LA PINE — Perhaps it was a good thing that Bo DeForest did not learn anything new about his team in Friday night’s 16-12 loss to Henley High.

The La Pine head coach has known it will not be overwhelmed physically between the white lines. And he has known there is no quit in the team and his players will just keep playing.

That was the case Friday when the Hawks were not pushed around by the larger Henley program.

The Hawks could have folded in the second half against the Hornets, but instead battled back and nearly pulled off the upset.

“I’ve known these guys for a long time,” said DeForest.

“They are a physical group who love playing football. We just need to get on the other end of close games.”

Going toe-to-to with an unbeaten 4A program and nearly securing a comeback win showed the players just how close the Hawks are to a breakthrough in a way playing a same classification team could not.

“No one can really keep up with us after halftime,” said senior linebacker Dylan Hankey, who came up with multiple key stops in the second half to keep the game within striking distance.

“We come out hard every time, play with a lot of heart and we all just fight for each other,” he said. “As a 3A team taking on a good 4A team I think we did really good. We had our chances but just did not capitalize.”

Four turnovers — three interceptions and a fumble — were examples of failing to capitalize. As was a potential game-winning drive stalling at the 10-yard line with under five minutes to go.

In what was a defensive battle Friday night, La Pine was able to use explosive plays to find the end zone. In the first quarter, senior running back Adrian Boysha outran the Hornets defense for a 75-yard touchdown to tie the game at 6.

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Trailing 16-6 late in the third quarter, the run-heavy Hawks caught the Hornets’ defense peeking in the backfield and junior quarterback Colton Campbell found junior wideout Haakon Hanson behind the defense for a 62-yard score.

The Hawks needed just one more offensive play that did not come.

Before the season started, La Pine was going to go through a gauntlet of a nonconference schedule. Three of the four games before league play were scheduled against teams in the 3A coaches top-10 preseason rankings. League play would feature three more top-10 teams.

Friday night’s opponent was supposed to be Taft coming from the Central Coast to Central Oregon. It had the makings of a layup game for the Hawks — Friday would have been Taft’s second game played of the year. The one game the Tigers did play, they were on the wrong side of a 58-0 shutout. But Taft had its game canceled for the third time this season.

Instead, the Hawks got the Hornets, who are not only a classification higher, but came ranked seventh in the 4A coaches poll. The Hornets boasted a potent offense that had averaged 39 points per game in its three wins to start the season.

After a year of COVID-19, smoke, bus issues and official shortages, teams now are ready to expect the unexpected.

“You never know what you are going to get,” said DeForest. “The kids deal with adversity really well and have just gotten used to it. They just know they line up and play football against whoever is across from them.”

Against the stout La Pine defense, the Hornets were held to 23 points fewer than their season average while being shut out the entire second half.

While the loss to the Hornets stings, La Pine is taking a long-game approach that it will be beneficial as the season continues. Playing a daunting schedule should help the Hawks make a run to the postseason.

“We aren’t going to see anything that we haven’t seen already,” said DeForest. “We have seen power football teams. We have seen finesse football teams. We have seen speed. We have prepared ourselves for a state championship run.”

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