By Michael Kane
HERMISTON The visiting Crater Comets took advantage of a lackluster performance by the Bulldogs in the first half to claim a 35-14 victory Friday night at Kennison Field in a non-conference matchup.
The Comets got on the board before Hermiston knew what hit them when senior quarterback Nick Brothers hooked up with wide receiver Bryce Peila on two quick strikes covering 63 yards to put Crater up 7-0 just 24 seconds into the game.
The Bulldogs were anything but sharp in the early going Friday night. They went three-and-out on their first two series before disaster struck on their third possession of the game.
After forcing Crater to punt, Hermiston had the ball on their own 25 yard line. On the first play of the series, senior running back Bryce Fritz fumbled, though the Hermiston sidelines argued that he was down before the ball came loose.
A Crater defender scooped up the football and ran it in for a touchdown to put the Comets up 14-0 with just over 5 minutes left in the first quarter.
Crater increased its lead to 21-0 on a 68-yard scoring drive midway through the second quarter when running back DJ Pree scored on an 18-yard touchdown run.
Hermiston's offense finally found its rhythm late in the half. Fritz and senior quarterback Bill Frost did most of the damage for Hermiston during a 68-yard drive. The key play of the drive was a 25-yard pass from Frost to Fritz. With the ball at the Crater 18, Frost kept it three times, the last good for a 1-yard plunge into the endzone to cut the Crater lead to 21-7.
Unfortunately for Hermiston, the Comets made the most of the final moments of the half, covering 78 yards in less than 2 minutes, scoring on a 20-yard touchdown run by quarterback Josh Lokeno. Hermiston's defense couldn't find an answer for Crater's offense on the drive. Earlier in the drive, Lokeno ran for 14 yards before finding Peila on a 13-yard pass. Pree then scampered 21 yards to set up the Lokeno touchdown run which stretched Crater's lead to 28-7.
Hermiston made a valiant effort in the final 27 seconds of the half. The Bulldogs were able to move the ball 41 yards in about 20 seconds to set up a 40 yard field goal attempt. Luis Ortiz'' kick had the distance, but sailed wide left as the half ended.
The second half opened with neither team able to moved the ball initially. On its second series of the third quarter, however, Hermiston picked up where it left off at halftime.
Starting on their own 2 yard line, Hermiston ate up yards behind the running of Fritz and Mike Holston. The Bulldogs' momentum, however, was cut short when Fritz fumbled for the second time in the game after Hermiston reached the Crater 26 yard line and the Comets recovered.
Leading 28-7 in the third, Crater had the opportunity to bury Hermiston, but couldn't. The Comets moved the ball to the Hermiston 5 yard line before facing a fourth and 4. An attempted Statue of Liberty play went nowhere and Hermiston took over on downs.
The Bulldogs drove into Crater territory, but again the drive was stopped with a turnover when a pass by Frost was intercepted.
Hermiston returned the favor moments later when Austin Thompson intercepted a Comet pass, giving the Bulldogs the ball on the Crater 36. Hermiston found the endzone for the second and final time of the night when Holston ran it in from 10 yards out to cut the Crater lead in half, 28-14.
That was as close as the Bulldogs got, as the Comets had the ball in excellent field position when an attempted onside kick by Hermiston failed to go the necessary 10 yards.
The Comets moved the ball 45 yards and scored on a 24-yard touchdown run by Kenny Fahndrich to complete the night's scoring and give Crater the 35-14 win.
The loss drops Hermiston's overall record to 3-4 and they remain 2-1 in Intermountain Conference play.
The Bulldogs face a critical game next week when they travel to Bend to take on Summit (2-1 in IMC), who was manhandled by IMC leader Mountain View Friday, 58-7. The Bulldogs will have their chance at Mountain View when the host the Cougars on Oct. 26 at Kennison Field before wrapping up the regular season against the Buckeroos in Pendleton.