KENNEWICK, Wash. — While readying his boys for a clash with Southridge (WA) this week, Hermiston head football coach Mark Hodges knew he’d witness a physical, pounding defense. He expected any mistake would trigger a fury of action back in the other direction — a figurative releasing of the hounds.
Well that all came to life Thursday from Neil F. Lampson Stadium in Kennewick, Wash. But it was the Suns getting torn apart by the Bulldogs and their aggressive defense.
Confidence flowed like a river un-dammed in the Hermiston looker room following the victory. The Bulldogs couldn’t be in better shape headed home for The Dalles Wahtonka (1-3) and the Columbia River Conference opener next week, defensive back Ramon Contreras said.
“Oh, (this win) means a lot to us. We expected this team to be a Sherwood type of team,” said Contreras, referencing Class 5A’s second-ranked Bowmen, whom the Bulldogs lost to 28-35 earlier this year. “We knew they were going to be tough, hard-nosed. When they made mistakes we had to capitalize.”
Though 11 athletes made up the Bulldogs’ fearsome defensive front at any given time Thursday, Contreras and his 5-foot-8 frame stood a head above the rest. With the Suns driving in the third quarter and down just two scores, the junior stole a pass out of the air from Southridge quarterback Conner Grigg, returning it 59 yards to the end zone.
If that weren’t demoralizing enough to a Southridge comeback effort, two possessions later, Contreras provided the final eulogy for the Suns’ funeral. The defender forced attrition on the Suns like a judge and jury when he scooped up a loose fumble — Southridge’s fourth of the game — and took that too back for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense, they’re smart and opportunistic and they play physical football,” coach Hodges said after the game.
That made all the difference, especially when the Bulldogs with the ball struggled to get going at times.
“The offense was a little bit hot-and-cold,” the coach added, focusing on a few turnovers early in the game on the Hermiston side. “We had our opportunities to put the ball in the end zone, especially early there when we could have really thrown a knock-out punch and we didn’t.”
One such occurrence came with three minutes left in the first quarter after the Bulldogs had spotted themselves a 7-0 lead. Running back Trenten Anteau fumbled the ball trying to cross the goal line. He would atone for the mistake later, rumbling for 95 total yards and two scores on the ground.
Anteau and fellow back Cory Adams (64 yards and a touchdown) set the pace for the Hermiston offense. But when they were stuffed at the line, the Bulldogs also had luck on their side.
On a fourth-and-10 play from the Southridge 26-yard line and his team up a slim 14-7, Hodges opted to go for the first-down sticks instead of the uprights and a field goal. The pass play broke down when quarterback Chase Knutz was flushed from the pocket, bootlegging to his right. With only one receiver on that side of the field, Knutz let loose with a poor decision and a pass that flew to the back of the end zone.
Receiver Alex Ortiz, also an all-league basketball forward at Hermiston, was blanketed by two defenders but showed his rebounding prowess by snatching the ball out of the night sky for an improbable touchdown.
The result had even the senior receiver stunned.
“Dude, I have no idea,” he said, trying to replay the moment in his mind. “I really don’t know. I just went up and came down with it and thanked God and made the play.”
Ortiz was the leading pass catcher on the night, grabbing eight for 73 yards while tight end Jerod Munsterman caught three for 74 yards. Knutz finished 17-of-23 at quarterback for 193 yards and the prayer-turned-touchdown to Ortiz.
Southridge’s bowling-ball running back Kadin Diaz led the Suns with 73 rushing yards, but the two scores by the home team came from Grigg, the quarterback, and backup running back Masceo Ealy-Thomas on the ground. Ealy-Thomas took most of the carries in the second half with Diaz on the sideline with an apparent injury.
Grigg was an abhorrent 7-of-20 for only 37 yards and the two picks.
His second errant pass that ended up in Hermiston hands came down in cornerback Costa Rodriguez’s cradle. The junior now has four picks on the year, tops in the 5A classification.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.