Dawgs prepare for Putnam

<p>Hermiston quarterback Jerod Munsterman lets go of a pass during a high school football game Friday against Davis. Munsterman, filling in for injured starter Alex Campbell, may move back to his wide receiver spot if Campbell is deemed healthy to play. Campbell's status is questionable and he'll be a gametime decision for the Putnam game.</p>

The Hermiston Bulldogs have one mission when the Rex Putnam Kingsmen come to town Friday — stop Deshawn Stephens.

That will be the charge to the Dawgs’ defense this week, and judging from Monday’s practice, Hermiston head coach Mark Hodges said he feels pretty good about the possibility of doing that.

“We had the best practice since the Hood River week,” Hodges said. “There was definitely a pep in their step. We had energy.”

It’s going to take quite a bit of energy for the Dawgs to wrangle the Kingsmen’s superstar, who was moved to quarterback from wide receiver in Week 6 after Max Bailey went down with an injury.

In recent games, Stephens has been everywhere for the Kingsmen. In a triple-overtime thriller with Liberty, Stephens scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to get Putnam back in it.

He also found the end zone in the second overtime period.

He carried the ball 21 times for 131 yards and threw for 126 more in the 33-30 loss, so it’s pretty easy to see why Hodges is gearing his gameplan around containing the talented junior.

“He is the most exciting guy on the field, it doesn’t matter who they play,” Hodges said. “He’ll be dangerous all night. It’s going to take great team defense to stop him.”

And quite frankly Hermiston hasn’t played the best defense the past couple times out. After being lit up by Davis for 61 points last week, along with the loss to Pendleton two weeks ago, Hodges said the defense is going to have to earn its keep Friday night.

“We gotta get defensive pride back this week,” Hodges said.

Putnam, coached by Brad Lewman — a guy that Hodges describes as “real intense with tons of experience” — runs a variation of the zone read out of a shotgun formation. 

The spread offense that’s dictated on defensive line reads by the quarterback caters to the phenomenal skill-set Stephens possesses.

“They run a lot of zone read and QB counter with Stephens,” Hodges said. 

And it’s not done there. Stephens is an animal on special teams. He ran a punt back 70 yards for a score against Milwaukie, and perhaps more impressively, ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns against the state’s No. 1 team — the Sherwood Bowmen.

Both returns were 90 yards or further, and Stephens literally just ran away from people.

“He’s got long speed,” Hodges said. “He’ll be one of the top two or three players recruited in Oregon next year.”

While the Kingsmen’s record is far from glamourous at 3-6, they play one of the toughest Class 5A leagues in the Northwest Oregon Conference. Hodges knows that and isn’t about the let the six tallies in the loss column think this ballgame is already in hand.

“They are the best 3-6 team you’re going to see,” he said. “They play hard and will play with a high level of intensity.”

Defensively, they are small and undersized, similar to the Hermiston defense. They are also fast like the Hermiston defense, Hodges said, but the Dawgs have played teams with bigger defenses and pushed them around in the trenches.

Hodges said the running game will again be at the forefront, anchored by the O-Line and Class 5A’s top rusher, senior Bobby Adams.

“Obviously, everything builds off the run for us,” Hodges said. “We still need to shore up our playaction passing game and 3-step passing.”

It is unclear who will start at quarterback for the Dawgs on Friday. Junior Jerod Munsterman had to step in and take the snap last week after sophomore starter Alex Campbell went down with a concussion late in the Pendleton game.

Alex Ortiz will be available this week after sitting out a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons last week, which will help shore up the secondary and provide another weapon on offense and in the return game.

Hodges is unsure of the status of sophomore sensation Costa Rodriguez. He left the Davis game with a shoulder injury and results of the MRI done on it weren’t immediately known.

The one thing for the Dawgs that is certain, however, is the attitude of the offensive line and its collective knack to create space for Adams.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Kennison Field.

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