HERMISTON — The Hermiston football team forced the Lava Bears to bend to their will last week in the Bulldogs’ biggest win of the season. This week’s opponent won’t be so easily subdued.
The Bulldogs (2-2) will hop the Columbia River today for a road game with the Southridge Suns (4-1) at Neil F. Lampson Field in Kennewick, Wash., the 13th-ranked team in Washington’s 3A classification.
Southridge’s first three wins, which put them on a 3-0 path at the season’s start, came by a total of seven points, including two fourth-quarter scores in comeback fashion. To Hermiston coach Mark Hodges, that screams mental toughness, a scary combination when matched with the size and speed the Suns boast.
“Defensively their front seven is tremendous, getting off the ball like we have not seen this year and bringing a lot of pressure,” Hodges said. “It’s going to be a wham-bam game for sure. It’s going to be an interesting game and we’re going to find out how tough we are because we know they’re tough.”
The Bulldogs haven’t struggled scoring points this season. Hermiston drops an average of 32 each game. Offensive possessions have been more fluid recently as sophomore quarterback Chase Knutz continues to develop as both a passer and a game manager.
Knutz threw for three touchdowns last week in a 36-6 pounding of Bend, the second time this season the quarterback has achieved the feat. Even for Knutz, his adjustments through four games are noticeable.
“It’s slowed down a lot definitely, especially since the spring game against Pasco (Wash.),” Knutz said of the speed of the action. “It’s a lot better to know what’s coming, don’t get nervous anymore and I can just go out there and do what I do.”
A one-two punch of a running game has helped that development along. Last week Cory Adams rushed for 98 yards and Trenton Anteau added 84 more and two scores to balance the Bulldogs’ attack.
On the Southridge side, getting Suns’ running back Kadin Diaz rolling down hill will be the focus of coach Tony Reiboldt. The Suns aren’t normally a huge yardage producing team, but Diaz, an aggressive runner who carries just under 200 pounds to go with the football, will bust through some teeth to ram it down opponents’ throats. He scored twice and ran for 144 yards in last week’s 40-0 blowout of Pasco.
But the Bulldogs can’t just key in on the run game, Hermiston cornerback Costa Rodriguez said. A round table of quarterback options for Southridge work the play-action pass with deceptive persistence. Signal callers Grant Lathim and Conner Griggs have taken turns filling the hole after three-year starter Matt Mendenhall graduated last spring.
“Our secondary is definitely going to have to play a key game,” said Rodriguez, a junior who’s intercepted a pass in each game this season. “We play pass first but then it’s rally to the run, make sure they don’t do no trickery stuff.”
The Bulldogs will have an eye out for trick plays after Bend burned Hermiston on a misdirection play on the first snap last week, setting up the Lava Bears’ only touchdown.
For Hermiston, the Southridge contest is the last game before the Columbia River Conference season. A grueling preseason has done just what coach Hodges had hoped, toughen up the boys for a run at the OSAA playoffs.
“You’re just looking overall to become more consistent,” Hodges said. “And the other thing is to keep developing your depth ... We’ve got to be ready and of course getting everything fine-tuned before you start getting into the playoffs. And that’s where we plan on being.”
Lowly The Dalles Wahtonka (1-3) is up first for Hermiston in CRC action on Oct. 12 at home.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.