PENDLETON — Trailing by a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Hermiston came to the line with a first and goal from Pendleton’s 7-yard line. A penalty and a few short gains later, the Bulldogs settled for a field goal attempt. And missed.
That drive wasn’t the dagger for the Bulldogs, though. The kill shot came minutes later when Pendleton scored a touchdown to stretch the lead to 26-12 — the final score — giving Pendleton (6-2, 3-0 CRC) the Columbia River Conference title over rival Hermiston (5-3, 2-1 CRC) Friday at the Round-Up Grounds.
Hermiston's Rique Cardenas runs the ball pursued by Pendleton’s Tori Eaton (2) and Austin Stein during the Bulldogs’ 26-12 loss to the Bucks on Friday in Pendleton.
The icing touchdown — a Cain Smith 1-yard blast — pushed the game nearly out of reach. Hermiston’s comeback climb was made all the more steep when starting quarterback Alex Campbell was knocked out of the game with less than four minutes to play on a heavy hit. With Campbell woozily sitting on the bench, 6-foot-9 defensive end Bryan Beard batted down replacement thrower Jerod Munsterman’s pass on fourth down to clinch the victory.
The celebration following the play would rival Pendleton’s post-game party.
The Bulldogs struck first with a Campbell touchdown toss to Alex Ortiz on the team’s opening drive of the game — which started inside the Bucks’ 20 thanks to a blocked punt. Just minutes later, the Buckaroos’ quarterback would answer.
Connor Johnson hit Eaton on a 65-yard touchdown in the first quarter as Eaton streaked behind broken coverage. The throw was a bit long, but Eaton reached out and snagged the ball with one hand in stride.
“It wasn’t meant to be a one-hand, but I had a decision on my part to either jump up, two-hand it and bring it down or risk it all and get it one handed and get us six points,” Eaton said.
Pendleton’s extra point dinged off the upright and the score was tied at 6-6. After another touchdown before the half, the Bucks would never trail again.
Hermiston came within one in the third quarter when Rique Cardenas caught another Campbell touchdown pass, but a failed two-point conversion left them behind 13-12.
Hermiston coach Mark Hodges said the gutsy call for two points was how he approached the whole game — go for the jugular. Had his team punched in the first-and-goal situation in the fourth quarter, he would have tried for two again — despite trailing by just seven.
“I had already made up my mind we were going for two,” Hodges said, “to win the game there.”
The game came with ample slip-ups on both sides. Pendleton committed 16 penalties for 128 yards and Hermiston made 15 for 111 yards. But in the end, the Bucks were more equiped to overcome the mistakes.
“It’s disappointing because we know we didn’t play your best football,” Hodges said. “We know we didn’t play Dawgs football.”
Bulldogs football recently has meant a heavy dose of running back Bobby Adams. Pendleton’s defense held Adams to 80 yards, the first time the back hasn’t eclipsed the 200-yard mark in six weeks.
“Our defense did everything we needed it to do today,” Pendleton coach Mitch Sanders said, pointing to his team’s ability to bottle Adams as a game changer.
The Bulldogs tried to make up for it in the air and Campbell threw for 131 yards and two scores.
For Pendleton, Johnson threw for 225 yards and a touchdown. He only missed on one pass after the half. Half back Dylan Holcomb rushed for 112 yards on 32 carries and a score while Smith rushed for two touchdowns.