Pioneers poach Eagles to advance to state football playoffs

November 9, 2011

For seven minutes or so everything was going right for the Hood River Valley Eagles in Sandy Friday night.

It's best not to ask about the other 41 minutes.

After taking a first-quarter lead the Eagles surrendered six unanswered touchdowns and fell 41-7 to the Pioneers in a 5A state play-in game.

The Eagles trailed by three touchdowns coming out of halftime but Sandy's Nick Yungeberg returned the opening kickoff of the second half 80 yards for a touchdown, and the Eagles never threatened the rest of the way.

"I told him, OK, you are a senior and you get one kickoff return," Sandy coach Ray Baker said. "And the rest is history."

Justin Adams threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers for the Pioneers and the Sandy defense shut out the Eagles after the first quarter and held HRV to 217 total yards.

Early in the game it looked like all the breaks were going to go the Eagles' way.

On their first possession the Pioneers fumbled at the HRV one-yard line.

The Eagles almost returned the favor on their ensuing possession when Cole Hunter had the ball stripped as he went for the end zone, but it rolled out of bounds inside the one.

Three plays later Gabi Nuno crashed into the end zone from a yard out to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.

On Sandy's next possession the Pioneers punted and set the Eagles up in excellent field position.

That was about the last thing to go right for the Eagles.

Cody Walker's first pass of the drive was intercepted and the Pioneers needed only one play to convert it into points, with Justin Adams hitting a leaping Ryan Cargill for a 35-yard touchdown.

The Pioneers hit high gear in the second quarter as they marched 54 yards for a touchdown by Cody Welty to take the lead. Things only got worse for the Eagles as they fumbled the ensuing kickoff and three plays later the Pioneers were in the end zone again on a 16-yard pass from Adams to Dan Eisele. The Eagles avoided getting into a bigger hole in the closing minutes of the half when Blake Robinson fumbled out the back of the end zone on the one-yard line.

However, the Eagles could not take advantage, even with a couple more Sandy miscues. On the next Eagle possession, a fake punt went awry, giving Sandy the ball at the HRV 21. However, the Pioneers gave the ball right back on a fumble which was recovered by Nick Weekly.

The Eagles then turned the ball over again on a Walker interception on the first play of the drive.

Sandy was able to convert that turnover into points on an Adams pass to Zack Skelton for a three-score lead heading into halftime.

After Yungberg's return to start the second half, any momentum that the Eagles gathered in the locker room was promptly sucked away.

"Think it did," take the momentum away," said HRV coach Caleb Sperry. "It's hard to recover from something like that."

The Eagles were trying to return to the state playoffs for the first time since 2004, but after the strong opening minutes, nothing went right.

"I think the momentum just got away from us," Sperry said. "They got all the emotional momentum."

Sandy meanwhile earned its first trip to the state playoffs since 1999 and earned a first-round matchup with Marist, the No. 1-ranked 5A team in the state.

"I think this was the best week of practice we've had in my four years here," Baker said. "We prepared them really hard and they worked really hard."

The Eagles finish the year 3-7 overall, in third place in the Columbia River Conference, and heading into an offseason where they will need to replace graduating seniors at key position.

The Eagles will enter next season with a new quarterback, new running backs, new starting wide receivers and a new starting group of linebackers.

"We've just got to go back to the drawing board," Sperry said. "There are a lot of positive things to draw on and these kids established a real workmanlike attitude."

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