The Bulldogs will attempt to topple a giant that no other team has budged in almost two years when they face the defending state champions in Sherwood on Friday at 7 p.m.
The undefeated Bowmen (10-0, 7-0 NWOC) have not lost a game since the state playoff semifinals two seasons ago, a streak of 23 games. Sherwood ranks No. 1 in the state for Class 5A and has breezed past opponents in 2011 while looking to repeat their feat from a year ago.
Now the Bulldogs (6-4, 2-1 CRC), a No. 8 seed in the playoffs, must do what two dozen squads before them failed in doing for their season to continue. On paper, the task looks daunting, but Hermiston coach Mark Hodges isn’t crowning the Bowmen quite yet.
“I think we’ve got more than a little bit of hope, I think we’ve got a lot of hope,” Hodges said.
Putnam is no Sherwood, Hodges said, but the Bulldogs are playing near the top of their game again — a place Hodges feels the team has fallen short of in the last few weeks.
The Bulldogs strayed from their usual in two straight losses previous to the Putnam win. Early deficits kept the ball out of running back Bobby Adams’ hands. Adams, class leader in rushing with 1968 yards, is at the center of the Hermiston offense. When he excels, so too do the Bulldogs at putting points on the board and milking the clock.
A young core to the team is to blame for the inconsistency the Dawgs have showed in streaks this season, Hodges said.
“There will be some weeks that we’ll look like a million bucks and other weeks that we’re going to play ugly,” he said. “And that’s kind of the way it’s been all year.”
If the disciplined and grinding Bulldogs show up in Sherman, a close battle isn’t out of the question. They’ll need to play a near-perfect game for an upset to stay on the table, Hodges said, because Sherwood is a team that almost never makes game-changing mistakes. The Bowmen outscored opponents at a 3-1 clip this season while simply controlling games on both sides of the ball.
The numbers favor Sherwood in this matchup and Hodges knows that. But no team can win a state title without beating some very good football programs, he said, and his players are excited for an opportunity to do just that.
“If you want to be a champion, you’re not just competing against Eastern Oregon,” Hodges said. “Who you’re really competing with is the Portland and Eugene teams, state wide. That’s who you’re thinking of when you get in the weight room and prepare.”