Friday night was a teary one at Hill O-Brian Field for Henley football as tenth-seeded The Dalles eliminated the No. 7 Hornets from playoffs in the first round in a 49-18 upset.
Puffy eyes, red noses and tears marked the faces of many Hornets as the 7-2 season came to a crushing 31-point end.
The back-to-back season-ending losses, first to Mazama and then The Dalles, that stained Henley’s nearly undefeated season won’t be remembered as much as the love, loyalty and compassion that were so characteristic of head coach Alex Stork’s third group of guys.
“Just the way we played as brothers,” senior Cameron O’Conner, who had two touchdowns, said through tears after the loss. “I’ve never been on a team like that before where it’s just everybody’s brothers. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing.”
The friendship and bondedness will surely outlast the bitter sting of defeat.
Still, the season-ending loss was painful — to watch, to endure.
“It’s rough losing a game like that,” senior John Tacchini said. “You work so hard and you get a first-round bye for play-ins and you get a home game because you’re seeded high enough. It’s rough for them to come down here and win that game, but they were the better team.
“It’s hard to say really what went wrong tonight,” he continued. “There were a lot of things, a lot of stuff just might not have fallen into place like it usually does. Little things went in their favor — kickoffs, kick returns, stuff like that.”
The Hornets got off to a slow, sloppy start.
Behind a handful of bad snaps, a fumble and three punts, Henley’s offense just couldn’t get going in the first quarter as the Riverhawks pounded the Hornets into the end zone to take a 14-0 lead.
The second quarter was only marginally better. The Riverhawks scored again with about five minutes remaining in the first half, but the Hornets started to get their feet under them.
Two minutes later, Henley got its first touchdown. Junior quarterback Tim Orr threw a touchdown pass to O’Connor to give the Hornets 21-6, but The Dalles blocked the extra-point kick.
Less than a minute later, junior Cade Northcutt came up with a big interception for the Hornets, but Henley couldn’t make anything happen and punted on fourth down about a minute later.
Still the play gave the Hornets some momentum. On defense, Henley started getting stops and was able to contain the Riverhawks momentarily. Northcutt grabbed another key interception with The Dalles on Henley’s 14-yard-line just before halftime.
After the break, the Riverhawks scored again in just four minutes, putting 22 points between them and the Hornets.
Later, on a fourth-and-10 with 40 yards remaining, the Hornets took a risk. They were desperate with not much to lose at that point and decided to run the ball. It paid off.
Orr found senior Braden Lawrie for a 40-yard touchdown play. The Riverhawks, again blocked the Hornets kick.
The Hornets scored once more, on a three-minute, 53-yard drive in the fourth quarter.
O’Conner earned his second touchdown on a one-yard rush, but a failed two-point conversion play and three more Riverhawks touchdowns, including a 95-yard rush by Okean Green, the Hornets fell hard in the final game of the 2019 season.
“It’s sad it’s coming to an end, this run, this beautiful thing we put together,” Lawrie said. “We put it all out there. We tried our hardest every play, put our hearts out there. I couldn’t be happier with this group and this family we made. I’m going to miss it a lot.”
Henley’s seniors have played in Klamath Falls for the final time this season, while the Riverhawks will head home to host Tillamook in the quarterfinals.