The Hood River Valley Eagles football team displayed spectacular defense in last Friday’s 22-6 season opening non-league road win over 4A arch rival The Dalles Riverhawks at Sid White Field.
It marked the second straight year HRV won its season opening contest. Similar to a year ago, the Eagles will now be focusing on getting consecutive wins at the outset of the season.
Hood River (1-0) will meet the Pendleton Buckaroos (1-0) in its next game at 7 p.m. on Sept. 7 at Pendleton.
Hood River, guided by 10th-year coach Caleb Sperry, will try to snap a two-game losing streak to Pendleton, which won 32-6 in last year’s matchup between the two squads.
Despite not having any recent success versus Pendleton, Sperry explained how the opening victory over The Dalles will help shift positive momentum into this week’s road game.
“It was a good win, because you never really know what to expect in your first game, you never really know where you’re at or what you have when you come out on the field,” said Sperry. “We didn’t really know what they (The Dalles) were going to do defensively. We had to make adjustments and grind it out. They’re a scrappy and tough team, so to pull out a win against them is pretty cool. We’ll need the momentum from winning this game to help us prepare to face a tough Pendleton team next week.”
Pendleton is considered a dark horse to reach the 5A state title football game this season.
A rock-solid Eagle defense, led by defensive linemen Henry Buckles, Andrew McCreery, Noah Linder and Cesar Gamboa, held The Dalles to just 106 yards of total offense, including no yards rushing.
Junior linebacker Miles Wyatt also helped stabilize the defense as he recorded one sack on The Dalles junior quarterback Gabe Helseth (12-for-29 passing, 109 yards).
It was a defensive oriented and low scoring contest following an exchange of possessions for each squad.
Hood River’s initial offensive series concluded with a punt by wide receiver/kicker Christian Zack to The Dalles 37-yard line. Riverhawks junior Ty’jean Green caught the punt and then swiftly ran up field, while breaking tackles and scoring a touchdown on a 67-yard return.
Hood River’s strong defense prevented a Riverhawk two-point conversion, but The Dalles was on top 6-0 with 3:41 left in the first quarter.
“That kid (Green) is a very good football player,” said Sperry. “Aaron Hildebrandt, our defensive coordinator, did a great job putting our guys in the right spot and all the kids played tough. Nathaniel Quintanilla, Beto Rojas and the entire defensive line just played a great game. Ryan Gray sure did a good job of leading our team tonight too and I’m really proud of him.”
It proved to be a short-lived advantage for The Dalles as Hood River scored just 14 seconds later.
HRV junior running back/linebacker Brandon Rivera (20 carries, 81 yards) took the Riverhawk kickoff and he ran up field, breaking tackles and weaving past defensive players while outrunning them on momentum changing 96-yard kickoff return for a TD.
Senior placekicker Riggs Bardin booted the PAT, making it 7-6 with 3:41 on the clock.
On the Riverhawks’ ensuing possession following Zack’s kickoff, HRV’s Tanner Fletcher recovered a fumble at the Eagle 37-yard line to help thwart a potential The Dalles scoring drive and it remained 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.
“It was a pretty good game and I have to give all the credit to our offensive line (Linder, Ben Routson, Dylan Maden, Andy Foster and Nik Von Lubken) because they all did a great job of blocking for our quarterbacks and running backs,” said Rivera. “The whole team came together and played well to help us get the win. It started off pretty sketchy and I thought it was going to be a tough and close game. Our O-Line stepped up to make some big plays and I just started running through the openings they created and then everything turned out pretty good.”
In a scoreless second quarter, both teams committed turnovers.
A Riverhawk defensive player intercepted a pass thrown by HRV junior quarterback Ryan Gray (9-for-19 passing, 55 yards.) to stop an Eagle possession midway through the quarter.
On the very next play from scrimmage, HRV freshman Trenton Hughes intercepted a pass thrown by Helseth, as the Eagles regained possession at their own 11-yard line.
“It’s always nice to beat The Dalles and getting a win in the first game of the season by a decent margin was pretty good,” said Gray, who was playing in his first ever varsity game at quarterback. “This win gives us some momentum and it helps build our confidence level as we prepare for our next game. I was a little nervous at the beginning of the game, but then after I got my first pass completion, then I started to feel more comfortable. Christian is one of our best receivers and he made some good catches.”
Hood River received the second half kickoff and quickly extended its advantage. Utilizing a multiple set spread offense, a nine-play, 63-yard scoring drive was capped by a 28-yard TD pass from Gray to Zack (four receptions, 51 yards.). The Eagles missed the PAT, but they took a 13-6 lead with 8:18 left in the third.
Early in the fourth, HRV capitalized on a Riverhawk turnover to gain possession.
Gamboa recovered a Riverhawk fumble at The Dalles 20-yard line. The tough Riverhawk defense prevented the Eagles from getting a TD in the red zone.
However, Bardin kicked a 25-yard field goal to give HRV a 16-6 lead with 11:10 remaining in the game.
On the Riverhawks ensuing possession, HRV senior linebacker Rojas (two sacks) tackled Helseth for sack and a five-yard loss on a fourth down play, giving the Eagles possession at The Dalles 46-yard line.
On the Eagles next play on first down, Rivera took a handoff from Gray and he quickly scrambled away from Riverhawk linebackers, while breaking tackles and running for a 46-yard TD.
The PAT missed, but HRV was comfortable in front by a score of 22-6 with 9:23 left in the contest.
“I got a couple of sacks and I felt pretty good with each one and I was just hoping that it would help provide us with some momentum,” said Rojas.
The Riverhawks wouldn’t give up though and they proceeded on a long drive into Eagle territory on their next possession.
Rivera helped prevent a possible Riverhawk score when he intercepted a Helseth pass at HRV’s one-yard line, giving the Eagles possession with 6:31 left.
The teams had an exchange of possessions in the final minutes, but it remained 22-6 for the final margin.
The Eagles had 152 yards of total offense, including 97 yards rushing.
“Our team goal is to be a playoff team and I don’t see any reason why we can’t do that,” said Sperry, who is hoping to lead HRV to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.