HARRISBURG — On Friday morning, the town’s high school football team left for the 3A state championship game, and the squad’s yellow school bus was followed by a caravan of residents in their own vehicles.
A convoy of dozens of cars, pickups and vans honked their horns and flashed their hazard lights as they started the trip to Eastern Oregon.
Harrisburg High School (10-2) faces Vale (11-0) at 2:30 this afternoon in Hermiston, and the game is a pretty big deal for locals.
“It’s huge,” said Sherry Kuschel, whose son Bryce Kuschel is a lineman for the Eagles.
“We don’t have very many (state championships) in any sport,” added Kuschel, who also is the volleyball coach for Harrisburg High School.
The only time the Eagles won a football state championship was in 1966. That was also the last time the team even made it to the semifinals, said Coach Scott Phelps.
Sophomore Layten Briggs, a lineman, said he sees signs supporting the Eagles throughout town.
“They’re excited. ... Probably all the people who used to play for Harrisburg are pretty psyched,” said sophomore lineman Asim Hirani.
He moved to town from Fremont, California, about a year ago.
While Harrisburg has two losses this season, Vale has none. Phelps wasn’t worried, in part because of the Eagles’ tough schedule.
“We’re playing really good football right now, and we’ve improved as the season went on,” he said.
The line has progressed as players mastered a new blocking scheme, Phelps added.
While the community felt this year’s squad had potential to make a splash, “There’s never been a feeling that if we don’t win it all, it’s a let down,” Phelps said.
He added that Vale might feel pressure to win. According to the Oregon School Activities Association, the Vikings have nine championships, though the most recent of those came in 1993.
Harrisburg hadn’t had a winning season in nearly a decade until last year.
The teams matched up in the playoff quarterfinals in 2013, and Vale came out on top, 27-25.
Phelps said the game did have a bit of a revenge factor for Harrisburg.
During a brief weightlifting session Friday morning, Briggs talked about the teams’ high expectations.
“We’re all pretty excited. I think we all think we can win,” he said.