The Hood River Valley High Eagles (1-1) intended to bounce back from a Sept. 2 season-opening loss to Sandy in a Class 5A football nonleague matchup versus the Cleveland Warriors. Falling behind early and having a scoreless first quarter probably wasn't the scenario that the Eagles had envisioned prior to Friday's home-opener against the winless Warriors (0-2), though.
Hood River overcame a rough start and a late second quarter deficit with an impressive second-half defensive surge to record a 34-20 come-from-behind win over Cleveland Sept. 9 at a nearly full Henderson Stadium. The Eagles, guided by coach Caleb Sperry, held the Warriors scoreless on all but one second-half possession to get the win.
"I was proud of the guys for helping us get a big victory in our home opener and it gives us a confidence boost, which is what we needed," said Sperry. "In order for us to improve, we'll have to focus on playing much better. We missed some blocks offensively and on defense, we have to be a little quicker and tackle better.
"We have some work to do, but I really believe we're capable of being one of the top contenders in our league this year."
Cleveland, of the Portland Interscholastic League, was on the scoreboard just 42 seconds into the contest. After getting the opening kickoff from Eagle senior kicker Eric Gutierrez and starting at their own 25-yard line, the Warriors were in the end zone just two plays later. A 61-yard touchdown run by Jake Peterson and the extra point gave Cleveland a 7-0 lead.
"We didn't finish some plays too well and there's some things we still need to work on," said Sperry. "We would make a fantastic play and then follow with a mediocre play. We need to have a mindset to realize that every play is important and have everyone using the proper techniques and doing the right assignments."
HRV got the ensuing kickoff and started its initial series at its own 42. A seven-play drive stalled with a failed fourth-down conversion as the Eagles turned the ball over on downs at the Cleveland 44.
Cleveland was knocking at the door again on its second possession with a time-consuming 50-yard drive deep into HRV territory. On a key fourth-down conversion attempt at HRV's 6-yard line, Eagle senior cornerback/receiver Cole Hunter deflected a pass thrown by Warrior quarterback Ryan Senior to help thwart a possible score.
HRV took control and then proceeded on its longest offensive possession of the game. An 11-play, 94-yard drive, with nine running plays, included a 44-yard scramble by HRV senior quarterback Cody Walker (five carries, 56 yards rushing) to the Cleveland 20. On the next play, Walker (7-for-17 passing, 188 yards, 2 TD's) threw a 20-yard touchdown pass over the middle to a open Hunter, who dove untouched into the endzone for his fourth TD this year. Gutierrez kicked the PAT for a 7-7 deadlock with 10:09 left in the second quarter.
"Our offensive line of Jonathan Goatcher, Luke Ihle, Nick Weekly, Brandon Dominguez and Ramon Ramirez really stepped up and dominated the line of scrimmage," said Hunter, who caught three passes for 67 yards. "They opened up lanes for running and their blocking helped enable me to get open and catch passes. Those guys are the workhorses and they should get lots of credit for helping us win."
Cleveland scored on its next possession for a 13-7 edge with 2:14 left until halftime, but HRV responded with a quick score less than a minute later. A four-play, 69-yard drive was highlighted by a 39-yard pass from Walker to senior receiver Andrew Thompson. A one-yard TD run by senior running back Herman Milo (nine carries, 47 yards) knotted it 13-13 with 1:24 left and it remained deadlocked at halftime.
The Eagles' defense was like an impenetrable fortress in the second half. Other than a 79-yard run by Peterson, HRV limited Cleveland to just 21 yards of offense. Junior defensive back Kyle Beam stopped the Warriors' first drive of the second half by intercepting a Senior pass at the 50.
The Eagles capitalized on the turnover and four plays later, Walker fired a 25-yard scoring strike to junior receiver Eli Fults. A Gutierrez PAT made it 20-13 with 7:34 left in the third. Led by defensive linemen Ihle, Dominguez, Goatcher and Nick Morgan who each had one sack, the Eagles forced the Warriors to punt on three consecutive possessions.
"We have an explosive offense and a great defense and if we continue to improve and peak at the right time, then I think we'll be a top contender in our league," said Walker. "Our offensive coordinator (coach Bruce Burton) helped make sure guys were in position to make some big plays tonight and I think that was a key reason we were able to win."
HRV's offense rolled up 187 yards rushing, with senior running back Gabi Nuno (nine carries, 46 yards) and Thompson both scored to extend the margin.
HRV outgained Cleveland 368 yards to 325. The Eagles had just four penalties totaling 29 yards, which was a huge improvement from their first game when they were penalized 11 times for 150 yards.
"We need to come out and have a good week of practice to prepare for our next game on the road versus Redmond (Sept. 16)," said Sperry. "That represents a challenge to see how much we can improve. If we come out and compete hard then maybe we'll have a good chance to get another win."
Around the CRC: Three of four Columbia River Conference squads won Friday. The Dalles Wahtonka (1-1) won 26-0 at home over Madison and Pendleton (1-1) won at home 49-15 over Crook County. Hermiston lost 34-0 to Kennewick.
Up Next: The Eagles go on the road to meet the Redmond Panthers (1-1) at 7 p.m. A year ago, Redmond won 19-13 in double overtime at Hood River. Redmond, of Class 6A, is coming off a 26-21 loss to Grants Pass on the road Friday and it will be the Panthers home opener.