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The 11th-seeded La Grande football team ended one lengthy dryspell last week when it knocked off Phoenix to earn its first playoff victory in 12 years.
Tonight, the Tigers aim to end an even longer drought.
La Grande hits the road to face undefeated No. 3 Marshfield in the Class 4A quarterfinals in Coos Bay seeking its first quarterfinal victory since 1976.
That year, the Tigers topped Lake Oswego, 7-0, for its second semifinal berth in three years and fourth all time.
Head coach Harold Shannon, though, said he hasn’t talked to his team about that historical aspect yet. Nor does he feel he needs to.
“They’re just really jacked up to even be playing,” he said. “I don’t have to motivate them. They’re really excited to be here. They know they can compete. It’s all working together. I don’t have to do much cheerleading on the side.”
The playoffs haven’t proven to be kind to LHS since then. Prior to last week’s win over Phoenix, their only postseason victories since 1976 came in 1990 and 2005. No La Grande team since 1974 has won two playoff games in a season. That team, of course, went on to claim the program’s lone state title.
Getting back to the semifinals won’t be easy against a Marshfield team that has size, some
speed and has rarely been challenged this season. The Pirates enter with a spotless 9-0 record and have decimated opponents all season long. Eight of their nine victories are by at least 21 points, and their last five have come by an average of 42.6 points.
“They have a couple of tight ends that are pretty good size,” Shannon said. “They’ve got a running back who has some speed but is also pretty big. He’s going to be a challenge to bring down. Their lines, both offensive and defensive, are pretty strong.”
One team, though, has hung with Marshfield. That is the team La Grande just beat, Phoenix, which lost to Marshfield on the road back September, 25-18. La Grande topped Phoenix, 25-15.
“What that tells me is the type of team that we have can compete against them,” Shannon said of comparing the two outcomes. “It’s the type of scheme and the type of stuff you bring to the field. Obviously they’ve gotten better as the season went along.”
Shannon said Marshfield runs more of a traditional style of offense, employing a lot of offset I-formation with a slot receiver. Tight ends Corey Stover and Dontae Givens, who stand 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-5, respectively will be a tough guard in any passing plays they’re used on.
“On defense were trying to keep as many people as we can close to the line of scrimmage to help,” Shannon said.
The coach believes La Grande can challenge the Pirates' defense.
“I think we match up well with them from our offensive standpoint,” he said. “I think we can exploit some things down the field. I think we can attack the edges of the field.”
Trying to move the ball inside, though, could be a challenge with the strength of Marshfield’s line.
“I‘d like to be able to run the ball in the middle and keep the backers busy, but I don’t know if we can do that,” he said.
If the Tigers do get their offense going, which enters averaging 34.1 points per game, Shannon thinks both teams could light up the scoreboard.
“I think it’s going to turn into a shootout,” he said. “I think there’s some things we can do against their defense, (and) I think we’ll have a hard time keeping up with their run game.”