TIMELY TIGERS GROUND GRIZZLIES
- Paul Freelend
- The Observer
La Grande made sure fans stuck around for the duration Friday.
The Tiger football team packed plenty of drama into its first four quarters of football, winning its season-opener 22-20 over Fruitland, Idaho.
La Grande trailed the Grizzlies 8-6 at halftime, but Tiger running back Nathan Humphreys said his team was not at its best.
"We knew that Fruitland wasn't a better team than us," Humphreys said. "We knew we could put it together and roll past them. It didn't go quite as we wanted, but we got the job done."
Two sacks and two penalties threw La Grande into reverse on their last attempt of the half, spoiling a possession that started on the Fruitland 36-yard line.
Tiger head coach Lance Lovitt said his team could not afford to let Fruitland hang around.
"The team knew what I was going to say at halftime," Lovitt said. "They know my expectations. We started shooting ourselves in the foot, and opened the door for Fruitland. We have to be more disciplined (near the end zone). Otherwise, we had a chance to close the game out early."
Humphreys did his best to shake his team, and the home crowd, of any halftime doldrums. The senior eased his way past the Grizzly kick coverage, running the second-half kickoff back 80 yards to put the Tigers in the ascendancy by a 14-6 score.
Humphreys said he made doubly sure the return counted.
Nick Simer recovered a fumble on the next Fruitland possession, giving the Tigers another short field. Humphreys scored from 10 yards out four plays later.
Fruitland answered with a nine-play, 70-yard scoring drive to pull within 22-14.
The Grizzlies then took advantage of a Landon Weaver fumble, going 25 yards to close within 22-20. La Grande stopped the two-point conversion run to cling to its slim advantage.
Fruitland used two pass plays to move within scoring position on its next drive. A 24-yard completion and a pass interference call, both on third down, pulled the visitors within sight of the end zone.
Weaver atoned for his earlier turnover, though, intercepting Trent Gatzemeyer's pass at the goal line to end the threat.
Fruitland head coach Bruce Schlaich said Weaver was a thorn in the Grizzlies' side all evening.
"(Weaver) is a phenomenal athlete," Schlaich said. "We felt that if we couldn't control him, we'd be in for a long night. He came up with some huge plays. He's fun to watch, unless you're with the other team."
Fruitland got the ball back with 28 seconds left, but their already slim comeback hopes further dimmed when Gatzemeyer left the game with a possible broken right wrist.
Weaver led La Grande with 55 net yards rushing on 16 carries. He threw for 39 yards.
Anthony Nice completed one pass, an 81-yard touchdown throw to D'Andre Spencer to open the scoring.
Spencer had 111 yards receiving on two receptions.
Fruitland managed 202 yards on the ground and 48 yards through the air. Weaver and Humphreys each had interceptions.
Lovitt said his team gained valuable experience from the close contest.
"There's lots of little lessons to be learned," Lovitt said. "That's why we play a tough schedule. If we keep learning these lessons, we'll be prepared for our league and the playoffs."
La Grande (1-0) will travel to Weiser, Idaho, for a 7 p.m. contest on Sept. 15.
La Grande 22, Fruitland 20
Fruitland 0 8 6 6 20
La Grande 6 0 16 0 22
LG Spencer 81 pass from Nice (run fail)
F Crim 3 run (Z. Fabricius run)
LG Humphreys 80 kickoff return (Spencer pass from Weaver)
LG Humphreys 10 run (Nice pass from Weaver)
F Smith 1 run (run fail)
F Gatzemeyer 1 run (run fail)
RUSHING Fruitland, Smith 8-50, J. Fabricius 12-44, Olinger 9-33, Crim 5-24, Bake 1-24, Z. Fabricius 6-16, Schlaich 3-11. La Grande, Weaver 16-55, Lanman 7-35, Witty 2-20, Humphreys 8-15, Zacharias 2-14.
PASSING Fruitland, Gatzemeyer 3-8-1-48, Nawahine 0-2-1-0. La Grande, Weaver 2-6-0-39, Nice 1-1-0-81.
RECEIVING Fruitland, Olinger 2-13, Macfarlane 1-35. La Grande, Spencer 2-111, Nice 1-9.