The Hood River Valley football team is gearing up for its biggest game of the regular season.
When the Eagles host the Hermiston Bulldogs on Friday (7 p.m.) the winner will walk off the field with a for-all-intents-and-purposes league championship.
The Eagles come into the game at 5-2 and the Bulldogs are 4-2, with both having won their first league games.
Due to a tough non-league schedule Hermiston is ranked sixth in the 5A state power rankings while HRV is No. 16.
While both teams have the ability to score points in bunches, the Eagles are still looking for their first complete, four-quarter game of the season.
Following slow starts against Redmond, St. Helens and Wilson, the Eagles went out and posted 28 first-quarter points in a 40-28 win at Pendleton last week.
“The kids just came out ready to play; it was awesome,” HRV coach Caleb Sperry said. “We were going on all cylinders and guys were going hard and playing fast.”
However, after hanging 40 points on the Bucks in the first half, the Eagles did not score a point in the second half.
“We really didn’t finish the game well…we’ve got to do a better job maintaining the momentum,” Sperry said. “We challenged the kids to play four quarters this week.”
Both sides come into the game knowing they can’t take a play — much less a quarter — off.
The Eagles and Bulldogs have both averaged around 36 points a game this season, and the Eagles defense knows it has its work cut out for it.
“We’ve got to play very physical and extremely aggressive, and practice with a purpose all week,” said safety Kyle Beam.
The Bulldogs use a spread offense which is practically the definition of the word “spread.”
Hard-nosed running back Trenton Anteau has the bulk of the Hermiston rushing yards, but backfield partner Cory Adams is also capable of big games.
Meanwhile sophomore quarterback Chase Knutz has found seven different receivers on his 12 touchdown passes this year.
“We match up with them pretty well as far as athleticism goes; we’ll just have to play different packages in different situations and play strategically,” Beam said. “If that all works out I think we have the athletes that we can definitely play with them.”
After seeing Wilson and then Pendleton key on the vaunted HRV running attack over the past two weeks, the Eagles went to the air to beat the Buckaroos, with Luke Kopecky passing for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Luke had a great game putting the ball right on the money,” Sperry said.
The Eagles may need him to do it again if the Hermiston game turns into the expected track meet.
The Eagles would prefer to keep the game closer than last year when they went to Hermiston and lost 55-14, a defeat which put them 0-2 in league play at the time.
However, this is an HRV team which does not plan on walking into an ambush like it did two weeks ago against Wilson, when the Eagles faced a 34-0 hole early in the second quarter.
Cornerback Alex Jimenez said the Eagles learned from that loss and applied the lessons in the first half against Pendleton.
“We played real timid at the beginning and were not prepared and focused,” Jimenez said of what went wrong for HRV against Wilson.
Now the Eagles want to put those lessons to use for an entire game.
“We need to play hard-nosed football and can’t give them anything. We’ve got to come out with a mentality that we are going to win and we’ve got to step up,” said linebacker/fullback Eli Fults. “They are a good team and we’ve got to play better than we did last week. We’ve got to put together a full game and go a full four quarters.”
For a little extra motivation the game will also be senior night for the Eagles, due to Hall of Fame festivities when the Eagles host rival The Dalles-Wahtonka the following week.
And whoever wins, fans at the game should be in store for a high-scoring game as both teams have their sights set on a league title.
“It’s definitely going to be a game; Hermiston is really good, but I think we are really good,” Sperry said. “I hope the kids step up to the challenge and are ready to battle.”