HRV football coach Mitch Sanders and his players understand what's at stake in their final three Mt. Hood Conference games.
Three wins and they're headed to the playoffs for the third straight year. Two wins, and they have to hope another team loses to help them get in.
But this gritty, senior-dominated team doesn't want help from anyone. They want to do it on their own.
With two of the Eagles' final three games against teams they should beat -- Reynolds and Sandy -- and the other against a tough Gresham squad that also enters the final three weeks in a must-win situation, HRV needs to recapture what it did against Central Catholic and run with it -- literally.
Like Hood River, Gresham has had a topsy-turvy year. They have beaten some strong teams, including first-place David Douglas Oct. 11, and Centennial on Sept. 28. But they also lost to Barlow, a team few prognosticators gave much of a chance to this year.
On the flipside, Hood River beat Barlow somewhat handily, but lost to Centennial and David Douglas, showing just how evenly matched the MHC is in 2001.
That's why Sanders and the Eagles aren't looking past this Friday's opponent, Sandy. Though the Pioneers have yet to win a game this year, they have only been blown out once -- a 42-13 loss to Central Catholic on Sept. 28 -- and consistently put points on the board.
They rely on a well-polished passing game led by 2001 second-team all-league quarterback Ryan Thorson (6'6", 200, Sr.) and his two primary targets, Tommy Skipper (6'3", 190, Jr.) and Mike Burri (5'11", 175, Sr.).
Thorson threw for 1,400 yards last year and is being looked at by many Pac-10 schools. He certainly doesn’t want to end his senior year winless, so look for the Pioneers to come out firing against the Eagles' secondary.
HRV will have cornerback Isidro Bello back in the fold on Friday after he sat out last week's game for disciplinary reasons. Safety/wing back Wes Martens may also rejoin the team, but the status of his ankle injury is day-to-day.
The team missed Bello and Martens dearly against a run-and-gun Centennial offense that put up 460 yards -- 258 through the air -- last Thursday. Sanders explained that the Eagles were forced to shift players to new positions and use some younger players to fill holes.
That shouldn't happen again this week. If Martens and Bello can continue to play the way they have all season, HRV is a much different team. Besides their defensive exploits, both players have been integral to the Eagles' smash-mouth offense.
Two players who stepped up in their absence last week were junior Ryan Flory and senior David Fox. Flory played tough defense in the secondary and also ran the ball eight times for 50 yards.
Fox also got involved on both sides of the ball, but his most memorable play was a draw play up the gut for a 31-yard score in the fourth quarter.
Sanders was impressed with the contributions of both Flory and Fox, and said it would be difficult to keep them out of the backfield Friday.
Despite the Centennail loss Oct. 11, Sanders was pleased that his team didn't give up and played physical until the final gun. He is confident that if they continue to pound opponents into submission, they will achieve their preseason goal of making the MHC playoffs.
HRV begins its new three-game season Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Sandy at Henderson Stadium, and travels to Gresham Oct. 26.