The Bulldogs had the ball in their hands with a 7-point deficit, nearly the full field ahead of them and less than two minutes on the clock.
Despite a valiant effort to score a game-tying touchdown, a trip to the Mid-Columbia Conference playoffs eluded Hermiston on Friday night in a 34-27 loss to Kamiakin.
“It hurts,” said coach David Faeteete after the game. “This was one of those tough ones. We had opportunities, but slipped. It was a mixture of things — they made big plays, and we missed some tackles. But that’s football.”
Hermiston strung together a late drive that included two fourth-down conversions, but quarterback Andrew James and his receivers couldn’t connect on the final four plays. Kamiakin took possession after a fourth down pass fell short and sealed its own trip to the playoffs.
Sophomore Tuna Altahir led the way for Kamiakin, running for 275 yards and four touchdowns.
Hermiston opened the game with a long, plodding drive that included two third-down conversions, but settled for a 31-yard field goal by Juan Carlos Navarrete for a 3-0 lead.
Kamiakin responded with a long drive of its own, but Hermiston’s Zane Davis broke up a would-be touchdown pass on fourth down to get possession back.
Hermiston drove nearly the length of the field, and after two touchdowns were called back on penalties finally found the end zone on a short pass from Andrew James to Youboni Razon. Navarette split the uprights again to give Hermiston a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Kamiakin answered with a quick score on a rushing touchdown by Altahir, but Hermiston blocked the extra point to maintain a 10-6 lead.
Hermiston’s next drive sputtered around midfield, but a punt with a few fortunate bounces pushed Kamiakin back near its own goal line. After three plays, the Braves attempted a punt out of their own end zone but the punter bobbled the snap and the Bulldogs tackled him for a safety and a 12-6 lead.
Altahir then scored a 44-yard touchdown and an extra point put the Braves up 13-12. Hermiston’s next drive ended abruptly when a James pass was picked off, and Kamiakin drove to the 4-yard line. Hermiston held them up on three plays, but on fourth down quarterback Lucas Castilleja found Niko Wiltz in the back of the end zone to give Kamiakin a 20-12 lead which it took into the half as rain began to fall.
Hermiston tied the game 20-20 in the third quarter on an Andrew James keeper, and he added a 2-point conversion on the ground.
Altahir scored on a 63-yard run to put Kamiakin back on top, and scored again with 2:47 left to extend that lead.
A pivotal play happened between the scores when a Kamiakin punt hit a member of Hermiston’s return team in the back, giving the ball right back to the Braves. Despite the bad bounce and back-to-back scores, Hermiston fought back hard.
“I’m proud of our guys for bouncing back,” James said. “We could have quit. It would have been the easiest thing to quit right there, but we came back and made it a game. That makes me happy.”
A screen pass to Wyatt Noland was the capper on the next drive and put Hermiston within reach at 34-27, and the defense forced a punt to keep the game interesting.
“Football is like life,” Faeteete told his team after the game. “Just as everything is going great, it punches you in the face. The lessons we learn from football is an opportunity to end the season right. It’s not the end of the road.”
Hermiston will play in a district crossover game next weekend to end its first season in the Washington conference. James, while disappointed to miss the playoffs in his senior season, said he felt good about the first campaign.
“We showed we could do in Hermiston and we set the stage for all the classes coming up,” he said.
Hermiston Bulldogs (6-3, 5-3) vs. Kamiakin Braves (5-4, 5-3)
Kamiakin 0 20 0 14 34
Hermiston 3 9 8 7 27
7:36 – HHS Juan Carlos Navarette 31 yard field goal 3-0
9:55 – HHS Youbani Razon 3 yard reception from Andrew James (Navarette PAT) 10-0
8:55 – KHS Tuna Altahir 2 yard rush (Kaden Shymanski PAT blocked Jordan Ramirez) 6-10
5:21 – HHS Cody WIzner sack of punter Caesar Salas for safety 12-6
2:11 – KHS Altahir 43 yards (Shymanski PAT) 13-12
0:19 – KHS Niko Wiltz 3 yards reception from Lucas Castilleja (Shymanski PAT) 20-12
4:53 – HHS James 5 yard rush (James 2 pt rush) 20-20
10:56 – KHS Altahir 63 yard rush (Shymanski PAT) 27-20
2:47 – KHS Altahir 11 yard rush (Shymanski PAT) 34-20
2:13 – HHS Noland 18 yard reception from James (Navarette PAT) 27-34
Passing – HHS Andrew James 14-35-1-178-2; KHS Lucas Castilleja 3-10-0-15-1
Rushing – HHS Wyatt Noland 20-107, Andrew James 18-90, Jordan Ramirez 2-14; KHS Tuna Altahir 30-275, Lucas Castilleja 17-74, Kelen Rutz 3-16
Receiving – HHS Jordan Ramirez 7-126, Youbani Razon 2-24, Garrett Walchli 2-5, Wyatt Noland 2-17, Cody Thacker 1-6; KHS Niko Wiltz 1-3, Kelen Rutz 1-14, Woodley Downard 1-(-2)