For a team that dived into the Mid-Columbia Conference last year for the first time, the Hermiston football team definitely held its own.
In fact, the Bulldogs may have been the best team in Eastern Washington that didn’t make the playoffs.
At 5-3 in Mid-Columbia Conference play (6-4 overall), the Bulldogs were tied for third with Hanford, Kamiakin and Kennewick in the standings.
Hermiston had a couple of good wins against Class 4A regional playoff teams, beating Richland 27-21, and taking down Hanford 42-35 in overtime.
The problem was, the Bulldogs lost squeakers to Kamiakin 34-27 and to Kennewick 26-25.
Those losses left Hermiston the odd team out when it came to the Class 3A regional playoffs, as both Kennewick and Kamiakin advanced based on head-to-head records.
“It’s tough,” said Hermiston head coach David Faaeteete. “We competed all year, and it comes down to some missed opportunities, some missed PATs, some missed tackles.”
But that was last year, and now it’s time to move on.
5 things you need to know about this year’s Bulldogs:
1. How to replace an Andrew James or Wyatt Noland?
“You don’t,” said Faaeteete. “You just hope the guys put in their work during the summer and step up when it’s time.”
Look, the cupboard is not bare down in Oregon. The Bulldogs graduated 15 seniors from last year’s team, yet 43 juniors and sophomores were also on that roster.
It’s just that James and Noland — at quarterback and running back — were as nasty a 1-2 offensive punch in the MCC there was. And they both graduated in June.
Together, they combined for 3,850 yards on the MCC’s No. 2 offensive team last season. James had 2,144 yards of total offense (1,391 passing and 753 rushing), while Noland led the MCC in rushing with 1,570 yards rushing (1,706 total yards).
So Faaeteete will look to senior Guiomar Garay and his younger brother, junior Daniel Faaeteete, to pick up Noland’s carries.
“They’ll do it if they can handle the load,” said coach Faaeteete.
2. Chase Elliott will run the offense.
He’s just a sophomore. But he showed the coaching staff during preseason that he’s capable of running the Bulldogs’ scheme.
“He’s young,” said Faaeteete. “But he’s getting better every day. He competes.”
Junior Sam Schwirse could also see some time at quarterback.
3. Give Wachli the ball.
Walchli watermelons aren’t the only thing in Hermiston that are popular.
Garrett Walchli returns for the Bulldogs, and football fans love him. He’s speedy and hits hard.
Faaeteete will find ways to get him as many touches as he can this season. So the senior should see time at receiver, yet he’ll also set up as a running back.
“We’ll do that within the confines of the game,” cautions Faaeteete. “It’s a long season, and we don’t want him to get hurt. We also have to make sure we distribute the ball to other players.”
4. The Bulldogs have a big offensive line.
This, right now, is their biggest strength.
Senior Chase Bradshaw, at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, was a first-team MCC selection last season on the line as a sophomore.
Senior Dustyn Coughlin — at 6-5, 295 — was an honorable mention pick in 2018.
Together, they will anchor a big offensive line that should win some battles in the trenches.
“I’m really excited for Chase and Dustyn coming into this year,” said Faaeteete. “They’ll lead by example.”
5. Defense, led by the secondary, could be stingy.
Senior Sean Stewart will help anchor the defensive line, while senior Ryan Arnold will lead the linebacking corps.
But there is a lot of experience back in the secondary, which will help against some of these MCC passing offenses.
Seniors Walchli and Broc Remmer, as well as junior Trevor Wagner, will shore up the back end
.“They’re thinking back there,” said Faaeteete. “They’re more cerebral.”
So if anyone in MCC believes Hermiston will have a down year, they need to think again.
“I just want our kids to go out and compete,” said Faaeteete. “These guys have aspirations. They want to make the playoffs.”