Forest Grove rides a pair of big plays to a big lead and a 31-16 homecoming victory against Hillsboro

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Forest Grove students rush the field and hoist receiver Ethan Thursam into the air following Friday's 31-16 homecoming victory against Hilhi. Big-time plays can lead to big-time results.

That is exactly what happened for the Forest Grove football team on Friday night against Hillsboro. Riding the momentum of key bookend first-half plays from Gio Tayetto and Cameron Kemper, the Vikings built up a 17-0 lead en route to a 31-16 homecoming victory at Hendricks Stadium.

The win halted a three-game losing streak and leveled Forest Grove’s record at 4-4 overall. A 2-4 Pacific Conference mark puts the squad in a three-way tie for fifth place with Century and McMinnville heading into this week’s final round of regular-season games.

As Forest Grove coach Dwight Jensen pointed out, the contest marked a turnaround of sorts, in that his team finally figured out how to hold on to an early lead. In games this season against Century and Newberg, the Vikings took early advantages only to watch those leads evaporate into losses.

“I think we responded better tonight, and we were bending and not breaking and prevented them from scoring,” Jensen said. “We saw some good things.”

Though the Spartans actually had more first downs (22 to 15), time of possession (27:01 to 20:59) and total yards (363 to 282), it felt as though the Vikings were in control the whole way, as they made the big plays when they needed them.

Tayetto set the tone early with one of those good things Jensen saw. After Hilhi missed a 32-yard field goal attempt on its opening drive, the shifty senior running back busted Forest Grove’s second play from scrimmage up the left side of the field for a 75-yard touchdown run. So with 7:15 to go in the opening quarter, the Vikings had barely touched the ball and yet they already led 7-0.

“I hit the sidelines, and I outran everybody until there was No. 12,” Tayetto explained. “And then I had to cut it inside because I saw Zac (Collins) was going to block me, and I just took it to the house.”

Kemper also took it to the house, snuffing out a Spartans drive late in the second quarter with a long interception return. With about three and a half minutes remaining until the intermission, Hilhi started from its own 29. The visitors chewed up 36 yards over the next seven plays, setting up a key third-and-2 on Forest Grove’s 35.

And that’s where Kemper came in. The junior defensive back stepped in front of Hilhi quarterback Garrett Paul’s pass, snatched the ball out of the air and raced up the left sideline practically untouched until he reached the end zone 70 yards later. The pick-six staked the Vikings to a 17-0 lead with just 43 seconds left in the half, putting the momentum squarely on Forest Grove’s sideline.

“We started off hot, and you know, when we get those leads, we just gotta keep momentum,” Kemper said. “Can’t ice skate, as our coach calls it.”

In fact, the Vikings put the game on ice in the second half. Hilhi did get on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter on a 43-yard field goal by Tyler Hoiem, but Forest Grove was not done yet. Late in the quarter, Luis Fernandez sacked the Spartans quarterback — Matt Jones, this time — on third down deep in Hilhi territory to force a punt, giving the Vikings prime field position on the 26-yard line when the clock flipped to the fourth quarter.

And Forest Grove made the visiting side pay.

After a run up the middle from Tayetto, quarterback Taylor Jensen recorded three consecutive pass completions. The last one, from 13 yards out, found Ethan Thursam in the right corner of the end zone with 10:04 remaining for a 24-3 lead.

Hilhi answered two minutes later with a touchdown on Jones’ 2-yard keeper to trim the score to 24-10. But Cody Smith sealed the game with an exclamation point when he broke a couple of tackles and danced 58 yards up the right sideline to put Forest Grove back up by three touchdowns at 31-10 with 1:52 remaining.

Jones’ 4-yard pass to Marshall Taunton with 48 seconds left accounted for the final points in the contest.

David Ortiz also contributed to the Vikings’ scoring efforts with a 26-yard field goal late in the first quarter. Tayetto led the ground game, rushing 19 times for a game-high 158 yards. Smith added three carries for 67 yards, most of them coming on that long touchdown run.

Afterward, Tayetto complimented the offensive line — which included starters Ben Godfrey, Luis Fernandez, Jake James, Tate de Sully and Keigan Pesenti.

“Love them to death. They played hard, and they’re getting better every game,” Tayetto said. “I appreciate them. I just love what they do.”

Forest Grove closes out the regular season Friday night at home against Tigard. The Tigers (8-0, 6-0) have already wrapped up the conference title.

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