Who said sports don't matter?
Forest Grove head coach Perry Herbst walked off the field in Hood River Friday night following the Vikings 13-0 win over the Eagles in their Special District 1 crossover playoff game, Oct. 26, and quietly summed-up what the win and this season meant, in one short statement.
"I didn't start crying, but I almost did when we were taking a knee."
After Herbst's first two seasons, in which the Vikings tallied just a single win, this year's Forest Grove squad finished 6-3 overall, and with their win over Hood River Valley, qualified for the state playoffs where they'll face Thurston, Nov. 2, at 7:00 P.M. at Thurston High School.
"You know how long of a journey this has been?" said Herbst. "I thought we had a great shot at a winning season and the playoffs with the kids we had, but the fact that these guys are such a close-knit group, really makes this special."
And the coach wasn't the only one who appreciated this year's turnaround. Senior center Mark Kind was all smiles after the game, speaking to the gratitude of winning in the wake of such a difficult stretch of years.
"This feels great," Kind said. "In the past couple years it wasn't a lot of fun, but this year has been a blast and this group is like a brotherhood. I can't wait for next week."
Following a scoreless first quarter, Forest Grove scored the game's first points with 7:08 remaining in the first half when the Vikings capped a 15-play, 81 yard drive with a Dominic Villarreal 4-yard touchdown catch. The drive was kick-started by a 40 yard pass from Jarod Miller to senior tight end Dominic Funk, then Forest Grove parlayed a nice combination of passes with a handful of Anthony Knott runs to setup Villarreal's score.
On fourth down and following two straight incompletions, the Viks chose to go for it rather than settle for a field goal. Miller sat calmly in the pocket, then threw softly to an open Villarreal in the middle of the end zone, who dove to his right to snare a ball that appeared to be headed for an incompletion and a turnover on downs, but ended up as the game's first score.
The Vikings appeared on the verge of taking a two-score lead late in the first half, but running back Isaiah Ahmad fumbled the ball into the end zone on first and goal from the Eagles' 3-yard line, turning the ball over and securing just a 7-0 halftime lead.
Hood River came out more determined in the second half, moving the ball between the 20-yard lines with a short passing game and designed quarterback runs. But failed twice to convert inside the Forest Grove 35-yard line, as the Vikings' defense rose to the occasion, stifling the Eagles' potent run game and preserving their slim 7-0 lead.
"We packed the box on them, because we knew they were going to run #22 a bunch of times," Herbst said. "We used a lot of stunts with our interior linemen and that helped us."
Forest Grove moved the ball to midfield on their opening drive of the fourth quarter and appeared ready to ice the game with a second score, but on what was a wet, rainy night in the Gorge, Ahmad lost another fumble near the Hood River Valley 35-yard line with 8:02 left in the game.
However, the Vikings defense again bowed-up, forcing a three-and-out, and after just a five yard Eagles punt, Forest Grove used six plays to go 39 yards, capped by a three yard touchdown run by Ahmad, allowing the junior to amend for what had sadly been a tough night for the back to that point.
"I knew he would do that and that's why I stuck with him," said Herbst. "He's a good interior runner and he finds his way."
The Viks failed on their extra point attempt, but salted away the remaining four minutes with sound defense and a handful of runs. Now, with a state playoff bid secured and a game against Thurston on the horizon, Forest Grove can focus on the Colts while simultaneously taking a short period of time to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
"We've yet to play our best football, and the kids know that," Herbst said. "I think the kids believe they can win. These seniors were sophomores my first year and we played a lot of them, and they were upset about how things went the last couple of years, so it's good to see these results, but we also know there's still more left to do."
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