PORTLAND — Take away the turnovers and the result might have been different.
But even if Benson had held onto the ball last Friday at Franklin High School, it still would have had trouble mounting a counter attack against Hood River Valley’s defense.
The Eagles ‘D’, which ranked last in the Intermountain Conference last year, showed off its new, no-nonsense approach for the second straight game, grabbing two interceptions and forcing two fumbles on the way to a 19-7 victory.
“The big thing is, we’re getting better as we head into league play,” said coach Mitch Sanders, whose team has given up just 14 points in two games, compared to last year’s two-game total of 62.
“We’re a tough, physical team up front and we like to punish teams with our strength on the lines. And if we can continue to control the clock as we have, our opponents are going to have a tough time beating us,” he said.
Leading the way for the HRV ‘D’ again this week was its corps of senior linemen — Jorge Lujano, Zach Royall, Nigel Bond, Heath Goin and Jason DeHart — as well as linebackers Rocky Level, Luke McCarthy and Bryan Williams.
Senior safety Kyle Maurer grabbed the first of two picks for the Eagles, who got an added boost in the secondary from Nolan Johnson, Alejandro Lozano, Terry Sanders and Danny Newton.
Meanwhile, reserve linebacker Casey Vannet snared HRV’s second interception at the 4:30 mark of the fourth quarter to halt a seven-play drive for Benson, which scored its only points on the first drive of the game.
“Take away that first drive and they had nothin’,” Sanders said of Benson, which totaled a mere 131 yards of offense. “If you look at the film, they didn’t execute (on that drive). We executed for them.”
HRV defensive coordinator Caleb Sperry agreed, and said that once his guys settled down, they were able to read all of the play calls, attach themselves to the receivers, and plug all the gaps.
“The big thing about this year’s defense is we have a lot more game-time experience,” Sperry said in reference to returning starters such as McCarthy, Williams, Level, Lujano and Royall.
“Last year’s group was also experienced, but in a different way. The kids this year almost seem to have learned from last year’s mistakes, and everyone knows where they’re supposed to be. We’re just a lot more balanced,” he said.
The Eagle offense also showed balance last Friday, with Level, Bond and Maurer handling most of the carries, and the O-line creating most of the opportunities.
Level led the charge with 114 yards on 23 carries, while Bond ran 17 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns, and Maurer 12 times for 68 yards and one score.
In addition, junior quarterback Alex Princehouse threw the ball effectively when he was asked to, but the receivers were unable to haul the passes in — something that coach Sanders would like to see change as the Eagles gear up for their first league game Friday against Summit.
“The only negative I would take away from this game is that we didn’t connect on our pass plays downfield,” Sanders said. “Teams expect us to pound away at them with the running game, but when they focus on that, we need to make them pay with the long pass.”
Sanders said he believes that the more the offensive line develops, the more the Eagle offense is going to improve.
And by cutting back on the penalties that haunted them against The Dalles in week one, HRV only helped themselves more when they had the ball.
“Part of the success of our defense so far is the job that the offense is doing,” Sanders said. “Our opponents have had only 30 plays, and we’ve had 60 or more. The bottom line is, if you control the ball like that, you’re going to win games.
Always looking to improve his team, Sanders made one lineup change for the Benson game, moving McCarthy to right guard, and Williams to right tight end, where McCarthy had been playing.’
He also experimented with Terry Sanders at strong safety after a hand injury to starter Adam Mack, and said that change may be in effect for the next few games.
Junior running back Adam Brown will also see more time in the secondary as he regains strength after spraining his knee in the Aug. 30 jamboree.
“We’re pretty beat up heading into league play,” Sanders said. “But we have enough depth to be able to shuffle things a bit.”