HEPPNER — The Oakridge Warriors floated passes through Heppner’s defensive secondary with ease to start the teams’ first-round playoff game Saturday, like the footballs were filled with helium. Oakridge quarterback Austin White nestled balls safely in the arms of his receivers for big gains and the Warriors let out a war cry by taking a 14-8 lead in the first quarter.
But as soon as the Mustangs got their bearings, Heppner squeezed the air of Oakridge’s balloon. Behind six straight touchdown drives, the Mustangs turned a once-close contest on its head and whipped the Warriors 55-29 in Heppner.
After White, a senior pass thrower, started the game 7-for-14 with 112 yards and two touchdowns, including a 42-yard scoring strike, in his team’s first five drives. The Warriors only managed 43 yards through the air after that. The rest of White’s day was filled with pressure, a pair of quarterback sacks and an reciever-miscommunication interception.
And while Oakridge (4-6) was suddenly struggling — the Warriors wouldn’t score again after their 21-14 lead until two minutes remained in the game — Heppner caught fire like that helium had been replaced by hydrogen.
Over a 16-minute span of game time square in the center of Saturday’s contest, the Mustangs (8-3) re-established themselves as a team to watch in the Class 2A playoffs.
In less time than it takes to catch a sitcom re-run, Heppner fired off scoring drives like lightning bursts to take a 55-21 lead.
The Mustangs answered White’s second Oakridge touchdown pass with a kick return back to midfield by Jesse Corbin. Then on the first play from scrimmage, Heppner quarterback Stephen Thompson slung a screen pass out to his left. Running back Aidan Wright did the rest for a 50-yard touchdown, a response only 20 seconds in the making.
The Mustangs’ defense forced a thee-and-out on the next Oakridge possession and this time Heppner needed a full three offensive plays to reach the end zone. Though the drive started at their own 19-yard line, a pair of runs and a 69 -yard scoring toss to Brian Rill gave the Mustangs the lead for good with a minute to play in the half.
“We knew we could catch them off guard,” Wright said of the long scoring plays, two of only five passing plays by Heppner on the day. “We hurried up and extended there and their safety didn’t come shift to that. That opened it all for many, many yards.”
Wright would finish the day with 142 rushing yards on 19 carries and two scores on the ground. Fellow back Earl Propheter also had a pair of scoring plunges, and Jared Lemmon and Tommy Bredfield added one apiece in backup duty.
The Mustangs’ other score, their first of the day, came on a fumble recovery near the Oakridge goal line. After a beauty of a punt pinned the Warriors inside their own 10-yard line, Heppner defenders stripped the ball from running back Brody Edmunds in the backfield and Propheter scooped it up at the five for an easy jog into the end zone.
The Mustangs have won four straight games since a Blue Mountain Conference loss to Stanfield on Oct. 12 — their lone league defeat this season. Second-seeded Heppner will play at home again next weekend against No. 3 Portland Christian, another team with a strong passing attack.
The Royals (10-1) took apart Stanfield 55-21 on Friday night behind five passing touchdowns from their quarterback, Steven Mumford. The Oakridge game will serve as a perfect warmup for Portland Christian’s passing prowess, said Thompson, who also plays safety for Heppner.
“Our pass defense, we haven’t been tested, I don’t think, like this all year. It was really good, a little bit of growing pains but it was nice to see,” he said.
“What I was just thinking about was after we lost to Stanfield we kind of came out and went on a little tear,” Thompson added. “We kind of used that as a wake up call and I think we can use the first half of this game to kind of show that we need to focus a little bit but we can get it done.”
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (541) 966-0839.