HOOD RIVER — The Redmond Panthers owned the first minute and 30 seconds of last Friday’s Intermountain Conference clash with Hood River Valley.
But the opportunistic Eagles owned the rest of the night.
After falling behind 8-0 on Redmond’s opening drive, HRV came back to force five turnovers and score five unanswered touchdowns for a 36-8 win at Henderson Stadium.
“We weren’t really expecting the veer formation they threw at us on the first drive,” senior Kyle Maurer said of the Panthers’ previously undisclosed offensive option package.
“But we weren’t too worried when they scored because Benson and The Dalles did the same thing. And those teams didn’t score the rest of the way either,” he said.
Just as it did in the season’s first two games, the HRV defense hunkered down after allowing an early score to Redmond, completely snuffing out the opposition for the remaining 46:30 of the game.
Maurer snagged three interceptions on the night to go with 117 yards and two touchdowns on offense. In addition, Luke McCarthy and Nigel Bond each recovered a fumble to give HRV five takeaways, compared to just one turnover.
“I was really happy with how physical we played,” said coach Mitch Sanders, whose team moved to 5-1 on the season (3-1 IMC).
“Our physical play on defense made it so they didn’t even want to catch screen passes in the second half. Luke was literally running through guys to make plays, and it’s that kind of aggression that I want to define our football team,” he said.
Sanders added that while a few players continued to lead by example, last Friday’s win was “by far, a group effort.” Selfless players such as Alex Princehouse (tight end), Javier Ortiz (defensive line) and Dominic Buttaccio (defensive end) stepped into new roles and made a tremendous impact, allowing a handful of other players to transition into their new roles.
As a result, players like Justin Krizman (quarterback), Rocky Level (fullback, linebacker), Bryan Williams (linebacker, tight end) and McCarthy were allowed to flourish.
“All of our moves seemed to pay off,” Sanders said. “Princehouse did a great job filling in at tight end, which allowed us to move Justin to quarterback. Dominic made some big plays on the D-line, and Rocky was able to do more blocking in the backfield. This win was all about the team.”
However, while everyone on the roster contributed in some way to Friday’s win, Krizman stole the spotlight on more than a few occasions with his break-away speed.
The junior, who had been groomed as a wing back and a cornerback, recorded TD runs of 64 yards and 61 yards to go with a one-yarder late in the game.
All told, Krizman ran 15 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns, giving the Eagles yet another offensive option, and his coach another reason to be excited about this team.
“We’re fortunate enough to have a lot of wings,” Sanders said. “And by putting Justin in there at QB, he becomes a fourth running back in our offense. I thought he did a great job, but this was his week one. He’s only going to get better for us.”
Another player who stood out for the Eagles Friday was Maurer, who handled the bulk of the carries on offense, and gave HRV a dominant presence in the defensive secondary.
“I just want to fill in where I can,” he said. “As long as the team keeps improving, that’s all I want. But I do think we are going to be pretty good with Justin calling the plays. He’s got a good arm, and his speed should also help us.”
Krizman missed the first four games of the season due to disciplinary sanctions, and returned to the field last week against Bend. An injury to tight end Heath Goin in that game left a hole at tight end, and that moved Princehouse from quarterback to tight end.
“We moved Justin to QB out of necessity,” Sanders said. “He’s still learning some things, but I would bet that with a little more experience, he’s going to be pretty solid.”
Next up for the Eagles is a Friday road trip to Pendleton, where they will face a beleaguered Buckaroo team that just lost to Summit. But despite a 2-2 record in the IMC, Sanders said Pendleton will have a lot of motivation for this game.
“They are going to give us all we can handle, I’m sure,” he said.