After Hermiston loss, HRV’s playoff hopes hang on final game

Needing to get a win against the Hermiston Bulldogs was all HRV had to do in order to win the Columbia River Conference championship on Friday. The Eagles (1-1 CRC, 4-4 overall) came ever so close to accomplishing their goal, but ultimately fell short.

Trailing by eight with three minutes, 10 seconds left in the game, HRV had possession of the ball in Hermiston territory at the Bulldogs’ 35-yard line and an opportunity to tie with a touchdown and two-point conversion. The defending conference and state champion Bulldogs (2-0 CRC, 3-5) proved that they’re still one of the top 5A teams (15th ranked) as they held off the Eagles’ potential game-tying scoring drive and hold on for a 36-28 victory at Hermiston High School.

The Eagles, guided by coach Caleb Sperry, will now focus on winning their CRC regular season finale Friday at 7 p.m. on the road against The Dalles Riverhawks (0-2 CRC, 1-6). If the Eagles win, which is a very good possibility against a shorthanded (20 players) and struggling Riverhawks team, they’ll have a good opportunity to advance to the state playoffs starting Nov. 6. Hood River won 34-6 over The Dalles last year.

“It was just like a championship game that came down to the wire,” said Sperry of the game with Hermiston. “We had an opportunity at the end to punch it in and tie it up. It was a good game between two teams that battled it out. I was sure proud of the way our kids responded and fought hard for the entire game. We were disappointed to lose, but we played a good game. The kids wanted to win pretty bad and it was one of our goals to be conference champs. We still have a lot to play for and we’ll continue to work hard in practice. We feel like there’s a good chance that we’ll have some more games after Friday’s contest (against The Dalles).”

For the No. 27-ranked Eagles, their playoff fate could very well be decided by a complicated tie-breaker system. An HRV win over The Dalles would give the Eagles a 2-1 CRC mark. If the No. 25-ranked Pendleton Buckaroos (1-1 CRC, 3-5) beat Hermiston Friday, there would be a three-way tie for first place with all three squads finishing with a 2-1 league record.

However, if Hermiston beats Pendleton, then Hood River would have sole possession of second-place behind the Bulldogs, who would finish 3-0. Only the top two CRC teams qualify for the playoffs. Pendleton, which won 49-20 over The Dalles Friday, would finish behind HRV in third at 1-2. The Eagles and their fans will undoubtedly be hoping for a Bulldog victory over the Buckaroos Friday in Pendleton. HRV clinches its first state playoff berth since 2004 with a victory coupled with a Hermiston win.

“We have to come back and have another good performance against The Dalles,” said Sperry. “It’s going to be a tough task, because they’re a scrappy group of guys that will also be trying to get a win too. We’ll just have to focus on taking care of business though on Friday. I really believe there’s a very good possibility that we’ll reach the state playoffs.”

The Eagles certainly played like a potential playoff squad Friday versus the Bulldogs in an evenly played contest in which the outcome could’ve very well have been an HRV victory.

After Hermiston took an early 14-0 first quarter advantage, the Eagles came flying back to knot it up in the second. HRV quarterback Dallas Buckley (19-for-38 passing, 304 yards) capped a two-play drive with a 51-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kellan Duffy (seven catches, 152 yards receiving). Placekicker Manny Valdovinos booted the PAT to make it 14-7. On their next possession, the Eagles then tied it 14-14 after a six-play, 82-yard scoring drive. Hermiston then scored a touchdown to take a 20-14 halftime lead.

Hermiston extended its lead to 23-14 on a field goal in a low-scoring third quarter that included a total of just three points. The determined Eagles responded with two fourth-quarter scoring drives to nearly pull even again with the highly-regarded Bulldogs. It was a wild and high-scoring final 12 minutes with a total of 27 points scored in the quarter.

Buckley (12 carries, 39 yards rushing) capped a nine-play, 66-yard offensive series with a seven-yard touchdown scramble. Valdovinos kicked the PAT, narrowing the margin to 23-21 with 9:42 left in the game. Hermiston answered with a TD to make it 30-21 with 5:58 remaining.

The Eagles continued to fight back and again were in the end zone just 62 seconds later. HRV concluded a five-play, 82-yard drive with a 47-yard TD pass from Buckley to Duffy. The PAT by Valdovinos made it 30-28 with 4:56 left in the game. The Bulldogs responded with a late-scoring drive to extend their lead to 36-28 with 3:10 remaining in the game. The Eagles then had their final possession of the game to try and tie it, but just came up a little short as the Bulldogs defense thwarted HRV’s valiant comeback effort.

The Eagles amassed a total of 352 yards of total offense, just slightly less than Hermiston, which had 371 yards. HRV running back Michael Jones led his team in rushing with six carries for 99 yards. Linebacker Andy Schmidt led the Eagle defense with five tackles. Senior defensive back and team captain Sam Fults suffered an injury and might be unable to play Friday and his availability for remaining games is uncertain. Fults has a total of 11 tackles, ranking second in the category behind Schmidt, with a team leading 17 tackles and two sacks.

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