HERMISTON — A river of colors invaded the empty black sky above Kennison Field, painting the faces of Hermiston High students and football fans like a canvas. The pyrotechnics show was the staple of a homecoming celebration at halftime of Hermiston’s game against The Dalles Wahtonka on Friday.
But the bright lights and balls of fire were hardly the first show of the night. The Bulldogs had already pumped the crowd full of oohs and aahs by waltzing out to a 41-0 halftime lead when the play on the field was more jammed with fireworks than the dark sky ever could be.
The rout started with a boom as senior Alex Ortiz provided the first lit fuse with a punt return touchdown following the Eagle Indians’ opening drive. Without even needing an offensive snap, the Dawgs’ scoring war path was set ablaze as Ortiz, an explosion personified, took a punt for 70 yards to the end zone.
The return was like a spark into a pile of hastily stored barrels of gunpowder as Hermiston would score on its first three offensive possessions, too. But Ortiz, the dynamite that broke the mountain’s back, wasn’t even supposed to be on the field for that punt.
“I’m not the punt returner, they just threw me in there,” said Ortiz, who only took one kick in the game. “They just throw me out there randomly just once or twice per game and see how it goes.”
Ortiz’s scoring scamper took 15 seconds to transpire, but many of the Bulldogs’ ensuing trips to the end zone weren’t much longer than that. Setting aside an 11-play drive on their next possession, one that ended with a 4th-and-goal, one-yard plunge for a touchdown from Trenten Anteau, the Bulldogs scored two touchdowns using a combined three plays to finish out the first quarter.
Hermiston’s scoring strikes had the speed of a jab but came with the power of a haymaker. When their drives stretched long enough to allow it, head coach Mark Hodges continued to employ an up-tempo play calling strategy. For the scheme’s third week in Hermiston, huddles were rare and the results were rocking.
“We don’t call that hurry up, we just call it tempo,” he said. “We tried to do it the whole game and we did it through a half against Southridge (in last week’s 42-13 victory) ... It’s something we’ve been slowly working into our repertoire.
“We feel like we’re really fit, that we’re in good shape. Our conditioning level is really good and so we have the kind of team, the kind of maturity and fitness level that we can keep a really fast tempo and wear down the defense a little bit.”
The Bulldogs outgained The Dalles Wahtonka (1-5, 0-1 CRC) in yardage 326 to 145, with 124 yards coming on the ground from Anteau. The junior only carried the ball 13 times and three of those went for touchdowns. Anteau filed his runs into one of two categories. He either trucked through defenders leaving stray bodies in his wake or the back barely touched a soul while running through holes as wide as the field itself.
He could have added another touchdown, this one receiving, when he took a beauty of a dump-off screen and rumbled for a huge gain and score in the first half, but that play came back on a block in the back. The block, a clean one from lineman Damian Martinez, was less in the back and more about knocking the would-be tackling back in time. But the run came back anyway.
“We love to run that little screen, that’s my favorite play really,” Anteau said. “Especially when you have a wide open, good offensive line to block down and get into the end zone.
“Everything is going to get called back every now and again, there’s always messed up plays,” he added, shrugging off the call.
Quarterback Chase Knutz got into the scoring action through the air — a 27-yarder to Ortiz — to go with his 153 yards passing before the subs came in early in the third quarter. A running clock kept the Dawgs from racking up too many yards in the second half when they accounted for only 55 on offense.
Knutz also had a rushing touchdown, as did running back Cory Adams. The final Hermiston score of the game came from kicker Ramon Contreras. The defensive back and special teams’ specialist missed one of his six extra points Friday, but also hit a 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
The Eagle Indians’ running back Nolan McCall scored his team’s only touchdown with 3:20 remaining in the game. The run went for 43 yards, a good chuck of his game-total 71, and came against second-string defenders.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.