The Wildcats close within one score late in the game, but fail on an onside kick

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: MILES VANCE - Wilsonville junior Jonah Gomez flies toward the end zone to score his team's first touchdown in its 35-27 loss to Hermiston in the Class 5A state semifinals at Hillsboro Stadium on Saturday.When things got tough for the Wilsonville football team early in its Class 5A state semifinal on Saturday, the Wildcats didn't quit.

When Wilsonville saw Hermiston push its lead back to two scores in the game's final minutes, the Wildcats didn't quit.

In the end, Hermiston hung on to beat Wilsonville 35-27 in their contest at Hillsboro Stadium, but the Wildcats left with their heads held high nonetheless.

"Our offensive line coach says 'Heart and hustle.' We never stopped," said senior lineman Fernando Salazar. "We never stop until the clock hits zero. We just keep on going, all four quarters. It's an amazing program."

"To the last play of the game, our job was to get the ball back to our offense," said senior tight end/defensive lineman Draco Bynum, a University of Washington commit. "We weren't going to quit. We weren't going to roll over. I couldn't be prouder of how we fought and how we battled it out to the last second."

With the loss, the second-ranked Northwest Oregon Conference champion Wildcats — who lost in the championship game a year ago and reached the semifinals for a third straight time — ended the 2017 season with a 10-2 overall record.

No. 3 Hermiston, the runner-up in Special District 1, improved to 10-2 overall and advanced to the state championship game where it will face No. 4 Churchill at Hillsboro Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday. Churchill, the Midwestern League champion, carries a 12-0 record into the title contest after beating top-ranked Mountain View 35-28 on Saturday.

After seeing Hermiston dominate the first half and finish with 307 rushing yards, the Bulldogs won the Wildcats' respect, as well as the game.

"They are a good team — I've got to give them props," said junior wide receiver Jonah Gomez, who finished with five catches for 75 yards, including his team's first touchdown. "They've got some crazy players on their team."

"They were a great team," added senior lineman A.J. Burkhead, who had six tackles in the game and forced a Hermiston fumble. "They're an awesome team. They did make big plays."

The Wilsonville defense forced back-to-back stops at the start of the game, but the Wildcats' second series on offense ended in just one play when junior quarterback Nathan Overholt's pass to Zach Rivers was picked off by Tyler Rohrman at the Bulldogs' 20-yard line and returned to the 40.

Hermiston followed with a 60-yard scoring drive that took eight plays and 2 minutes, 55 seconds, with senior running back Jonathon Hinkle capping the march with an eight-yard toss around left end to score with 2:12 remaining in the first quarter. The big play on that drive was a 25-yard completion from Andrew James to Jordan Ramirez. The Bulldogs added a conversion run by A.J. Tuia to take an 8-0 lead.

Wilsonville's next series resulted in another turnover, this time with Overholt fumbling the ball away to Hermiston's Cody Wizener at the Bulldogs' 44-yard line on the final play of the opening quarter.

Hermiston scored just four plays later, with James hitting Dayshawn Neal for 35 yards to the Wilsonville 21, getting a 14-yard James run, and finally, a five-yard Hinkle run that boosted the Bulldogs' lead to 15-0.

After a Wilsonville punt, the Bulldogs scored for a third straight time, this time getting a 45-yard TD run up the middle by Peter Earl to make it 22-0 with 7:22 left in the first half.

The Wildcats misfired again on their next series, turning the ball over on downs at the Hermiston 18 after Overholt's fourth-and-two pass fell incomplete when junior Isaiah Haqq was hit hard just as the ball arrived.

But Wilsonville didn't quit. On the ensuing series, following a 21-yard James completion to Neal, Wildcat senior Andrew Gay hit Neal and forced a fumble that junior Trevor Antonson recovered at the Hermiston 20.

From there, Overholt connected on three straight passes for 44 yards, and later, facing a fourth-and-10 from the 27-yard line, he threw down the middle to Gomez who made an over the shoulder catch for a touchdown with just 21 seconds left in the half. Austin Kness' extra point sent the game into halftime with Hermiston's lead at 22-7.

"A lot of teams, you see 22-0 or 22-7 and you want to just kind of throw in the towel, call it a game, but that's not who we are and that's not how we want to go out," Bynum said.

The Cats opened the third quarter with their best drive of the game, marching 72 yards in seven plays, with Overholt hitting on four straight throws for 51 yards and capping the drive with a 12-yard run around left end that brought Wilsonville within 22-14 just 2:19 into the second half.

But Hermiston responded in-kind, getting a 67-yard Hinkle run to the Wildcats' eight, and one play later, an eight-yard James run up the middle to boost the Bulldogs' lead to 29-14.

The Wildcats pushed as far as the Hermiston 12 on the ensuing series, but saw Overholt sacked by Keaton Mikami on third down and his fourth-down pass to Jacob Herr fall incomplete.

With its back to the wall, the Wilsonville defense stepped up, with Gomez tackling Neal for a three-yard loss after a catch on a fourth-and-one play near midfield with 9:42 remaining in the contest.

The Wildcats scored just five plays later, with Overholt hitting Gomez for 30 yards on first down, finding Gomez for another 19 yards two plays later, and junior running back Cooper Mootz running five yards untouched for the touchdown. But when Neal blocked Kness' extra point, the Bulldog lead was 29-20 with 8:25 left on the clock.

To make matters worse, Hermiston came back with a 90-yard drive that took 15 plays, chopped 6:01 off the clock and ended when Mikami bounced off two Wilsonville tacklers to score on a four-yard run that made it 35-20 with just 2:16 remaining to play.

Undaunted, Wilsonville got a 13-yard Overholt-to-Haqq completion to the Wildcat 48 on the ensuing series, then a short Overholt throw to Haqq on the right side. Haqq caught the ball five yards into Hermiston territory and immediately flipped it to Herr as he ran toward the Bulldogs' sideline and turned it into a 52-yard score that cut the deficit to 35-27 with 1:41 left to play.

On the ensuing kickoff, however, Wilsonville's attempted onside kick did not travel the required 10 yards, Hermiston took over at the Wildcats' 49 and then ran out the clock to win.

After the game, the Wildcats considered what might have been in a game filled with missed opportunities.

"There were a lot of opportunities left on the table," Salazar said. "We just didn't execute the game plan. We expected a different outcome, but it is what it is."

"We had some opportunities, just a couple of dropped balls, a couple of missed tackles — you could stay up all night worrying about that stuff, but that will kill you," Bynum added.

For the game, Mootz carried 18 times for 71 yards and one TD, Overholt went 21 for 33 passing with two TDs and one interception and added 15 carries for 62 yards, while Haqq added five catches for 62 yards.

Bynum led the Wildcats with nine tackles, while Gay and Chance Hansen had seven stops each.

For Hermiston, Hinkle ran 21 times for 165 yards, James went 10 of 17 passing for 165 yards, and Neal made five catches for 80 yards. On defense, Neal, James and Joey Gutierrez made seven tackles each.

Contact Sports Editor Miles Vance at 503-330-0127 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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