From start to finish, this was the Ellensburg High School Bulldogs game to win.

Homecoming night, coming off a tough 0-3 start to the season and then opening CWAC play last Friday with a road win over Ephrata High School, no way were the Bulldogs going to allow East Valley High School ruin that.

And if it wasn’t for the Ellensburg special teams that set the tone right at kickoff when senior Brenden Swanson took it to the house untouched for a 100-yard score and then a blocked punt by Dion Hardman and picked up by Wyatt Nelson to put the Bulldogs up 14-0 not even five minutes into the game — the result could have been different.

But with the defense making key stops, Ellensburg was able to hold on for a 27-14 win Friday night.

“Right from the jump it just put a smile on our face,” said Hardeman, who rushed for two touchdowns and was also the Homecoming King at halftime. “We just had to stay humble, and we did a great job of it. After that, I felt like we had an advantage.”

The Bulldog defense, while allowing elusive quarterback Tyler Stone to throw for 213 yards on 18-of-34 completions along with 65 yards on the ground, stymied the Red Devils (2-3, 0-1 CWAC) twice in the red zone.

After the aforementioned blocked punt return for a score, East Valley drove down in 11 plays only to be stopped at the Ellensburg 11-yard line after Stone’s run was short of the first down.

Ellensburg took advantage the following series, as quarterback Ryan Ferguson swung a pass wide to the explosive Swanson and he took it 85 yards for a touchdown but was negated due to an illegal block in the back.

No worries, Ellensburg still punched it in after an East Valley pass interference to set up Hardeman’s 10-yard touchdown, 21-0, with six seconds left in the first quarter.

Then to start the third quarter with the Bulldogs leading 27-7, East Valley moved the ball to Ellensburg’s 12. But the stout Bulldog defense came up with a sack from Bryce Messner on fourth-and-10 that ended the 15-play drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock.

Messner had two sacks on that drive alone, four for the game. Ellensburg head coach Jeff Zenisek switched Messner to the outside on the defensive line after having him on the inside for the first two games of the season.

“Our key was trying to get that speed off the ball, keep low, heads down and just work our tails off,” Messner said.

A quick three-and-out from Ellensburg gave the ball back to the Red Devils. Starting at their own 38, East Valley quickly drove to Ellensburg’s 20 with Stone’s 14-yard completion to Erik Navarro and a 17-yard completion to tight end Joren Hooper on fourth-and-9 near the sidelines.

After Hooper’s catch, Stone connected with Navarro again, this time for a 20-yard score to cut the deficit, 27-14, with 2:32 left in the third quarter.

Ellensburg again was forced to punt, and East Valley had 12 minutes to work with. But after Messner sack and two incomplete passes, East Valley had no choice but to punt at its own 10.

A short punt gave the Bulldogs excellent field position at the Red Devils 30. Elijah Harper missed wide on his 27-yard field goal on fourth-and-1 at the East Valley 9, but it ate three minutes off the clock.

Harper forced a fumble on the following East Valley offensive series and Ellensburg ran off the last five minutes for the win.

“We had a rough practice yesterday, but they came out today fired up,” Zenisek said of the team’s energy coming into the game.

Ellensburg netted 141 yards on the ground with Swanson leading the way on 11 carries for 65 yards. Hardeman tallied 60 yards on 14 carries with a long of 20.

It was a year ago exactly that Hardeman broke his arm in his first season with Ellensburg (he moved from Chicago). Two touchdowns and becoming the Homecoming King? That’s a nice sentiment for the senior.

“Everybody seems to give me all the love,” Hardeman said. “I been through a lot, I can’t really blame it on where I lived and all that. I blame it on what choices I made and everything, but it was a great move. I love it out here.”

Ferguson was 5-of-9 for 108 yards. Swanson also led the receivers with 79 yards on two catches.

Cornerback Preston Oldham had four pass breakups.

Ellensburg and Othello (3-2, 2-0 CWAC) hold the top spot in the CWAC North.

The Bulldogs head to Prosser High School (3-2, 2-0 CWAC) for a 7 p.m. kick off next Friday.

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