HILLSBORO — It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.
On Saturday night, the fifth-seeded Hermiston Bulldogs (10-1) toppled fourth-seeded Liberty 19-14 in the quarterfinals of the OSAA 5A football playoffs.
With the win, the Bulldogs have accomplished something that no other team in school history could: reach the state semifinal game.
“It’s the biggest thing ever,” running back Cory Adams said after the game. “Making history and being a part of it definitely, definitely means a lot.”
Similar to the Hermiston’s win over Sandy Nov.7, the Bulldogs (10-1) struggled offensively and relied primarily on a dominant defensive performance.
Columbia River Conference Defensive Player of the Year Trey Neal racked up 3.5 sacks on Falcons quarterback Blake Walker, and teammate Michael Gossler chipped in with two of his own, leading a defense that held the Falcons to minus-11 yards rushing as a team.
Both teams failed to score in the first quarter as neither defense budged, but a Liberty fumble deep in their own territory set up an Adams’ 12-yard touchdown run on the very next play.
He led the Bulldogs offensively with 125 yards rushing on 38 carries.
“After awhile it seemed like we started to find the answers,” Hermiston coach Mark Hodges said. “We had to get into a couple different formation changes and try to attack them in different way. The more we kept working with it, we kind of got some more things figured out and were able to sustain some drives and keep the thing moving.”
Hermiston carried a 7-0 lead into the half but fumbled on its first possession in the second half, which led to Liberty (9-2) tying the game on a Nick Bonat touchdown run.
The Bulldogs responded later in the quarter, this time through the air. Quarterback Chase Knutz connected with Tony Green for a 24-yard touchdown, the only catch the senior had on the night.
Knutz finished 8-for-20 with 91 yards passing, a touchdown and two interceptions.
In the fourth quarter Hermiston added five points on a safety and a Luis Medina 42-yard field goal to make it 19-7.
Liberty stayed alive when Walker, who finished 3-for-9 with 61 yards passing, found Koby Alvarado for a 58-yard touchdown pass, making it a one-score game.
It was too little too late, however. Adams and wide receiver Carson Morter came up with big first downs late that allowed the Bulldogs to run the clock out on the Falcons’ season and advance.
“It was a great win for Hermiston,” Hodges said. “It was a great win for the town of Hermiston, the football program, our football staff and, of course, first and foremost, the players.”
Hermiston will play eighth-seeded Marist on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Hillsboro Stadium.
Hodges hopes that by then they’ll be able to rectify some offensive issues as they make a run at their first-ever championship game appearance.
“The last two weeks the defense has been pulling us out of the fire because we just have not been playing that well offensively,” he said. “We’re having issues, and we have to try and straighten it out. Fortunately, we have another week to go back to the drawing board and straighten some of those issues out.”