Bulldogs preparing for playoff push

<p>Hermiston's Cory Adams, 21, carries the ball against Pendleton earlier this season. The Bulldogs play host to Dallas Friday in the first round of the 5A state playoffs.</p>

To the victor goes the spoils. The Hermiston High School football team found that out last week after earning a bye during the play-in round of the 5A state tournament.

As a result the Bulldogs will take on the Dallas Dragons Friday at Kennison Field in a first-round state playoff game. The Dragons, of the Mid-Willamette Conference, enter the game with a 7-3 record after beating the Putnam Kingsmen 48-7 last week.

The Bulldogs opened their season by beating Putnam by the same score.

Hermiston’s Columbia River Conference title clinching win over Pendleton two weeks ago caused the team to jump all the way to seventh in the state’s RPI rankings, giving it a week off and a first-round home game.

Bulldog head coach Mark Hodges said the bye week was extremely valuable this late in the season.

“First and foremost, it’s an opportunity to rest and get everyone healthy,” he said. “Injuries are going to be a factor for everyone down the stretch. The healthier our team can be, the better chance we have at making a deep run.”

Hodges said the bigger issue for his team last week was illness.

“We’ve had a couple of guys come down with the flu,” he said. “That’s tougher to deal with because it could spread to other guys on the team, and you have no idea when it could hit.”

Hodges said the plan during any bye week is to assess how the team has performed and what needs to be improved.

“When you have a week off, it’s important to shore up the little things that could negatively impact the team,” he said. “We can focus much more of our attention on getting better individually.”

The Bulldogs didn’t find out who they would play until this past weekend.

Hodges noted, without knowing who the next opponent would be, the team’s focus was on its own game.

“We worked on a lot of individual drills,” he said. “We knew we’d have this week to prepare for a specific opponent. We took care of business last week, so we could spend our energy getting ready for Dallas.”

Hodges also said the team did a lot of weight training during its bye week.

“We spent a lot of time in there,” he said. “We are usually the under-sized team. We need to combat that by being faster and stronger than our opponents. It’s hard to maintain the workout regimen during the season, so it was nice to get back in there and put some work in.”

The Bulldogs reviewed the game film Oct. 28 and the following two days were used for individual and special teams practice. Thursday was a full-contact inter-squad scrimmage.

“We wanted to stay in hitting mode,” Hodges said. “That was the goal of the scrimmage. Obviously, we don’t want anyone to get hurt, but we wanted to simulate a live game. Fortunately for us, everyone came out healthy.”

Hodges said last week was all about getting his team healthy and also staying sharp.

“It really is a balancing act,” he said. “You want to get your guys some rest, but you also need to keep everyone alert and focused on the task at hand. I think we were able to accomplish both last week.”

Hodges said the team had a productive week of practice.

“The coaches did a great job of teaching last week,” he said. “The guys buckled down and worked hard. Overall, I’m pleased with the week.”

Now that the Bulldogs know who their opponent is going to be for Friday’s game, they are preparing accordingly.

“We’ve gotten a good look at Dallas,” Hodges said. “They’re going to be a tough test for us. They play hard and are physical up front.”

Hodges said the key to stopping Dallas will be stopping running backs David Rebischke and Tim Smothers.

“Those guys run hard,” Hodges said. “Our run defense will certainly have its hands full. It’s going to be a fun challenge for us.”

Hodges said Dallas relies on a lot of misdirection, and containing those plays will be critical for the Bulldogs.

For Hermiston, continuing to balance the running and passing games will spell offensive success.

“We have done a great job all season of mixing in the pass with the run,” Hodges said. “The numbers prove that. We are focusing on doing more of the same. We think that is the best way for us to succeed offensively.”

In a playoff format, higher-ranked teams can sometimes look ahead to their next opponents. Hodges said that isn’t the case with his team as the Bulldogs are locked in on Dallas.

“We are only worrying about this game,” he said. “If we don’t win this one, there is no next game. We’ll worry about the next one on Saturday morning. Right now, we are only focused on beating Dallas.”

The game will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at Kennison Field. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for students. Pre-sale tickets are available at the Hermiston High School Athletic Office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. prior to the game.

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