HERMISTON — It may have taken 90 years but the Hermiston football program has finally broken into double-digit wins in the cross-county rivalry series with the Pendleton Buckaroos.
The Bulldogs rode their ferocious defense Friday in a victory over the Bucks, the same horse that’s carried them this far in the 2012 race. Linebacker Kevin Hawman provided the final nail in the shoe with a red-zone interception with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game as Hermiston clinched a 28-13 final at Kennison Field.
“Really other than a few breaks, come on man we dominated the game,” Hermiston coach Mark Hodges said. “We took care of business. I mean we were clearly the best team tonight. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
At times, the Bulldog defenders almost looked like they’d been clued in to the Pendleton offensive play. A Hermiston tackler filled every running lane and followed the Buckaroo route runners to the exact spot of the ball over and over again in the first half. Pendleton managed only 55 yards of offense in the first two quarters.
Those perfectly timed jumps of the snap count were no accident, Hermiston senior linebacker David Barnett said. More often than not, they actually did know the play.
“Honestly, I watched a ton of film this week and I could almost call every play that they ran,” said Barnett, who crushed Pendleton quarterback Connor Johnson for 3.5 sacks and also recovered a fumble at the goal line “Their offensive line kind of gave it away and you could tell where the backers were set. You could almost read the play every time. I could call it out and be in the spot where the ball was going to be.”
While the Bulldogs’ defense was chewing up the Bucks and taking their lunch money, Pendleton's D’ went punch for punch with Hermiston at first. Through a quarter, neither team had mounted any offense as the schools traded punts.
Bulldog punter Jerod Munsterman got all of his work in by the end of the first quarter with five punts on five drives. Like slumbering Dawgs eventually roused by a ruckus, Hermiston pulled away quickly with touchdowns on the ensuing four drives to build a 28-0 lead a play into the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Chase Knutz threw for a pair — a 10-yard fade in the end zone to Alex Ortiz and a 21-yard strike to Cole Smith — while running back Trenten Anteau punished any body put in front of him for a pair of short scoring jabs.
Anteau would finish with 149 yards on 37 of Hermiston’s 46 total rushing carries. The junior back was understandably worn down by the end of the contest, cracking a slight smile and mumbling with a little less excitement than the Bulldogs’ regular-season ending victory might warrant.
“I’m sore, man,” he said. “But we’re feeling great. We’re going to go to the playoffs, we’re going to make a run so we’re happy about that.
“We wanted it for the seniors since they’ve never won (against Pendleton) and they’re a big part of our team,” he added. “They’re our leaders and we thought we’d play for them and they’d play for us.”
Just when it looked like the Bulldogs were going turn this one into a laugher, Pendleton suddenly reappeared. The Bucks took the ball just seconds into the fourth quarter and began to march the field. A pair of first-down runs by back Dylan Holcomb and some costly defensive penalties against Hermiston had the Bucks inside Hermiston’s two-yard line.
But the Bulldogs again snuffed out the Pendleton flame on Holcomb’s third lost fumble of the game — the one recovered by Hermiston’s Barnett at the one-yard line. The home team didn’t have long to celebrate though when Knutz’s next pass attempt was heavily pressured. The sophomore quarterback tried to dump it off to a running back, instead dropping it right into linebacker Jack Ezell’s bread basket for an interception-return touchdown.
“(Linebacker) Justin Futter was going to get the sack and (Knutz) threw the ball and I just happened to be right there in his face and caught it,” Ezell said. “I think it changed the momentum, it gave us a little bit of pride left. After the touchdown, everybody wanted to go play again.”
With a renewed sense of purpose, but under nine minutes of game time left, Pendleton went with the gamble on the kickoff. An onside kick rolled perfectly past the required 10 yards and the Bucks nabbed the ball to steal another possession.
Pendleton’s senior quarterback Johnson hit three long pass plays on the drive — one that was called back after a block in the back — and found T.J. Hancock open behind the defense for a 46-yard score. The pass came on third-and-23 and put the Bucks back in the game.
Though penalties almost derailed the drive for the Bucks, yellow flags absolutely ravaged Hermiston on Friday. The Bulldogs were called for 11 penalties amounting in 122 yards. The Bucks picked up six first downs in the contest via penalty.
Pendleton committed only four fouls.
Some of the most crucial calls came on the Bucks’ final possession. After fumbling the ball away soon after pulling to within 28-13 — a missed extra point accounting for the score there — Hermiston committed consecutive pass interference penalties. The first negated an interception.
As Pendleton verged on the end zone, though running out of time to make a feasible comeback, Hermiston’s Hawman kept the Bucks off the board with a clinching interception. Pendleton was at the eight-yard line with less than a minute to play and the linebacker picked off his second Johnson pass of the game.
All that was left was the Hermiston victory formation, a kneel down to run out the clock.
“I had it all planned out,” said Johnson of his final throw. “I was going to hit the receiver in the corner but then I saw the guy blitzing so I tried to dump it right there. That linebacker just popped up.”
Johnson finished 18 for 28 with 190 yards and running back Holcomb rushed for 74 yards.
Hermiston will look forward now to the Class 5A playoffs, which start next week with a play-in match. The 10th-ranked Bulldogs will have a home game if their ranking stays at that point. Pendleton (No. 24) is on the verge of missing the postseason and is sitting in the final play-in spot. The rankings froze at midnight Friday.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.