'First game mistakes' haunt Eagles in opening loss to Pioneers

September 7, 2011

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Cole Hunter leaps to defend a pass against Sandy in the first quarter.

The first clues that it was going to be a difficult night for the Hood River Valley Eagles came early in Sandy Friday.

After two Pioneer rushing plays went nowhere to start the game, Sandy quarterback Justin Adams fired a pass to Nick Yungberg for a 35-yard game. Two plays later Yungberg made a leaping catch for another 30 yards, and shortly thereafter Sandy was in the end zone on a drive that took up half the first quarter.

The Pioneers controlled the pace of the game throughout and opened the 2011 season with a 38-19 win over the Eagles.

The Pioneers won the time of possession by a margin of nearly 2:1 and took it to the Eagles with a balanced pass and run attack.

"We wanted to establish the run," Sandy coach Ray Baker said. "They did a good job against it early but then we started to wear them down."

While Sandy running backs Dustin Spencer, Michael Daffron, Kyle Bateman and Ging Martin combined to run for 157 yards, HRV's struggles in the running game carried over from last season.

The Eagles ran for -12 yards in the game and abandoned the running game nearly entirely by the second half after falling behind 18-7 moments in the third quarter.

Unfortunately for the Eagles they could not get much going in the passing game, either.

Eagle receivers dropped numerous throws from quarterback Cody Walker, who was also busy running for his life as the Sandy defense broke through the HRV offensive line time after time.

"It was a lot of first-game mistakes. I thought we would be further ahead execution-wise," HRV coach Caleb Sperry said. "It's all fixable. We can fix dropped passes and mixed blocks."

Walker threw for 206 yards in the game, with Cole Hunter accounting for most of those yards.

The senior wide receiver accounted for three touchdowns and 135 yards. He also picked off Adams twice, including an interception to end a Sandy drive at the halftime horn.

His first touchdown came on a 15-yard grab shortly before the half. When coupled with his interception at the half, he kept HRV down by five points heading into the locker room.

However, momentum shifted decidedly in Sandy's favor to open the second half. An HRV punt fake failed on the Eagles' opening drive, and Sandy responded with a six-play, 60-yard drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown run by Kyle Bateman.

On the first play of the following HRV possession, Blake Robinson stepped in front of a Walker pass and ran it back 70 yards for a touchdown and the Pioneers were in control.

They nearly turned it into a blowout moments later when Joey Damici picked up an apparent fumble by Hunter and ran it back to the HRV 2-yard line. However, the Eagles got to replay the down when the officials could not reach a consensus if Hunter fumbled, was down by contact or the pass was incomplete.

HRV took advantage on the next play when Hunter split the defense and hauled in a 63-yard touchdown catch to again make it a two-score game.

Sandy would score again, though, in the opening moments of the fourth quarter and then consumed a large portion of the clock before the Eagles scored on another Hunter touchdown with 1:52 to play. The scoring drive included a spectacular leaping catch by Hunter to keep the drive alive on fourth down and a successful (if not planned) double pass on a fake punt that blew up in the face of punter Eli Fults.

The Eagles then got a perfectly executed onside kick from kicker Erik Gutierrez to get the ball back, but turned the ball over on downs in four plays.

Sandy then rubbed salt in the wound on a touchdown catch by Bateman as time expired.

Baker, in his fifth year as coach of Sandy, had lost to Hood River Valley in each of the previous four years and was thrilled to beat the Eagles, which include offensive coordinator and former player Bruce Burton.

"They had me scared for awhile," he said. "Hood River is going to score some points and has a great scheme for catching up."

Meanwhile, Sperry said the Eagles are going to go back to practice to figure out what went wrong.

"We just went out and missed assignments," he said. "We have to go back and have more intensity in practice."

Around the CRC: It was not the greatest of opening weeks for the four teams in the Columbia River Conference. Pendleton was blasted 53-6 by Kennewick and The Dalles-Wahtonka was clobbered by Wilsonville 60-13. Hermiston was the only winner, sneaking by Walla Walla 28-21.

Up next: The Eagles host Cleveland in their home opener. The Eagles beat the Warriors 9-6 in Portland in double overtime last year. The Warriors are coming off a 6-0 loss to Milwaukie in their season opener.

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