BY ERIK SKOPIL
EO MEDIA GROUP
There was no particular reason senior Dylan Caldwell was the first Hermiston football player to ever lay a rightful hand on the 5A state football championship trophy.
Amid the blur of celebration, the burly left tackle has only proximity to thank.
“I just saw that thing and I wanted to grab it,” he said.
Surrounded by his jubilant teammates, Caldwell posed for photos — images that will undoubtedly hang from the Hermiston football office walls in the coming days— with the state-shaped memento grasped tightly to his chest.
Soon enough the trophy made its way around to his teammates.
“It felt like gold,” said Sam Colbray the state championship game’s most valuable player.
“Just amazing. No other way to put it,” senior Carson Morter said.
“We’ve been working a long time for that,” Caldwell added.
Seven years, if you ask head coach Mark Hodges.
Hodges said the 34-12 victory over top-seed Silverton was right on time.
“I don’t know why, the No. 7 just kept popping in my head all the time,” he said gripping the state championship football. “It felt like we could do it in seven years ... We’ve been knocking on the door and showing flashes over the years. We never could really say we had a championship level team. Now we can say we have a championship level team.”
The Bulldogs (12-1) certainly looked the part on Saturday afternoon at Hillsboro Stadium.
Silverton (12-1) had not trailed during a game all season. On Saturday, they never led.
A Luis Medina 28-yard field goal on the game’s opening drive gave the Foxes their first deficit in 13 games. The Bulldogs continued to build the lead, scoring touchdowns on the next two drives on passing strikes from senior quarterback Chase Knutz to Ethan Snow and Cole Smith.
“We had to get the ball down and put it in the end zone,” Hodges said. “We could see, especially when we got up by 10 ... this look of shock. They didn’t know how to play from behind.”
Knutz was as proficient as he’d been all season in the opening quarter, completing 9-of-13 passes on three scoring drives against a defense that was allowing just six points per game this season.
“They were supposed to be the best defense in the state and I think we definitely had something to say about that,” he said. “We’re not going to back away from anything. We’re not going to bow down to them because they’re supposed to be good. We’re going to do our thing.”
Silverton responded with 10 points in the second quarter before another Luis Medina field goal made it 20-10 at the half.
For the second consecutive week, senior Carson Morter made a critical play on the first drive of the second half. After scoring a 62-yard touchdown reception versus Marist in the semifinals, Morter snagged an errant throw by Silverton quarterback Cole Chandler, ending the Fox threat and giving the Bulldogs the ball at their own 12-yard line.
That’s when the hungry Bulldogs offensive line got their fill. Hermiston munched on nearly 10 minutes of clock on an 18-play, 88-yard drive. Seventeen of those plays came on the ground — 15 on the legs of state champion wrestler Sam Colbray, as the Bulldogs zapped the Foxes will.
“We were worn down ourselves, but we just had it in our heads that if we kept pushing, we’ll get this,” Caldwell said. “That just took all of the momentum and air out of them — literally the air out of them. They were done and tired.”
“That’s a championship level drive,” Hodges said. “We went down and it was our weight room versus their weight room. That’ s what it was.”
Colbray capped off the drive with a six-yard run behind the right side of the line.
The junior finished the day with 118 yards — 62 on that one drive — to earn the MVP honor.
“We came in here thinking we were going to have a good a performance and it all pulled through,” he said.
“It’s awesome knowing that if we get our blocks or even if we miss one guy that he’s going to barrel them over,” Caldwell said of the sturdy runner. “He really is a train out there. He’s hard to stop.”
Knutz finished 15-for-27 yards and three touchdowns — his third a 34-yard strike to Morter. Knutz spread the ball between four receivers, with senior Keegan Crafton leading the way with six catches for 73 yards.
Soaked in Gatorade, state championship football tucked under his arm, it wasn’t hard for Hodges to ruminate on what the day meant.
“It was a decade or two ago that Hermiston was considered an also-ran, a doormat, a laughing stock. They’re not saying those things anymore. We’re for real.”