With clear skies and a stadium full of cheerful fans, the Hood River Valley High School varsity football team hosted the Wilson Trojans Friday night in the Eagles’ homecoming game at Henderson Community Stadium.
An exciting first-half performance left the Eagles, now 1-5 on the season, with hopes of an upset over the No. 13-ranked Trojans as they went into the locker room. A powerful running game — to the tune of 392 yards rushing — and costly HRV mistakes gave the visiting team the edge, however, and they finished ahead 42-19 to claim their third win of the season.
For the defending Columbia River Conference champion Eagles, Friday’s conclusion of nonleague play represents an opportunity for a fresh start as they face the final three games of the regular season against CRC rivals. HRV (1-5) plays its final home game of the season Oct. 11 versus the 19th-ranked Pendleton Buckaroos (5-1).
Inspired by the large home crowd, Eagles came out strong against Wilson, led by junior quarterback Riley Van Hoose (15-for-34 passing, 246 yards, two TDs) and senior wide receiver Wyatt Webber (eight receptions, 238 yards, three TDs). The Eagles responded quickly after the Trojans were the first to put points on the scoreboard. After getting Wilson’s kickoff, HRV started its second offensive possession at its own 29-yard line. Van Hoose threw a downfield pass to Webber, who eluded several Trojan defenders and sprinted to the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown reception. Senior Martin Lanthaler then knotted it 7-7 with 8:58 left in the first quarter.
“One of our goals is to win league and the outcome of nonleague game’s isn’t going to prevent us from doing that,” said Webber, who leads HRV in total receiving with 28 catches for 612 yards and 10 TDs. “We just need to win these last three league games. I feel like we’re capable of bouncing back and playing better and that’s the way we’ll approach our next game.”
Wilson answered quickly to up its lead to 14-7. After an exchange of possessions, HRV’s defense, led by juniors John Gray (10 tackles), Steven Swafford (eight tackles) and senior Jeremy Fischer (seven tackles, two sacks) forced a Wilson punt.
Webber then returned the punt 67 yards for an apparent game-tying TD, which was nullified by a costly holding penalty on HRV to bring the ball back to its own 39-yard line.
Wilson extended its advantage to 21-7 with 9:02 left in the second. On its ensuing possession, the Eagles proceeded on a long offensive series and nearly hit paydirt before the potential scoring drive stalled at the Wilson one-yard line. The missed scoring opportunity meant the Eagles went into the locker room down 21-7 at the half
“It certainly could’ve easily been a much closer game, but we just missed making a couple of big plays in the first half,” said Webber. “It could’ve been a much different outcome and that’s how we need to look at it in order to help build our confidence level.”
Wilson took control of the contest with back-to-back scores in the third to up its lead to 35-7.
The resilient Eagles battled back, however, as Webber continued his standout performance in returning the Wilson kickoff 12 yards to the HRV 32. Webber then grabbed a short pass from Van Hoose over the middle, broke through a couple of tackles and outran Wilson defenders to the end zone to help trim the margin to 35-13 after three quarters. The Trojans extended their margin to 42-13 early in the fourth. Following two exchanges in which both squads had back-to-back turnovers, the Eagles started their final series at their own 31.
An impressive five-play, 69-yard drive was highlighted by a 37-yard pass from sophomore backup quarterback Dallas Buckley to Webber ending at Wilson’s 26-yard line. Two plays later, Buckley targeted Webber again as the two connected for a 12-yard TD, making it 42-19 with 43 seconds left in the game. Wilson added a TD after returning the kickoff deep into Eagle territory for the final margin.
Van Hoose, who directs the Eagle passing attack, has amassed a season total of 11 TDs and 1,078 yards passing and he led HRV’s ground game with eight carries for 34 yards rushing, while Fischer had 10 carries for 32 yards.
After facing Pendleton Friday, HRV goes on the road to meet the No. 8-ranked Hermiston Bulldogs (4-2) Oct. 18, followed by an Oct. 25 contest versus The Dalles-Wahtonka Eagle Indians (3-3).