Connie Maret has lived as full a life as one could hope.
The 81-year-old Hermiston resident fought in the Korean War, sold baseball Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew his first car (a 1937 Ford Coupe), helped raise three children and worked for the Union Pacific railroad company for 44 years.
But the Hermiston Bulldogs winning a state football championship?
“I didn’t know if I’d ever see it in my lifetime. They always seemed to come in not last but close to last every time,” said Maret, who moved to Hermiston in 1951.
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The Bulldogs gave Maret and the rest of the Hermiston community a day they’d never forget Saturday in Hillsboro, beating the Silverton Foxes 34-12 in the Oregon Class 5A state championship game. The Bulldogs did the work on the field, dominating one of the best offensive (and defensive) teams in the state, but the final result made Maret proud to be a part of it.
“It makes a guy feel good, the first time ever winning a championship,” he said. “I’ve been watching football quite a bit, and the last two years are about the best that I’ve ever seen.”
That’s music to the ears of Mark Hodges, the Bulldogs head coach, who arrived at the school in 2008 set on raising the bar at Hermiston to a place it’s never been before. His mission was realized Saturday, as the Bulldogs looked every bit the part of state champions in all phases of the game.
“This is for Hermiston. This was a demonstration that a team is more than the sum of its parts. We played like men,” Hodges said after the game. “The worst part is when we wake up (Sunday), we’ll be thinking, ‘Man, I want to do that again.’ ”
The Bulldogs faced a Silverton offense without its best player — running back/linebacker Sam Kuschnick, who still recorded 41/2 tackles on defense with a partially-torn ACL — but executed a game plan that made Kuschnick’s absence a mere afterthought.
“We weren’t supposed to be physical enough,” Hodges said in reference to the Foxes’ bigger interior line.
Trey Neal, the Bulldogs’ starting defensive tackle and the Columbia River Conference defensive player of the year, said the plan was simple.
“Just stop their run game. Everybody stick to their assignment,” said Neal, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior — one of four starters returning next season. “Hodges deserves a lot (of credit), but you’ve got to share it evenly among all the coaches.”
The Hermiston offense started moving the ball immediately after taking the opening kickoff and scored on its first drive, as Luis Medina drilled a 28-yard field goal after an 11-play, 47-yard drive. After the Bulldogs defense forced a punt, quarterback Chase Knutz orchestrated a six-play, 66-yard drive capped with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Snow, who eluded tacklers after a 10-yard curl on the right sideline.
Less than two minutes later, Carson Morter dove along the right sideline to haul in a 42-yard pass from Knutz, setting up a 30-yard touchdown strike to Cole Smith. That put Hermiston up 17-0 with 1:44 left in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs were playing with a confidence that had been building even before they arrived at Hillsboro Stadium.
“It really started in practice. We knew if we stick with our game plan, they can’t stop us,” said Dylan Caldwell, a Hermiston senior and three-year starter on the offensive line. “We were doing a lot of reads (on the line). We just checked off what they were giving us.”
Medina was flawless, going 2-of-2 on field goal attempts and 4-of-4 on extra points. He also booted four of his seven kickoffs into the end zone, negating any chance of a momentum-building return. But the two-time all-CRC placekicker’s contribution was a bit overshadowed, since it’s exactly what he’s been doing all year.
Medina also started at defensive end and was one of seven players to record at least five tackles.
It was a day to remember, but Hodges isn’t ready to stop there. He’s still building.
“When I first came here, guys were asking me what I was going to do against Pendleton,” Hodges said of the Bulldogs’ longtime rival. “I said, ‘Guys, don’t ask me about Pendleton. Our rival is going to be whoever’s the No. 1 team in the state. That’s who we want to go up against. We’re here to win a state title.’ ”
Now, Hodges no longer has to wonder about which team is No. 1.
• Snow left the game with a broken collarbone on the third play of the third quarter. The 6-1 junior batted away a pass from Silverton quarterback Cole Chandler intended for receiver Logan Munson down the left sideline but came down hard on the cold turf. He remained on the turf for several minutes while being attended to by the training staff. He left the field under his own power and was transported to the hospital for treatment.