Homecoming couldn’t come at a better time for the Hood River Valley football team.
The Eagles (2-3 overall) are on a three-game losing streak and have dropped to fifth in the league standings (1-3) after this past Friday’s 30-20 loss at Redmond.
HRV looks to get back on track at home Friday, when the Eagles welcome Pendleton (3-3 overall, 2-2 league) to Henderson Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. in what will be HRV’s first home game this season.
Last week, the Eagles were once again on the wrong side of big plays. The back-and-forth game was scoreless through one quarter, although Redmond had the ball in the red-zone heading into the second period. The HRV defense held the Panthers to a 22-yard field goal and then, after the teams traded possessions, the Eagles mounted a long scoring drive to take their only lead of the game, 7-3.
“The offense moved the ball really well in the first half, especially our first score,” said Head Coach Caleb Sperry.
The score came courtesy of a six-yard rushing touchdown by halfback Michael Jones, capping off an 80-yard drive.
“But outside of our one touchdown drive in the first half, we couldn’t finish off any of our drives in a score and that pretty much continued throughout the game,” said Sperry.
Redmond countered with a long TD drive of its own, going 73 yards to take a 9-7 halftime lead.
The score remained the same for most of the third quarter. The Panther defense stopped HRV short of the end zone on fourth-and-goal and Redmond’s offense struck quickly with eight seconds remaining in the period.
“Heading into the fourth, we had a lot of good things going for us,” said Sperry. “But we let them stick around and not converting on fourth and goal was a crucial play in this game.”
After the Eagles were unable to convert, Redmond running back Taylor Jack broke loose for a 96-yard touchdown on the next play from scrimmage, putting the Panthers ahead 16-7 heading into the fourth quarter.
“That play heading into the fourth really hurt — it was a quick punch to the mouth,” said Sperry. “Tough break plays really became the final outcome of this game.”
The Eagles’ offense, however, kept its composure and responded with a two-minute drive that ended in quarterback Caden Leiblein connecting with his No. 1-receiver Tanner Wells for an eight-yard touchdown. The pointafter failed, but the Eagles had closed the gap on the Panthers, 16-13.
But again, Redmond responded quickly by returning the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Down 23-13 with 10 minutes remaining, the Eagles needed to convert every time they touched the ball. But that didn’t happen.
“We had the ball inside the 20-yard line three times, once in the fourth, where we came away with nothing,” Sperry said. “We just couldn’t convert.”
Redmond put the game away with three minutes remaining, by capping off a four-minute drive and padding its lead, 30-13. The Eagles scored a defensive touchdown off a fumble recovery to make the score final.
The rushing attack was once again led by Jones, with 24 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. Backup running back Bailey Holste helped provide the Eagles with consistent running when Jones was out, tallying 21 yards on five carries.
Before last Friday’s game, Sperry and Leiblein sat down and talked about the Eagles’ passing offense.
“Caden (Leiblein) and I talked about putting the ball in the air and we made a lot of strides in our passing game this week,” said Sperry. “We threw the ball well, blocked better and had great receptions. Tanner (Wells) did a heck of a job for us and it’s momentum in our passing game we need to build on.”
Wells led the Eagles in receiving with nine receptions for 95 yards, with a long of 35, and a touchdown catch. Holste added two receptions for 61 yards. Patrick Estes, Matthew Tichenor and Jones also caught some of Leiblein’s 17 completions. The junior quarterback finished 17 for 29 for 201 yards, one TD and two interceptions.
Looking back at the loss, Sperry said: “If we eliminate only four or five plays against Redmond we win the game, but that’s not how it works. We let them hang around and gave them confidence, and eventually a home team will figure it out and Redmond eventually made us pay.”
Sperry said his team is glad to be home. “We’re looking forward to finally being done with traveling and playing in front of family, friends and the community,” he said. “We’re anxious to put on that navy blue (home uniforms) for the first time this season; we are going to go out and play hard.”