After back-to-back 6-4 seasons which followed a 6-5 year which followed a 3-7 campaign, Hermiston (Ore.)
football coach Mark Hodges might have tried to devise a long-term plan to break through.
But the fifth-year coach is a strong believer in the one-day-at-a-time approach and it's all paid off during the current 8-1 campaign and No. 7 ranking in the state, according to MaxPreps.
For the team's excellence, balance and vast improvement, the Bulldogs have been selected as the MaxPreps Oregon Team of the Week, presented by the Oregon National Guard.
The Bulldogs have won four straight, including a 63-14 win over Pendleton last week, when senior quarterback Chase Knutz
completed 17 of 26 for 336 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior Cory Adams
rushed 11 times for 138 yards and two TDs and junior Samuel Colbray
rushed 16 times for 124 yards and four scores. Knutz's favorite target was junior Ethan Snow
, who had eight catches for 155 yards and three TDs and Keegan Crafton
, who had four catches for 96 yards.
The offensive explosion upped the team's season point total to a whopping 432 (54 per game) while giving up just 142.
"It all starts with a dedicated group of seniors," Hodges said. "Our seniors have tremendous faith in each other and in our coaches and we are all willing to give each other our best. We started having meetings every two weeks starting last January which featured setting goals and expectations."
Part of those goals started with a daily philosophy entitled "BIOFIN." It entails a strong daily faith and focus, stressing that "All we can do is focus on today; tomorrow will come when it gets here," Hodges said. "Don't let today go to waste worrying about tomorrow. … The players and coaches bought into it and the result has been steady improvement."
It helps to have a high-powered offense led by Knutz, who has completed 126 of 209 for 2,144 yards and 28 touchdowns. Adams is the leading rusher with 120 carries for 904 yards and 11 scores, while Colbray has rushed for 594 yards and 14 scores in just seven games. Carson Morter
is the top receiver with 41 catches for 767 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Snow, in just seven games, has 27 catches for 519 yards and seven TDs.
The Bulldogs have scored more than 70 once and more than 50 in five of the last six games. During their win streak, they've scored 249 points (62.3 per game).
"We put an emphasis on being multidimensional and that each one of the parts complements the other," Hodges said. "We work each part as if that part's success is contingent on the other pieces being equally successful. … We try to not allow the defense to pigeonhole us into being one-dimensional. This philosophy allows us to get a lot of different types of players involved and many have a role to contribute. In short, we want to be dynamic."
That they are, led by Knutz, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior who has thrown for 6,748 yards and 74 touchdowns in his career. Hodges said it's not coincidence why his third-year starter has been so successful.
"He comes in every Sunday for three to four hours and meets with me and essentially builds the offensive game plan for the week," Hodges said. "He studies the opponents defensive schemes, where we have matchup advantages and helps me decided formations and playing calling. He takes ownership over the game plan thus it makes him more effective, knowledgeable and confidant.
"Chase also has outstanding instincts and timing, good footwork which he practices on constantly, and a very strong arm. He has the perfect physical and mental combination you're looking for in a quarterback."
The Bulldogs excel at the point of attack, starting with outstanding offensive linemen Dylan Caldwell
(left tackle) and Luis Santoyo
(left guard). "Luis may be the toughest lineman I've ever coached," Hodges said. "Both of these guys together on our left side give us tremendous stability, brains and toughness."
On the right side,Michael Potts
(guard) and Cesar Lopez
(tackle) are starters and are coached by former Arizona State offensive lineman Bradis McGriff.
Leading tacklers on the team are Trey Neal
, a junior, with 63 tackles in eight games including 14.5 for losses. Six others have at least 40 tackles, led by Luis Medina
and Michael Gossler
with 49 apiece.
had nine sacks and Neal 7.5. Morter has six interceptions and the team has a whopping 50 pass deflections.
Gammell and Medina do a superb job pressuring from the outside and Neal is a special talent, according to Hodges. It helps to have a defensive line coach with the experience of David Faaeteete, a former player at the University of Oregon. Of Neal, Hodges said: "He's very coachable and a hard worker. He has good size and outstanding mobility. He uses his hands very well."
Asked what he's pleased with most thus far and Hodges said: "Our toughness and resiliency. This is not a team of cliques. They hang together and appreciate what each other gives to the team. I've also been very pleased by the dedication of the coaching staff. Our coaches are second to none when it comes to preparation and getting the most out of a player."
All that said, the Oregon 5A playoffs will be tough sledding. Do the Bulldogs have the goods to win it all?
"We do have a shot, but it's contingent on us being willing to get better every week," Hodges said. "there are three things that will determine our success in the playoffs: Our health, our minds and our hearts. If we stay focused on us and we don't get distracted by the noise, we have an excellent shot."Staff writers Colin Ward-Henninger and Kirstin Beal contributed to this report.