Hermiston’s playoff hopes hinge on Friday’s game

It’s all pretty simple. Hermiston beats Kamiakin on Friday, it is in the playoffs. Lose, and the Bulldogs miss the playoffs.

That’s how things are shaking out in the Mid-Columbia Conference 3A race for two playoff spots. Southridge already is out of the loop, but Hermiston (6-2 overall, 5-2 MCC), Kamiakin (4-4, 4-3) and Kennewick (5-3, 4-3) still have something to play for.

“This is huge,” Hermiston senior receiver/defensive back Jordan Ramirez said of Friday’s game at Kennison Field. “To lose, that would suck big time after all the work we put in.”

Kennewick, which has beaten Hermiston and Kamiakin, already has a berth locked up, but seeding still is on the line. If Hermiston wins Friday, it would have the top seed by virtue of a better league and overall record. A Kamiakin win would give the Lions the top seed and the Braves would be No. 2.

“Win and go on, that’s pretty much it,” Hermiston coach David Faaeteete said. “Kamiakin is a tough team. They are physical and they have a good running back. Our run defense has been our Achilles’ heel.”

Kamiakin, which won the 3A state title in 2016, is looking to get back on the big stage.

“You tell the kids the No. 1 goal is to make the playoffs,” Braves coach Scott Biglin said. “This is it. We have to win this one to go on.”

Ramirez and quarterback Andrew James are two returning players from last year’s 5A Oregon state championship team.

James, a three-year starter for the Bulldogs, said they have been watching film to learn what they can about the Braves, but ultimately, it will come down to playing their game.

“We just have to keep our composure,” James said. “We have to have a solid week of practice and let people know the importance of this game. The seniors know what’s on the line and know what needs to be done.”

The Bulldogs kept themselves in the playoff hunt with a huge 42-35 overtime win over Hanford last week.

Hermiston gave up a lot of yards to the Falcons (408), and Ramirez said they cannot do that again this week.

“We have to step up big time,” Ramirez of the defense. “This will be one of our biggest weeks. We have to help out the offense.”

Kamiakin running back Tuna Altahir has been a threat at times this season, but he only had nine carries for 49 yards last week in a 42-0 loss to Chiawana. On the season, he has 454 yards and three touchdowns.

The Braves are in the middle of the pack when it comes to offense in the MCC, averaging 279 yards per game. They are pretty balanced with the run (962 yards) and the pass (1,276), but know they will have to have an outstanding game to keep pace with the Bulldogs.

“We are struggling a bit offensively to find our identity,” Biglin said. “You have to have more than one guy. Tuna is great — he is one of the best — but we are working through some things.”

Hermiston running back Wyatt Noland is due for a new set of cleats after churning out 1,344 yards and 21 touchdowns in eight games. James is no slouch either when it comes to running the ball. He has 551 yards and 10 touchdowns to his credit.

“They have a good running back and an equally good quarterback,” Biglin said. “They are a good 1-2 punch. You had better bring your lunch pail, it will be a long night.”

In the air, James has thrown for 1,149 yards and 10 touchdowns - 365 of those yards have gone to Ramirez, who has scored four touchdowns.

“Our line has been getting better every week,” James said. “They are getting to the point where they know what needs to be done.”

Faaeteete appreciates what Noland and James do on offense, but last week when he put Noland in at defense end for a few plays here and there, the game took on a different look.

“Every time we put him on the field, he brings a different dynamic,” Faaeteete said. “We will mix him in. Defensively, we have to get better and be more consistent. They will have four good plays, then look like dog feces.”

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