Vale's Tanner Hamilton looks to avoid Rainier tackler Hunter Boulch Saturday during a semifinal football game. (For the Enterprise/Kathy Aney).
HERMISTON – Undefeated Rainier showed why it is the No.1-ranked class 3A football team in the state Saturday as the Columbians used their power running game to overrun Vale 40-13.
“Their offense is extremely hard to defend. Ultimately what ends up happening is they wear you down,” said Viking Coach Jeff Aldred.
The Columbians didn’t do anything fancy. Rainier just ran the ball behind a big, powerful offensive line to control the game.
“They run at you until they get a big break. It is kind of crazy how effective they were at it,” said Viking receiver Tanner Hamilton. Hamilton finished the game with four receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings.
“They kind of pushed on the gas and didn’t let up,” said Hamilton.
Vale played with determination but watched the Columbians break open a close game in the second quarter with three touchdowns and a commanding 24-7 lead at halftime.
“We moved the ball, it was just when we needed the big play we were just a step short or a little off. The second quarter, honestly, came down to they were bigger up front than we were. They do a good job of outnumbering you,” said Aldred.
Vale running back Keegan Mizuta sprints past a Rainier defender during a semifinal playoff game Saturday in Hermiston. (For the Enterprise/Kathy Aney).
Vale quarterback Colton Kesey was 16 of 33 for 206 yards and tossed a touchdown. Kesey also logged 123 yards rushing.
Rainier, meanwhile, piled up 324 yards on the ground, led by impact player Joey Tripp, who gained 204 yards.
Going into the game, a focus for the Vikings was to slow or stop Tripp.
“He is definitely a hard kid to bring down. He runs low to the ground and has good balance. We needed to be able to solo tackle him,” said Aldred.
Time of possession also conspired to stymie Vale. The Columbians held the ball for more than 28 minutes over four quarters. Vale, meanwhile, held the ball just over 19 minutes.
Clay Siddoway looks downfield for an opening during Vale's semifinal game against Rainier Saturday. (For the Enterprise/Kathy Aney).
For one quarter, it looked like the Columbians might be in for a long game. Vale received the opening kickoff and then put together a five-play, 58-yard scoring drive to draw first blood. Kesey hooked up with Hamilton on a 19-yard touchdown toss with 10:01 to go in the first quarter. Kesey kicked the extra point and the Vikings led 7-0.
“I really did think we would win the game after that first drive,” said Hamilton.
Rainier went ahead 8-7 on Joey Tripp’s five-yard run and point after with 11:13 left in the second quarter.
Then the Viking offense stalled, turning the ball over on downs on their next two possessions and the Columbians capitalized. David Katon’s six-yard touchdown run and Tripp’s point after sprint pushed Rainier out in front 16-7 midway through the stanza. Just before halftime, Rainier increased its lead to 24-7 on Katon’s 26-yard toss to Tripp four seconds before the end of the half.
“That one hurt. That was hard to come back from,” said Aldred. “That was a real momentum shifter right there.”
Scoring runs by Tripp and Katon in the third quarter sealed the win and gave the Columbians a 40-7 advantage.
Kesey’s seven-yard run midway through the final stanza cut the margin to 40-13.
The reality, said Aldred, was the Vikings (7-5) were just out-manned, especially defensively.
“They packed it in. There were times when we couldn’t see what was going on in their backfield. So, we were a little bit undersized defensively compared to their offense,” said Aldred.
Still, the Vikings proved resilient and benefited from standout performances on defense like Clay Siddoway, who led the Vikings with 12 tackles.
Vale was also haunted by penalties. The Vikings were penalized 17 times for 167 yards. Rainier (12-0) was flagged four times for 41 yards.
Vale's Tanner Hamilton collides with a Rainier player during their playoff game Saturday in Hermiston. (For the Enterprise/Kathy Aney).
“There were penalties at inopportune times. There were some things that were frustrating that we were not sure exactly what was being called. So, it seemed like every time we had a big play we had marker down on the field,” said Aldred.
Rainier will face Cascade Christian Saturday at Cottage Grove High School for the 3A state championship. The Challengers defeated Amity 49-24 Saturday.
Hamilton said he and his teammates are proud of what they accomplished this season. He said the loss to Rainier personifies the gutsy, never-say-die attitude of the Vikings.
“It is hard to go through that game and be down so much and not give up. We didn’t give up at all. The whole season we did that. We have been through a lot as a team,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton said the loss was a hard one.
“I couldn’t think of one person that didn’t cry after the game in the family circle we had. The game was sad in that we lost but we are proud of what we have done,” said Hamilton.
Aldred said he, too, was proud of his team.
“They played hard to the end. There were several times this year they could have packed it in, but they kept fighting week in and week out. They are a proto typical group that were very good at bouncing back week to week. We just ran out of steam at the end,” said Aldred.
Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.