Ten plays into the game, the annual rivalry between Hermiston and Pendleton was shaping up to be the game of the century.
With both teams exploding for two touchdowns in the first three minutes of a game that would decide the Columbia River Conference championship, fans were being treated to the likes of Ali-Frazier, Bird-Magic, Clemens-Schilling.
At the 8:59 mark of the first quarter, it was tied at 14 after Buckaroos’ quarterback Kai Quinn hit Levi Winterton on a post route that went for a 78-yard score.
Five minutes later, when Cory Adams crashed through the goal-line plane from 1-yard out to give the Bulldogs a two-touchdown lead, it was virtually over.
But the fans did get to see one very good Hermiston football team ranked third in the latest Associated Press poll.
“I think we can go all the way,” said Bulldogs coach Mark Hodges when asked how far his team could go this season. “It depends on three things: our health, what’s between our ears and what’s in our hearts.”
Hermiston had enough heart to weather an energetic start by the Pendleton offense as it broke a pair of big plays and then hold the Buckaroos scoreless for the final 45 minutes.
“We were classy. We played well on offense, defense and special teams after a rough start,” Hodges said. “They were bigger than us, but our offensive line controlled them.”
Pendleton went three-and-out on its first drive of the game before Hermiston took over at its own 42. After quarterback Chase Knutz found Ethan Snow for an 11-yard gain, Cory Adams got loose for a 47-yard touchdown run.
The Bucks’ then tied it up, as Devan Page needed just two carries to go 80 yards, finishing with a 58-yard burst up the middle. Hermiston struck back, as Sam Colbray carried for 18 yards to the Bulldogs’ 32 before Knutz hit Snow for a 50-yard payday.
Eight seconds later, it was Pendleton again for the tying score.
“We had to mentally check ourselves,” Colbray said. “Coach told us we had to start playing to our level.”
That’s when Hermiston began to pull away. The Bulldogs mounted an 11-play, 66-yard drive capped by Colbray’s 3-yard dive — his second of four touchdowns.
The Bulldogs defense then forced a punt and scored on their next drive, highlighted by a 42-yard Knutz-to-Snow connection and capped by Adams’ 1-yard touchdown run that made it 28-14.
“This was more than we expected. We knew we had the talent. We just had to put it all together,” Colbray said after finishing with 124 yards on 16 carries.
“Sam’s a hard worker and a physical runner,” Hodges said. “Whenever you have that physicality, you want to use that.”
Adams had a good day on the ground, too, carrying 11 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bulldogs’ win secured a home berth for the first round of the OSAA Class 5A playoffs beginning Nov. 7.
“We’re definitely thinking of a state title,” Colbray said. “We have to let our play speak for itself. If we do that, we’ll be able to go far.”
Knutz proved why he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the northwest region, completing 17 of 26 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns, bringing his season total to 28.
Hermiston built a 49-14 lead by halftime and scored the final 49 points of the game.
After Snow caught his second touchdown of the game, a 19-yarder with 2:25 left in the half, the Bucks sailed a long snap over over punter Zack Myers, who saved an even bigger disaster when he slapped the ball out of the end zone for a safety.
Things didn’t get any better for Pendleton in the second half. Hermiston took the opening kickoff and went 69 yards in just four plays thanks to a 43-yard catch by Carson Morter and a 23-yard run by Colbray, who spun, stiff-armed and bullied his way to his third score of the day.
Landon Gammell blocked a Bucks’ punt, giving the Bulldogs a short field at the Pendleton 44 with 9:52 left in the third. Two plays later, it was Colbray again, this time on a 24 yarder to make it 63-14.
Snow led all receivers with eight catches for 155 yards.
H—Cory Adams 47 run (Luis Ortiz kick)
P—Devan Page 58 run (Sabaztian Corona kick)
H—Ethan Snow 50 pass from Chase Knutz (Ortiz kick)
P—Levi Winterton 78 pass from Kai Quinn (Corona kick)
H—Sam Colbray 3 run (Ortiz kick)
H—Adams 1 run (Ortiz kick)
H—Colbray 1 run (Ortiz kick)
H—Snow 16 pass from Knutz (Ortiz kick)
H—Snow 19 pass from Knutz (kick failed)
H—Colbray 23 run (Ortiz kick)
H—Colbray 24 run (kick failed)
RUSHING—P, Quinn 8-65, Page 12-84, Gabe Walker 3-2, Zack Myers 1-27, T.J. Hancock 3-15. H, Knutz 4-24, Adams 11-138, Colbray 16-124, Mitch ell Brown 8-28, Nathan Hunsaker 1-6.
PASSING—P, Quinn 8-22-0-107. H, Knutz 17-26-0-336.
RECEIVING—Page 1-(minus 2), Kyler Lunny 1-8, Hancock 5-23, Winterton 1-78. H, Snow 8-155, Morter 3-67, Keegan Crafton 4-96, Cole Smith 1-8, Adams 1-10.
FIRST DOWNS: P 7, H 25. FUMBLES-LOST : P 1-1. H 1-1. PENALTIES: P 6-35, H, 8-70.