HERMISTON — Four quarters make one completed entity and its as true in a bank teller’s drawer as it is on the football field — unfortunately for the Hermiston Bulldogs.
Hermiston exploded with a furry of scores in comeback fashion in its home opener against McMinnville on Friday, closing the 35-point halftime gap with 22 points in the fourth quarter. But the team could have used another period and the time proved too short to climb the McMinnville mountain. The Dawgs fell 59-44.
“When you play a 6A-level team, they’re going to play at a whole different speed and a whole different level of aggression,” Hermiston coach Mark Hodges said. “You have to get accustomed to playing at that level and when they come out and smack you hard and fast, you’ve got to recover. And it took us awhile to recover.”
Sophomore quarterback Chase Knutz threw a pair of touchdowns to Jerod Munsterman in that time, scores which bookended one long McMinnville drive. But just as the Griz were knocking on the door on that possession, running back Cameron Marcom was stripped inside the five-yard line and Ramon Contreras scooped up the loose ball for a 96-yard Bulldog touchdown scamper.
Hermiston tried an onside kick after the long run to no avail. But on the first play of McMinnville’s ensuing drive, a botched sweep toss resulted in another ball on the turf that the Bulldogs gobbled up around midfield.
Knutz hit running back Trenton Anteau for 31 yards down the right sideline to get the Dawgs grooving. With under two minutes to play, the quarterback escaped a collapsing pocket, rolling to his left for air. The right-handed thrower squared himself up and hit Munsterman in the left corner for a 25-yard score.
Knutz threw for four touchdowns in the game and 314 yards — 141 yards to his tight end Munsterman. He also threw three costly interceptions, though.
“I personally was thinking we could come back from the start of the half,” said Munsterman, whose team was staring at a 49-14 deficit with two quarters in the books. “That feeling kept rising every minute as we passed.”
But a second failed onside kick, followed by some sure-handed running by the 6A Pacific Conference Griz, ate up the remainder of the clock and McMinnville survived.
Hermiston outgained its opponent in the second half 199 yards to 106 after getting trounced 354 to 173 in that category in the first half.
“At halftime, there was no adjustments offense or defense-wise,” Munsterman said. “We had to just be a different team, come off the ball and smack them in the mouth.”
The late charge from Hermiston came largely with McMinnville’s MVP on the bench. Running back Spencer Payne created headaches for the Bulldogs in the early going, helping build that stinging lead in the first place.
Payne hurt Hermiston in every way, collecting his six touchdowns in numerous forms. The senior Grizzly should have a new statistical feat named for him after scoring touchdowns by rushing, receiving, passing and on defense with an interception return. The first five scores came within the game’s opening 16 minutes.
“Not that many different ways but I have had a game where I’ve scored like that,” the running back said. “I probably should have run back the first punt, too. That one made me mad.”
Payne finished the game with 117 yards rushing on 18 carries, 82 yards on two catches and 34 yards passing, not to mention the 136 return yards on special teams and defense.
His total rounded out at a whopping 369 yards.
“He can do it all, you take that guy off the field and who knows,” Hodges said.
Hermiston’s most explosive player, senior receiver and tailback Alex Ortiz, missed his second straight game after being hospitalized with a virus just days before the season opener.
Anteau took the bulk of the carries in the backfield on offense with Ortiz not in pads, rushing for 73 and a score on 10 carries.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.