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Eagle football players should hold heads high

Sports commentary

It didn’t go down as we had hoped, but the Hood River Valley football team still gave this town plenty to talk about over the past three months.

After rolling through the regular season 8-1, the folks around here were thinking this team might have enough firepower to surpass last year’s playoff run, which produced the program’s first-ever Class 4A victory.

But what was supposed to be the beginning of a playoff run turned into a tale of two halves, as the Clackamas Cavaliers turned on the defensive jets and completely neutralized the HRV rushing attack in the second half of last Friday’s first-round game.

HRV coach Mitch Sanders expressed concern before the game about how his team matched up with the Cavs. And Clackamas made all of his nightmares come true, stopping the Eagles on every second-half drive.

After leading 14-0 at the break, the Eagles nary crossed midfield in the final two quarters. But that isn’t a statement about the HRV offense as much as it speaks to the strength of the Clackamas defense.

Just like last year, when HRV ran up against a rugged Canby defense in round two, the Eagles saw something they hadn’t yet seen over the course of the season: A team with fire in their eyes, acid in their veins, and victory on their minds.

Before last Friday night, HRV’s only loss of the season was to a good but vulnerable Bend team on the road. The Lava Bears didn’t have a quarter of the defense that Clackamas did, but they were able to take advantage of HRV miscues to claw their way to victory.

However, Clackamas didn’t rely on forcing turnovers to beat HRV. The Cavs put their faith in a staunch run defense and an underrated football phenomenon called “momentum.”

Clackamas coach Ray Baker talked about it. HRV senior Rocky Level alluded to it. And KIHR radio announcer Mark Bailey was more than aware of it, saying, “this feels a lot like the Bend game.”

He couldn’t have been more right either. Just as HRV gave up a two-score lead to Bend after a momentum shift, the Eagles fell into the same spiral against Clackamas early in the third quarter.

With the Eagles leading 14-0 at the 9:30 mark of the third, Sanders elected to go for it on fourth down deep in HRV territory. Clackamas held and went on to score its first touchdown. That opened the flood gates, and the Cavaliers punched in four more TD’s on the way to a 35-14 win.

The momentum shift gave the Cavs the confidence they were lacking in the first half, and it also allowed their often inconsistent offense to come alive.

But you can’t blame HRV for losing to a team like Clackamas. They play in one of the toughest divisions in the state, they have one of the strongest defenses anywhere, and they beat everyone in their league except Lake Oswego.

In the end, HRV was simply overmatched. It may have been the Cavs’ depth. It may have been the dreaded momentum shift. Or maybe Clackamas just woke up at the right time.

Either way, HRV has a lot to be proud of after an 8-2 season. So next time you see the players, let ‘em know you were paying attention.

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