A festive Homecoming celebration in front of a Henderson Community Stadium overflow crowd with great weather and a fireworks display seemingly would have helped provide the Hood River Valley Eagles football team with enough inspiration and an emotional lift that they would need to pull out a victory last Friday.
There certainly wasn't any lack of enthusiasm from the huge crowd which did its best with vocal support while loudly cheering to help inspire the Eagles to play with the high intensity level needed in order to possibly beat a tough Summit Storm squad. HRV, guided by coach Caleb Sperry, was in position to get a win, too, until midway through the final quarter, when Summit scored on consecutive possessions en route to a 28-16 Class 5A nonleague win.
"It's definitely very disappointing to lose the homecoming game," said Sperry. "We got outplayed and outcoached and I'll need to do a better job in that regard. We'll study films, regroup and come back next week and hopefully play up to our potential."
Both squads played solid defense in a scoreless opening quarter in which neither team scored on two offensive possessions. Summit (4-1), of the Intermountain Conference, took an initial advantage when sophomore tailback J.T. Evans (248 yards rushing) scored on a 3-yard touchdown scamper and the PAT by Cole Thomas made it 7-0 with 7:25 left in the second quarter.
HRV responded when junior Parker Young helped spark the offense as he returned the Storm kickoff 34 yards to the Eagles' own 48-yard line. A five play, 48-yard drive highlighted by a 29-yard run by senior running back/cornerback Gabi Nuno (18 carries, 136 yards rushing) stalled at Summit's 4-yard line. Senior placekicker Erik Gutierrez booted a 20-yard field goal, making it 7-3 with 5:04 left in the quarter.
"We're going to have to work hard in practice and come out and have a stronger effort in our next game at home against Pendleton (Oct. 7) and hopefully bounce back and get a win," said Gutierrez, a rarely seen two-sport fall athlete who also plays on HRV's soccer team. "It's kind of tough playing two fall sports, because I practice for a combined total of about three hours a day with both teams, but I'm having lots of fun, too."
Summit quickly extended the lead on its ensuing possession with 70-yard scoring drive to make it 14-3 with 3:25 left until halftime. The Eagles followed with a three and out series and HRV's Andrew Thompson punted the ball to the Storm, which took control at its own 47.
Summit was on the move again with the clock winding down and had a first-down play at the HRV 28. Nuno then intercepted a pass thrown by Storm quarterback Max Lindsay and returned it 48 yards to Summit's 34. Although just seven seconds remained in the quarter, HRV had a chance to narrow the margin.
After an incompletion by Eagle senior quarterback Cody Walker (15-for-28 passing, 161 yards, two TDs), HRV had one more shot at the end zone with :02 on the clock. Junior receiver Kyle Beam (five receptions, 67 yards, TD) grabbed a quick pass from Walker and was on his way toward the end zone, before he was shoved out of bounds at Summit's 9-yard line as time expired with the score remaining 14-3 at the break.
After a spectacular halftime fireworks display, the Eagles came out strong in the second half and battled back while giving themselves two opportunities to narrow the margin to four points on two possessions deep into Storm territory.
The Eagles utilized a strong running attack with ball carriers Nuno and senior Milo Herman (nine carries, 109 yards) plowing through the Storm defense at the outset of the second half. After getting Summit's kickoff and starting at their own 17, six straight running plays by Nuno and Herman moved the Eagles into Storm territory at the 26.
"We need to come back next week and play harder and with a higher intensity level to help us bounce back and get a win," said Herman. "I felt like I did a good job running the ball, but I just wish that I would've done a little more to help our team come up with a win."
The Eagles sure seemed to have the momentum on what appeared to possibly be a game-changing 68-yard drive. After Beam caught an 11-yard pass from Walker, HRV had a first down at Summit's 15 and a potential TD and extra point would've made the score 14-10.
In what was undoubtedly the turning point of the contest, though, Summit regained possession after recovering an HRV fumble and took over at its own 30-yard line. Despite the costly turnover, HRV's defense continued to shine. Led by the quartet of linebackers Eli Fults, Thompson, David Brunk and Luke Ihle, HRV held the Storm to just 19 yards, forcing a punt from their own 49.
HRV took control at its 30 and using a balanced offense of passing and running plays, advanced again on another possible scoring drive into the red zone when Fults snagged an 18-yard reception from Walker at the Summit 20-yard line.
Back-to-back Eagle penalties on a 5-yard delay of game followed by an illegal procedure infraction moved the ball back to the 30. After a failed fourth down conversion, Summit took over on downs. That second opportunity to narrow the margin to 14-10 with a possible score came up short again, though, as it remained 14-3 after a scoreless third quarter.
"We had some scoring opportunities, but we just didn't take advantage of them," said Sperry. "The guys just need to be more mentally focused and they need to do a better job of executing. We'll use the emotional disappointment from this loss to help motivate us to get better and improve."
The Eagles' defense came up big again, holding Summit to just 18 yards and forcing a punt. Summit stymied HRV's offense, though, and after a three-and-out series, Thompson punted from the end zone. The Storm took control near midfield at the HRV 49.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Evans demonstrated his quickness and athleticism with an impressive 49-yard TD scramble to give Summit a 21-3 lead with 7:25 left in the fourth.
The Eagles answered on their next possession with a six-play, 80-yard scoring drive highlighted by Herman's 52-yard scramble. Walker hooked up with Beam for an 8-yard TD strike and a Gutierrez PAT made it 21-10 with 4:33 left in the game.
An onside kick by Gutierrez was recovered by Summit at HRV's 48. Four plays later, Evans scored on a 21-yard run to help the Storm build an insurmountable 28-10 lead with just 3:14 left.
Around the CRC: Hermiston (3-2) was the only Columbia River Conference team that came up victorious Friday. The Bulldogs won 28-24 on the road over Moses Lake, Wash. Mountain View (5-0) won 63-0 over The Dalles-Wahtonka (1-4) and Pendleton (3-2) lost 21-14 on the road to the Ontario Tigers (3-2).
Up Next: The Eagles host the Pendleton Buckaroos at 7 p.m. Friday in a contest that will include the annual Hood River Valley Athletic Hall of Fame Induction ceremony at halftime.
Last year, HRV recorded a 28-0 win Oct. 7 on the road over Pendleton.
"Pendleton is a team we're capable of beating," said a confident-sounding Sperry. "We want to win league and advance to the state playoffs. I really believe we have a good opportunity to accomplish both of those goals."
Summit 28, Hood River 16
Hood River 0 3 0 13 - 16
Summit 0 14 0 14 - 28
S - J.T. Evans, 3-yard run (Cole Thomas kick)
HRV - Erik Gutierrez, 20-yard field goal
S - Thomas, 27-yard reception from Max Lindsay (Thomas kick)
S - Evans, 49-yard run (Thomas kick)
HRV - Kyle Beam, 8-yard reception from Cody Walker (Gutierrez kick)
S - Evans, 21-yard run (Thomas kick)
HRV - Cole Hunter, 14-yard reception from Walker (kick failed)