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Soul Searching

The La Grande defense goes after a tipped ball  during practice Thursday. (Paul Harder/The Observer)
The La Grande defense goes after a tipped ball during practice Thursday. (Paul Harder/The Observer)
 

La Grande looking for an identity while playing the Vikings 

The Tigers football team thought it was headed on the right track, but then Fruitland happened.

The Grizzlies dismantled La Grande during a 57-6 win a week ago, and that sent head coach Kenny Mace back to the drawing board.

“We had some long practices this week. We’re going back to the basics,” Mace said. “A major part of the practice was simple blocking and tackling. 

“We got to find a way to get these kids excited to play the game. They weren’t (against Fruitland). I don’t know if it was because they saw it was Fruitland and thought they didn’t have a chance or what.”

Tackling was certainly at the forefront of the Tigers’ problems against the
Grizzlies.

La Grande allowed 352 yards on the ground on 40 attempts, good for nearly 9 yards per carry. 

“I don’t know, but I’d like to hope they all love the game,” Mace said. “But performances like what happened against Fruitland can’t happen. I’ve been getting calls from parents and alumni about it, and they have a right to be upset. We’re trying to make practices as difficult as possible so that when we get to games it should take the pressure off.

“We got people upset about staying late at practice.”

Some of those late practices were to ensure the offense was on the same page — another troubling area during the Fruitland loss. The Tigers had 99 yards of total offense. La Grande gained one yard per rush on 31 attempts, and got 68 yards through the air.

“Blocking and effort, that’s been our focus,” Mace said. “It was all about reps on offense at practices. If they didn’t get it right, we’d run it again until we did. We have to execute. Our playbook isn’t that big. It’s just a matter of effort and coming to play hard.”

One storyline has emerged after the Fruitland game — a lack of effort will not be tolerated.

Mace said changes were implemented at practices Monday, and position battles have gotten increasingly tighter.

“It’s tough to see the losing tradition,” Mace said. “It’s been awhile since the program has been successful. As a staff we’re trying to change that culture. We mixed up the depth chart. There are some kids that are unhappy about it. They know how to change that, by working your tail off. We want the players to know that no spot is safe. There are some players on the hot seat. I don’t care if you mess up, just do it a million miles an hour.” 

The two biggest changes Mace said will come with Jayden Brown taking over at one of the guard positions. Justin Kinzer will move into the starting lineup at outside linebacker.

With the Vikings on the slate today, La Grande will be looking to repeat its performance from 2011, a 25-19 win in Vale. 

“Vale is a tough team,” Mace said. “They’re a good team. I feel we’re a good team when we show up to play. If we bring our effort and fundamentals, it could be a really good game.”

The fundamentals have been hurting La Grande so far this season on both sides of the ball. 

The Tigers have been outscored 98-21.

“It’s all coming down to effort,” Mace said. “We saw it for a quarter against Nysaa. But you have to play all four (quarters) each game.”

Vale has won each game by less than nine points, the closest coming last week in a 14-13 win against Homedale, Idaho.  

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