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Lions' running game could shine against Hood River Valley

Eagle have been porous against the run, conceding 16 of 21 TDs to the ground game.


by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Lineman Jacob Zartman (56) looks to wrap  up the ball carrier during the loss to Liberty. Zartman's contributions on the offensive and defensive lines are essential to the Lions' success moving forward.It seems Hood River Valley doesn’t know anything but lop-sided. In their four games so far this season, they haven’t had a game where both teams were held under 45 points. Just one of those came in a positive result for the Eagles, who have stumbled out of the gate after a strong 7-3 campaign last season.

This week, Hood River Valley (1-3) will travel downriver to face St. Helens (1-3) in a chance for a little redemption from last week’s beat down at Sherwood, and an opportunity to shake off residue from the Eagles’ dominant victory over St. Helens on the road last year.

The Eagles’ 2012 season stalled in the first round of the playoffs with a loss to Rex Putnam, and with the season went large portions of their starting lineup. Several standouts return, such as receivers Wyatt Webber and Alex Jimenez, but Hood River Valley has a long list of players who have had to step things up this go around.

   At the top of that list is junior quarterback Riley Van Hoose, who shoulders much of the Eagles’ offense with his arm. Not a particular fan of the short passes, Van Hoose is extremely prone to take shots downfield. Many of his nine touchdown passes have been on huge plays – 23, 32 and 75 yards against Redmond – and those numbers aren’t all due to yards after the catch. Van Hoose averages around 12 yards per reception, and with talented wide outs like Webber and Jimenez, the passing attack from Hood River Valley is dangerous.

However, along with the tenancy to target receivers deep in the secondary comes a drawback. Van Hoose’s nine touchdown passes are accompanied by five interceptions, three of which came in the Eagles’ opening loss to Sandy.

In addition to a young quarterback, the Eagles also feature a young offensive line. In the games they’ve lost, the running game played a huge part. Jeremy Fischer, who was a defensive star last season, leads the team with just over 85 rushing yards per game, but there isn’t much behind him. That contrasts with a dominant defensive line that St. Helens brings to the table. Sherwood spent a huge amount of energy focusing on Lion offensive lineman Jacob Zartman, and the Eagles simply don’t have the athletes to make the same commitment. Zartman, along with the rest of his defensive cohorts, should be able to pressure Hood River Valley’s offensive line into making mistakes and opening up some holes.

What the Lions need to do

Keeping on the defensive track, St. Helens needs to set a tone right off the bat. Push the Eagles’ line around early in the game, and they’ll be intimidated the rest of the contest. The best way to tire out a line, whether defensive or offensive, is to keep the players on their heels. Hood River Valley can only keep up the fight for so long without making a mistake. If the defense can break through, they can force Van Hoose to throw ill-advised passes or get to players in the backfield.

St. Helens has done a much better job of playing cleanly and limiting penalties since the opener at Cleveland. Now, they need to focus on limiting turnovers. Those turnovers usually come late in the game when finding points becomes a matter of desperation, but keeping the ball off of the grass in the red zone has been a problem. If the Lions are able to remedy that, they can capitalize of the chances they’ve been giving themselves all season.

Offensively, the Lions are poised for a breakout game. Hood River Valley has given up points in bunches, allowing an average of just under 48 points in their three losses. Most of those points have been on the ground. 16 of the 21 touchdowns scored on the Eagles’ this season were rushing touchdowns, including five against Sandy and six last week against North Salem. Attacking the Eagles on the ground with the legs of Gage Bumgardner, Tanner Long and Brennan Norton should find success, and once holes open up in the middle, Bumgardner can look to hit his receivers.