Friday, November 4, 2011/lk
Mondays are fun if you're playoff-bound.
"Playoff excitement now! Be excited!" coach Caleb Sperry called to his team Monday afternoon at the start of practice, which could be the final football Monday for the seniors.
Sperry led the team in a drill that emphasized popping off the sidelines with enthusiasm.
With Friday's defeat of Crook County, in which the Eagles thoroughly despurred the Cowboys 43-15, the team knows what it has ahead of them, according to Sperry.
"They have an opportunity," Sperry said. "The cool thing is we are a 3-6 team, but this is an opportunity for us to play another week."
The team travels to Sandy Friday for a first-round playoff game against a Pioneer squad that beat the Eagles 38-19 in the season-opener on Sept. 2.
"I told the senior boys that this may be their final Monday football practice," Sperry said. "Maybe not, I hope not, I think we will play more, if we come out swinging and do the best you can."
The team did not come out swinging Friday against Crook County. After a slow first quarter, in which quarterback Cody Walker went 1-6 passing (he was 16-26 for the game) the team stepped it up in the second quarter and took a 7-3 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Hood River bolted for 22 points. Kyle Beam caught a 10-yard pass from Walker to start the third-quarter scoring. Andrew Thompson reached over his own shoulder for a 29-yard touchdown pass from Walker, and had a third-quarter 30-yard interception return.
Blockers including Ramon Ramirez, Eli Fults and Luke Ihle consistently opened things up on and just over the line for a balanced Eagle attack. Gabi Nuno completed the third-quarter stampede with a 47-yard touchdown run. Nuno led all rushers with 164 yards on nine carries.
With fellow senior Erik Gutierrez's kick, the game was all but out of reach at 38-15.
"It feels so good," Thompson said after the game. "We've been playing together since the fifth grade and to finally just cap it with this - we couldn't have ended in any better way."
"It was a good way to go out for them," said Beam, who rushed four times for 30 yards.
"The whole team played really good. We came out and played hard. I'm sure the seniors really appreciated that," said Beam, a junior.
Between Walker's passing, Nuno's rushing and the play of Cole Hunter and Thompson on both sides of the ball, it was a night for seniors to shine.
Add to that list Malcolm McCurdy, a first-year player who had a break-out game in what would be his last regular season game. With Cowboys regularly double-covering Hunter, Walker's usual main target, McCurdy got the benefit.
"They all flashed over on (Hunter) and it left me open, I guess," said McCurdy, who scored on two 10-yard passes from Walker, in the second quarter for Hood River's first touchdown, and again in the fourth for the team's last score. McCurdy has three touchdowns on the season.
Defensively, the best that the Cowboy quarterback Cody Pfau could do was pass for short gains. After a first-quarter 32-yard field goal by Daryl Lopez, the only other offensive score was a 5-yard Pfau run in the third quarter to make it 29-15.
In total yardage the Eagles corralled the Cowboys 451 to 219.
The only major mistake Hood River made on the night was a 85-yard kickoff return by Hunter Bourland on Crook County's first possession of the second half. Bourland brushed off a couple of tackles near the 20-25 yard line and sprinted up the sideline untouched for the score.
McCurdy racked up 117 yards on five catches, leading a balanced receiving crew: Milo Herman and Thompson each caught three for 60 and 52 yards, respectively, and Nuno caught two for 37 yards.
On the night, Walker was stellar, with 16 of 26 completions for 282 yards, the longest at 66 yards, for an 18.2 average. He threw one interception.
Walker racked up his numbers despite battling the flu. Offensive coordinator Bruce Burton joked in the midfield meeting after the game, "Everybody stay away from Cody."
Burton told the team, "Does your record matter now? We'll take anyone on. Enjoy it."
"It feels good," Walker said of his final regular-season win to cap a 3-6 season. "We came out kind of slow. But we came out in the second half and started pounding them. It gives us momentum towards the playoffs. It's gonna be nice."
He was asked: What will it take to win in the playoffs?
"We're coming together," Walker said. "We're working hard just like we do all the time, and we're riding this momentum."
Friday at Sandy
"We're peaking at the right time. We're playing good football and getting better," coach Caleb Sperry said, looking ahead to Friday. "It's a testament to the hard work and attitudes we have."
Sperry won't be spending a lot of time reviewing tapes of Sandy.
"We try to focus on us, not on Sandy," Sperry said. "Going back to the first game (Sandy's victory), that was the key. A lot of things we knew we would have to get better at. We are executing better every week, (committing) fewer penalties, protecting the ball. All those things that hurt us early on we've gotten better at.
"We focus on the things we have control over We have no control over Sandy and who their players are, so we have to eliminate our mistakes and play good football."
Sperry said, "We have an explosive offense to begin with. We can get a lot of yards; but yardage alone does not equal points. It's how effective you are in those yards, and we're getting pretty productive."
The Eagles are healthy as they head into their playoff practice week. Andrew Thompson has "a bit of a bum shoulder but other than that we're healthy," Sperry said. That compares to a year ago, when the team had numerous players out of action or slowed by injury for its play-in loss against Parkrose.