Pre-game fireworks and a sizable home crowd helped provide the Hood River Valley High School varsity football team with an emotional lift in its home-opener Friday evening — a nonleague game versus the now 2-0 Forest Grove Vikings.
With inspired playing through much of the game the Eagles (0-2) displayed a high-energy level of play and, midway through the third quarter, appeared as though they had a good shot at their first win of the season.
Leading by just three points (28-25) with four minutes left in the third, however, the Vikings exploded for 21 unanswered points to build a 49-25 lead on their way to a 49-33 win over the Eagles at Henderson Community Stadium.
The Eagles, guided by coach Caleb Sperry, were unable to respond to the Vikings’ late offensive surge until junior quarterback Riley Van Hoose scored on a one-yard touchdown run with two minutes, eight seconds left in the game to trim the deficit to 49-31. Van Hoose’s two-point conversion pass to senior receiver Wyatt Webber made the final margin 49-33.
“The big thing for us was seeing how well we responded after last week (a 47-21 loss to Sandy),” said Sperry. “That was a very difficult game. For us to come out and compete better like we did and show lots of improvement was very encouraging to me. That tells me that we’re on the right trajectory and we just have to come out and work hard in practice so that we’ll continue to become a better team. We still have attainable goals and we can still do some good things.”
The Eagles will take lessons from Friday’s game and go on the road this week to face the 5A Redmond Panthers Friday night. Redmond won its last game 34-7 over 4A Madras on Friday. The game will be broadcast by Mark Bailey on KIHR radio beginning with a 6:30 p.m. pregame show.
“We can bounce back from this loss,” said Webber. “We have our team goals and one of them is to win our league title again. That’s something that we’ll have a very good chance of doing this year.”
The Eagles displayed championship-caliber form early in the matchup when the team took the opening kickoff from the Vikings and proceeded on a six-play, 70-yard scoring drive, capped by an electrifying 51-yard touchdown run by senior running back Jeremy Fischer. In less than two minutes, the Eagles were up 6-0.
“I was real proud of the way our team played because we improved tremendously from last week,” said Fischer. “Our linemen (Samuel Fults, Andrew Roberts, Garrett Kelly, Trevin Franks, Jonnie Knickerbocker) were blocking well and doing a good job to create openings to run through. We had lots of momentum early and it seemed like we would have a good chance to win. We just need to come out mentally and physically ready to prepare for next week. We want to win the next game and I think we can do that if we just continue to focus on working hard in practice this week.”
Forest Grove, of the Class 6A Pacific Conference, answered with a scoring drive to go up 7-6 with 3:52 remaining in the first quarter.
The resilient Eagles came back on their ensuing possession to regain the advantage. Webber returned the Vikings kickoff 18 yards to the Eagles own 35-yard line. The Eagles then executed an eight-play, 65-yard drive, highlighted by Fischer’s 14-yard TD run. Senior Martin Lanthaler kicked the extra point, giving the Eagles a 13-7 lead with 17 seconds left in the opening quarter.
“The first home game is always an exciting atmosphere and we wanted to come out and show our hometown fans that we’re a pretty good team,” said Webber. “We’re a lot younger team than we were a year ago and we knew that we were a smaller team than them (Vikings) too. We felt that we could utilize the advantage that we had with our speed and quickness though to offset some things.”
The Vikings, who lost 34-21 at home to HRV last year, moved in front 14-13 with 10:18 left in the second quarter and never trailed again. With an obvious size advantage over the Eagles, especially with bigger offensive linemen, the Vikings controlled the line of scrimmage and marched 72 yards to paydirt on its next possession.
Forest Grove senior Gio Tayetto, a 5-foot-4, 153-pound running back, scored on a one-yard TD run and Justin Brady’s PAT gave the Vikings a 21-13 advantage with 7:19 left until halftime.
“Forest Grove had a size advantage, but we counter-balanced that with our speed and quickness,” said Sperry. “He (Tayetto) is a pretty darn quick guy. We allowed him to run past us a couple times when we were unable to tackle him. He’s a really good running back and they (Vikings) are a good team that has improved a lot since last year.”
Webber, a receiver/defensive back, helped provide the Eagles with great field position when he recovered a Vikings fumble near the Eagle goal line and returned it 58 yards to Forest Grove’s 40-yard line. A five-play series was capped by a Van Hoose 17-yard TD toss to senior receiver Wyatt Vallejo, trimming the margin to 21-19 with 3:15 left in the second and it remained the same score at halftime.
“I was pretty excited to score and I was glad that I could help my team,” said Vallejo, who scored his first-ever varsity touchdown. “Our team showed lots of improvement, but there’s also some things that we need to continue to work on in practice in order to hopefully help us win our next game.”
Forest Grove had the opening possession in the second half deep in its own territory at the 14-yard line after a strong kickoff by Eagle junior placekicker Antonio Sandoval. The Vikings then proceeded on a 76-yard scoring drive to take a 28-19 lead with 7:12 left in the third
The Eagles responded well and came back less than two minutes later and scored on their ensuing possession. Webber returned a Viking kickoff 24 yards to midfield at the Forest Grove 49.
A five-play, 49-yard Eagle series included a key fourth down two-yard conversion run by Fischer to keep the drive alive at the Vikings 39. Van Hoose then connected with senior receiver Alex Jimenez, who was wide open on the left side and caught a 39-yard TD pass, making it 28-25 with 5:16 left in the third.
The Vikings then took control with back-to-back scoring drives to take a 42-25 advantage after three. HRV had an opportunity to narrow the deficit early in the fourth, but a potential scoring drive stalled at the Vikings 21. The Vikings then put the game out of reach while scoring on a 19-yard drive to make it 49-25 lead with 5:30 remaining in the game.