the Falcons played Friday night. The Bulldogs only managed to sneak two drives in, while La Salle’s offense was taking full advantage of the miscue’s from James and crew.
After a long ball from senior quarterback Justin Owens on first-and-10 from his own 36-yard line, the Falcons moved into the red zone and promptly scored to take an early 7-0 lead. Senior running back JJ Menor, one of the best players on La Salle’s roster, carried for a short two-yard run into the end zone.
“We just came out a little soft,” James said. “Like we were earlier in practice this week — we were a little soft and it showed and it also showed us what not to do.”
Hermiston made the proper adjustments and never looked back. The Bulldogs relied heavily on the run, led by senior power house Jonathan Hinkle, and racked up 304 yards on a total of 42 carries. The Falcons only managed to get 123 yards on the ground of 44 carries.
Hinkle not only contributed a touchdown — a 10-yard run to push Hermiston up 33-14 — but he was literally carrying La Salle’s defense on his back in some plays. His 12-yard carry deep in the Falcons’ territory set up James’ quarterback keeper touchdown in the second quarter. But those 12 yards weren’t easily earned.
The 5-foot 10-inch 185-pound backer had at least seven white jerseys on him as he fought his way for those few extra yards to extend the drive.
“Hinkle carried the rock a lot,” Faaeteete said. “He was very physical, and really actually got our guys going. Him running the ball hard and running the ball down hill.”
Hinkle finished with a game-high 129 yards on the ground, but he wasn’t the only one that shined under the Friday night lights.
Junior wide receiver Youbani Razon has been a true asset for Hermiston late this season, and came up big in the fourth quarter with a 33-yard touchdown.
The Bulldogs were working hard to get into La Salle territory for the umpteenth time, and did so to set up a fresh set of downs going into the final quarter. On first-and-10 from the 33-yard line, James didn’t hesitate to find Youbani on the perimeter and as soon as the ball fell into his arms he took it straight to the house.
James finished the night 12-for-21 for 226 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Gutierrez had a team-high 83 yards off just three receptions and one score.
With all of this excitement on offense, the defense definitely didn’t disappoint.
Despite some errors throughout the game, like not wrapping up on a tackle or leaving a hole for Menor to speed through, the Bulldogs proved why they are undefeated at home. They improved to 14 total interceptions on the season after nabbing Owens twice Friday — one was picked off by Gutierrez in the third quarter and the other by senior Peter Earl in the fourth.
Owens did rack up 245 yards in the air after completing 57 percent of his passes, but struggled whenever he left the pocket. He was sacked twice and lost about 15 yards when he decided to keep the ball.
The all-around team effort turned a dreadful first quarter into an inspiring win that will continue the Bulldogs’ final season in the OSAA.
“We’re so excited,” Faaeteete said. “It’s so great the boys will be able to play one more time on their home field in front of their fans and their family. We’re just excited about it and we can’t wait to start preparing — put this one to bed and find out who we are going to play next, and just continuing marching.”
Hermiston will host No. 6 South Albany on Friday after the Rebels (6-4) defeated No. 11 Crater 23-16.
Contact Alexis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.