HERMISTON — Somewhere between home and Hermiston, Heppner lost the offense it intended to use against defending champion Kennedy in the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 2A football championship game.
But it did remember to bring the defense. Turns out that was all the Mustangs needed to finish an undefeated season with a 12-7 victory over the Trojans for the championship at Hermiston High School’s Kennison Field.
Quarterback Jayden Wilson ran for a 56-yard touchdown on the Mustangs’ first offensive play, then got an insurance score on a three-yard run with 5:27 left in the game on pretty much the same option read.
The rest of the game was the story of the Mustang defense. Heppner defenders managed to be everywhere the Trojans didn’t want them to be.
Like this: Kennedy managed just 11 first downs and 162 yards of total offense. Seventy-three of those were on a last desperation drive that got the Trojans their only score with 45 seconds left in the game.
That was the only time the Trojans get into the red zone with their offense. The only other time was at the end of the first half, when Kennedy’s Isaiah Basargin nearly went the length of the field with an interception.
That was it.
“Yeah, it’s really the strength of the team,” coach Greg Grant said. “We’ve got a lot of kids who hustle and just really get after it.
“And that’s good, because I thought our offense was awful. Every time we’d get an opportunity, we’d shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Yeah, there was that. Lost in the hum of victory was the fact that Kennedy is a pretty good defensive team itself. But Grant was right with his holstered pistol comment.
The Mustangs set themselves up twice with drives that began on Kennedy’s half of the field — including once at the 14. But they came away with goose eggs both times.
In all, the Mustangs only gained 240 yards themselves.
But those included Wilson’s big run, which gave the Mustangs a pocket full of house money to play with most of the game.
Wilson ran a simple outside option and read to keep the ball himself. He was hemmed in on the right sidelines once and hit by about six different Trojans. But none of them hit him hard enough to knock him down or at least out of bounds, and before the game was a minute old the Mustangs were up 6-0.
“It was a zone read,” Wilson said, “and the read was to keep it. I just kept running — nothing was going to keep me from scoring.”
The’s the way it s stood until late in the game. A six-point lead is never comfortable, and the Trojans are just clever enough to get one — and they have a kicker, too.
The Mustangs got the insurance with their only drive — a 67-yarder that took nine plays and put the Trojans in what looked like an impossible spot.
They’re game, though. Quarterback Dylan Kleinschmit stayed cool in the face of a continuous onslaught of Heppner blitzes and directed the Trojans down the field.
He looped a scoring pass to David Reyes with 45 seconds to go; the Trojans got the kick and were just an onside kick away from an answered prayer. The kick was a good, elusive bouncer, but Jackson Lehmann got it for Heppner and the game was over.
The championship game was the last game for a pair of Heppner defenders, defensive end Gavin Hanna-Robinson and linebacker Jason Rea. They’ve started at Heppner since their freshman years.
“Kennedy’s a really strong team,” Hanna-Robinson said. “But we start with smash-mouth football. It’s what we do. The idea is to always hit the other guy harder than he’s gonna hit you.”
Did Kennedy show the Mustangs anything that surprised them? Of course not.
“Grant had us ready,” Rea said. “We watched hours and hours of film. Study hall and everything.”
Then they dared Kennedy to do something about it.