HILLSBORO — The day before the No. 3 Hermiston football team’s final game in the OSAA and before the Bulldogs took the field at Hillsboro Stadium to play for the 5A state championship, head coach David Faaeteete said the outcome of the game would be decided in the first four to five snaps.
Well, it took more than five snaps to get the Hermiston offense going but once it caught its stride, there was little stopping the Bulldogs, who took home their second state championship in school history with a 38-35 win over No. 4 Churchill on Saturday evening.
After the Bulldogs (11-2) grinded out the three-point victory, Faaeteete had a picturesque description of the game, the emotions, and what it is like to leave Oregon with a bang.
“It’s one of those things you can’t put into words, it’s an art piece,” he said. “You just look at it and appreciate it for what it is and a picture speaks a thousand words.”
The picture that will be imprinted in the Bulldogs’ minds won’t be of the two fumbles they lost, or the eight third-down conversions they were unable to complete but it will be of the moments that mattered — when big players made big plays.
Hermiston was the first to strike, as senior Jonathan Hinkle carried for 18-yards to the house. The Bulldogs successful opening drive ate up nearly four minutes on the clock to give them the early 6-0 lead, but their defense didn’t have the same luck when it took the field.
A 15-yard face mask penalty advanced Churchill well into Hermiston territory and the Lancers answered quickly with a score of their own. A successful extra point gave the Lancers (12-1) a one-point lead, their only lead of the game.
After the quick scoring drives in the first quarter, the teams traded three-and-outs.
The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again until nearly half way through the second half when senior Keaton Mikami ran in a 6-yard score. There was little stopping Hermiston after that as the Bulldogs went on to score 19 unanswered points.
The previously undefeated Lancers weren’t going to go down without a fight, though, and cut their deficit to 25-14 before the break.
“Churchill is a tough team, you’ve got to give it to them,” quarterback Andrew James said. “They did not back down or let up once.”
Hermiston needed to dig down deep to stop a team that made it to the finals by taking down the top seed, and the Bulldogs did just that once both teams returned to the field.
“It was just our drive,” James said, “it’s that drive that we’ve had since day one, all of the guys, every single one of them. None of them gave up and it showed.”
James and company didn’t back down when the Lancers came out of the half swinging.
Churchill executed on of its first successful deep passes as junior Jack Blackburn connected with senior Lucas Schwin for 46 yards.
The touchdown put the Lancers within four points of tying the game, and after that play the game came essentially came down to who would have the last possession as both teams traded touchdowns.
The game-winning score was a 23-yard corner route into the end zone ran by none other than Neal. That touchdown gave the Bulldogs’ their final score of 38 points and they were able to hold off a last ditch effort from Churchill.
James ended the night 11-of-15 for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Hinkle led both the offense and defense with 116 rushing yards and three scores on the ground and 14 tackles on the other side of the ball. James relied heavily on one of his favorite targets, as Neal was good for 80 yards and two touchdowns off five catches in his final game as a Bulldog.
“This is something else,” Neal said of being a state champion. “It’s crazy to go out on top. I love it.”
Contact Alexis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.