La Grande’s Jake Comfort tackles McLoughlin’s quarterback during the Tigers’ first league win of the season, 19-18 against McLoughlin Frdiay night. (Paul Harder/The Observer)
La Grande rallies in fourth quarter to beat Pioneers on senior night
It took two perfect bounces and perseverance for the La Grande football team to pick up its first Greater Oregon League win of the season.
The Tigers waited until the final league game against McLoughlin to pull out a 19-18 win that went to the final seconds Friday.
Isaiah Cranford’s point after attempt deflected off the left upright, and then glanced off the crossbar to give the Tigers a one-point lead with 1:27 left in the game.
“We wanted it so bad,” senior Tyson Wicklander said. “It wasn’t our best overall game of the season, but we never gave up.”
Wicklander was questionable ofr the game with a sprained ankle. He managed to play with a heavily taped-up ankle, that he sprained early in the week during practice.
“I wasn’t going to miss this game,” Wicklander said. “I think the adrenaline kept me going, because it was really sore before the game. After the first play, the pain went away. I’m proud that I was able to play with all these seniors one more time.”
The combination of Drew Hivley and quarterback Brandon Dall allowed Cranford the chance to put La Grande ahead.
Dall bought time in the pocket before finding Hively in the end zone for a four-yard reception.
“The offensive line did a great job blocking,” Dall said. “It’s all about being patient. The defense was sitting back, giving us a few windows. Fortunately, we found them.
“We made the plays when we needed them, and we needed that play pretty bad.”
La Grande need that score due to an overzealous Wicklander on defense. The senior blitzed the gap where McLoughlin quarterback Chase Copenhaver was running into, but Wicklander couldn’t get the tackle. That allowed Copenhaver to scamper 44 yards into the end zone, giving the Pioneers the lead back with 4:23 left in the fourth quarter.
“I got too aggressive,” Wicklander said. “I wanted to make the big hit, but I just missed.”
A week after gaining 43 yards of total offense against Ontario, the Tigers finished the win against the Pioneers with 244 total yards of offense.
A majority of those came on two plays, which La Grande used to set up its first two scores of the game.
Wicklander took a Dall pass 83 yards, setting up the opening score of the game. Ray Jimenez capped the 5-play, 80-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
“Once we broke free from a couple people, we had the blocks downfield,” Wicklander said. “There were more people sprinting downfield to help get some extra blocks. It was a great team effort.”
Trailing 10-6, Chase Huffman broke a 63-yard run that set up a Wicklander 4-yard touchdown reception.
“That was big for us tonight,” Dall said. “It’s key to any offense not to turn the ball over. Plus, our defense got us a couple turnovers, which put us in a great position.”
The Tigers had their fingers crossed that they could move up enough in the OSAA state rankings following the win to qualify for the playoffs.
However, La Grande finished five spots behind the final team in the playoff field, Sweet Home.
The Tigers finished the season 2-6 overall and 1-3 in the GOL.
La Grande graduated eight players from this year’s team.