HERMISTON — One of the greatest football seasons in South Albany High history came to an end three wins shy of a state title.
The sixth-seeded Rebels were uncharacteristically loose with the ball on a dry, frigid Friday evening as No. 3 Hermiston pulled away for a 40-22 victory in the OSAA 5A state quarterfinals. The Bulldogs (9-2) advance to meet No. 2 Wilsonville in next week’s semifinals.
South, which made it to the final eight for the first time in program history, ends the season at 6-5 overall.
“We didn’t play bad, we were just a little clumsy with the football tonight and it cost us the game,” said Rebels coach David Younger, who watched his team commit five turnovers — four lost fumbles, one interception — to Hermiston’s zero.
“What these kids have accomplished is just awesome and they are special. I know people are going to look at our record and say ‘6-5?’ But that doesn’t define the type of heart these kids have had all year and that refuse-to-lose attitude. We’ve never been more proud of a football team as a coaching staff.”
The Rebels overcame an 0-2 start to win a share of the Mid-Willamette Conference title — their second in three seasons — and reach the playoffs. South then fought back to defeat Crater in dramatic fashion last week, punching its ticket to the quarterfinals.
“Right now it really hurts, but in the end this will be a good experience,” senior quarterback Jake Costello said.
Costello completed 21 of 32 attempts for 318 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. He also carried it 14 times for 30 yards.
Anthony Pulido was Costello’s favorite target, hauling in seven passes for 112 yards and a score. Joe Dunn had six receptions for 93 yards and Eli Nafziger four for 68 and a TD.
“We moved the ball pretty good against their defense,” Costello said. “We just turned it over at critical times, and that ended up being the difference in the game.”
Hermiston senior tailback Jonathan Hinkle ran for 201 yards on 15 carries, including an 83-yard burst up the middle early in the third quarter that extended the hosts’ lead to 28-14.
On the opening possession of the half, Costello hit Pulido on a go route for a 31-yard TD that cut the deficit to seven.
The Bulldogs, who finished second behind Mountain View in Special District 1, answered with Hinkle’s long run. Following South’s fourth lost fumble of the game, a 2-yard Joey Gutierrez Jr. receiving TD made it 34-14 with 27 seconds remaining in the period.
“They’re a good football team and they were coming in and putting their hats on the ball,” Younger said of the fumbles. “We just didn’t have five points of contact and it happens in big games sometimes. It haunted us tonight.”
Gutierrez Jr. then took a bubble screen 80 yards to the house that put it away at 40-14. A Gunner Teem 2-yard run in the closing seconds and subsequent Costello to Colby Romviel 2-point pass wrapped up the scoring.
Teem had a team-high 73 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Hermiston quarterback Andrew James passed for 205 yards and four TDs while running for 44 yards on seven carries.
Dayshawn Neal opened the game with a 67-yard kickoff return, setting up a 2-yard scoring run by Hinkle that put the hosts up 7-0. Neal also hauled in a 30-yard pass from James on the drive.
Following a South three-and-out, Keaton Mikami caught a 4-yard TD to cap a 14-play, 65-yard march. Hermiston then turned a Rebels fumble into a 9-yard Neal TD reception for a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“We just came out, big playoff game, our high school has never been this far, and we kind of were shell-shocked a little bit,” Costello said. “In the middle, we settled down and started to play like we have all year.”
South’s defense kept it a game by holding on two fourth downs following two more lost fumbles. In the closing minutes of the half, Costello connected with Nafziger in the left corner of the end zone for a 4-yard score that made it 21-7.
The 12-play, 74-yard drive included five Costello carries and a lateral to Nafziger that went for 22.
Despite the loss, Younger praised his team’s fight and effort on a night things didn’t go their way.
“I can’t wait to go watch these kids compete in winter sports and get after it in the weight room,” he said. “We’ve got a special group of kids … and I’m excited to have the success we’ve had here carry over.”