Coming off a hard-fought 27-13 win over the Sandy Pioneers last Friday, the HRV football team will look to continue its late-season push against Gresham -- a team fighting for exactly the same thing: a berth in the state playoffs.
Like the Eagles, the Gophers stand at 3-2 in the Mt. Hood Conference, and need to win Friday's game to stay alive for postseason play.
A loss by any of these four teams could mean the end of their respective seasons, making the final two weeks of MHC play a true fight to the finish.
"It's all on the line Friday," HRV coach Mitch Sanders said. "If we win, we're in, but if we lose, we'll need help."
Sanders said that after the standings shake out, there could be a four-way tie for first place, but league leader Centennial (4-1, 6-1) would have to lose its final two games for that to happen.
In the event that Centennial loses to Central Catholic and David Douglas, and the Rams and Scots win out, Hood River would then be a third seed in the playoffs. But first things first. Sanders and the Eagles are certainly not looking past the Gophers.
"Gresham is really big up front, much like David Douglas, but their linebackers aren't as big," Sanders said. "They're playing great lately, but there aren't really any standouts. It’s been a big-time team effort."
Gresham plays a run-oriented offense led by senior Matt DeBois (5'10", 180), who was thrust into the starting position when star Ronald Richmond transferred to Franklin at the start of the season. DeBois has been solid, rushing for 600 yards and five TDs on the season.
Other standouts are quarterback Casey Lorg (6’1”, 185), who reads defenses exceptionally well and knows when to pass; receivers Jason Mills (5'10", 180) and Ty Fogarty (5'7", 150); and tight ends Lance Deal (5'10", 200) and Austin Granger (6'1", 180).
"Gresham is riding an 18-year playoff streak and we want to knock 'em off," Sanders said. "If they lose they're out, so there's a lot riding on this game."
The Hood River Valley football team began a new three-game season Oct. 199 with everything to lose against the Sandy Pioneers. A loss and they would be eliminated from playoff contention. A win and they live to fight another day.
So Friday night, they needed to accomplish one thing, and one thing only.
Just win baby.
The age-old football mantra is exactly what HRV coach Mitch Sanders preached to his players after two straight losses put them in a must-win situation to remain in playoff contention.
And a win is exactly what he got, as the Eagles' offensive line slowly wore down the Pioneers’ front seven in the second half to put them away 27-13.
"The O-line did a great job executing plays in the second half," Sanders said. "We felt like we had a big advantage up front coming in, and we finally tired them out."
The imposing front line of Miguel Silva, Matt Cody, Zack Lucas, Nate Dethman and Tommy Owyen opened gaping holes for the running backs in the second half that resulted in three long touchdown runs -- two by David Fox and one by James Maher.
"All three of those touchdowns were your straight bread and butter, junior-high dives, a play we haven't run all year," Sanders said.
"We pulled both guards and their linebackers followed, which allowed the running backs to break through untouched."
Sanders said Fox and Maher, who are still adjusting to new roles on offense, played exceptionally well. They have learned plays quickly and taken advantage of each one of their carries the past two games.
Fox carried the ball seven times for 64 yards Friday, while Maher rushed 18 times for 121 yards. Jacobe Krizman was also actively involved in the offense, carrying 16 times for 91 yards and one touchdown.
Rounding out the 357-yard rushing attack were Isidro Bello (6 car., 47 yds.), Nathan Nash (5 car., 26 yds.) and Ryan Flory (4 car., 8 yds.).
Bello and Nash also had big games on the defensive side of the ball, along with Justin Jones, Jared Gidley, Danny Phelps and Silva. The Eagles 'D' stuffed QB Ryan Thorson and held a solid Pioneers offense to zero points in the second half.
"Our defensive front seven did an awesome job of stopping the run," Sanders said. "The key to the second half was quarterback pressure, and not allowing them to make any big plays."
Sanders also said the secondary adjusted well to the Sandy receivers' routes in the second half, and played good position defense. Bello batted down numerous long pass attempts and intercepted one, while Flory, Adam Knudtson and Cody Cataldo kept the Sandy wideouts from breaking any big plays downfield.
The defense woke up just in time, because Sandy was starting to develop a rhythm toward the end of the first half. Thorson completed countless crucial passes down the sidelines and helped the Pioneers control the tempo for much of the first two quarters, while running back Mike McMahon offset the air attack with rugged ground work.
HRV also made some critical mental errors in the first half that allowed Sandy to score its second touchdown just 40 seconds before halftime to make it 13-6. But the Eagles pulled themselves together in the third quarter and began to punish the Pioneers up front.
In the end, it was the Eagles' physical play -- as in bone-crunching, neck-snapping, rib-bending hits on both sides of the ball -- that propelled the team to victory.
"This was a good team win," Sanders said. "We were facing some adversity and had some guys playing new positions on defense.
"The first half was frustrating at times when we had some missed assignments and allowed a couple fourth-down conversions. But overall, it was a good team effort."