Bulldogs prepare for Bucks

<p>Hermiston senior running back Costa Rodriguez runs the ball against Hood River Friday. Costa had 146 yards rushing and two touchdowns as the Bulldogs beat the Eagles 60-34.</p>

It all comes down to this in the Columbia River Conference: The Hermiston Bulldogs will face the Pendleton Bucks at 7 p.m. Friday in Pendleton for the conference championship. Both teams are 2-0 in the conference after dispatching of the Hood River Eagles and The Dalles Eagle Indians earlier this season.

Bulldog head coach Mark Hodges knows his squad faces a tough challenge.

“We are always going to get Pendleton’s best effort,” he said. “Our guys must match that intensity.”

Hodges said the key to stopping Pendleton starts with the Bucks’ passing game and limiting mobility of senior quarterback Chad McCoy.

“First and foremost we have to contain the quarterback,” Hodges said. “He does a pretty good job of extending plays with his feet. He can create something out of nothing.”

The Bulldogs have faced multiple dual-threat quarterbacks this season, and Hodges said those previous games have helped his team understand how to play against the type of offense they’ll go up against Friday.

“There are more of these running quarterbacks out there today than there has been before,” he said. “We’ll be prepared for what the Bucks are going to throw at us.”

For the Bulldogs, offensive consistency is what they’ll need to win the game.

“Taking care of the football is critical,” Hodges said. “If we can put together complete drives, and if we don’t turn the ball over, good things will happen.”

The Bulldogs didn’t turn the ball over against Hood River last week. Hodges said he hopes for a similar performance from his offense against the Bucks.

Both teams will be looking to end the regular season on a high note as they prepare for the playoffs.

“We certainly want to be gaining momentum as the postseason begins,” Hodges said. “It’s all about playing your best football when it matters most.”

Friday night’s match-up also has serious playoff implications as both teams are right in the middle of a muddled playoff picture. The top 24 ranked teams at the end of the season get into the state playoffs. Teams 1-8 get a first round bye, with teams 9-24 playing a play-in game to cut the field to 16. The teams with the higher ranking get to host the play-in round game. Pendleton and Hermiston currently sit at 13 and 14 respectively. A loss could push either out of the top 16, forcing them to go on the road for the play-in game.

Hodges said he tries not to worry about things out of his control.

“Our focus is going to be on Pendleton,” he said. “If we go out and take care of business, the rankings will take care of themselves. We just want to play a good football game. Then we’ll see where we shake out after that.”

The Bulldogs are coming into Friday’s contest riding high after cruising to a 60-34 homecoming victory against Hood River last week.

Hermiston was once again aided by a stellar running attack as the Bulldogs amassed 256 yards and five touchdowns on the ground as a team. Senior Costa Rodriguez led the way with 23 carries for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

Hodges credited the play of his offensive line for creating open running lanes for his ball carriers.

“It always starts with offensive line play,” he said. “Our guys were able to control the line of scrimmage, and that really makes it easier for our running backs to find open space.”

Senior offensive lineman Armando Garcia returned to action Friday for the Bulldogs after sitting out multiple weeks because of an injury. Hodges said Garcia’s return was a major reason for the improved ground game.

“We certainly missed him while he was gone,” Hodges said. “We are all glad he is back and healthy.”

Hodges said he liked the effort his squad gave in the week of practice leading up to the game against Hood River and the game itself. The Bulldogs battled effort issues earlier in the season, Hodges said.

“We had a good week of practice and that translated out onto the field,” Hodges said. “We came out fiery. We executed and finished drives. I’m pleased with the performance overall.”

Quarterback Chase Knutz completed 17-of-31 pass attempts for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Hodges praised the play of his junior quarterback.

“I thought Chase played a solid game,” Hodges said. “He threw an accurate deep ball. It’s something he’s worked a lot on in practice throughout the year. It’s nice to see him execute that in a game.”

Senior wide receiver Ramon Contreras caught six of Knutz’s passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Hodges said Contreras’ experience as a basketball player has helped elevate his play.

“He has a great understanding of spacing,” Hodges said. “He always seems to find the open spots on the field. I think basketball has given him the ability to see the field more so than others.”

There were multiple stars on the offensive side of the football for the Bulldogs. Senior running back Trenton Anteau scored two rushing touchdowns while sophomore Sam Shields-Colbray had five carries for 60 yards and a touchdown of his own.

Hodges said the key to any program’s success is having depth at important positions.

“We always strive to build depth at the running back position,” he said. “A lot of our guys play both offense and defense. In order to keep them rested we have to split up the carries. It keeps them fresh throughout the game, and it gives more people an opportunity to gain some experience.”

Junior Cole Smith also had a solid game at wide receiver catching six balls for 108 yards. It was the last home game of the regular season game for the Bulldogs.

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