It had been 15 years since the Imbler Panthers and Elgin Huskies last met on the football field in a high school varsity game.
The renewal of the rivalry Thursday night was worth the wait.
Imbler’s Ryan Patterson rushed for 197 yards and three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 1:44 left, teammate Grant Slater had three interceptions, and the Panthers held on for a 32-26 win at Community Stadium. It was the first matchup between the schools since a 38-6 win by Imbler in 2003 due to them alternating between 8-man and 11-man.
“That was a good one,” Imbler Head Coach Dustan Adams said. “Give Elgin a lot of credit. They’ve got a ton of talent, and they’ve got a lot more team speed than we do. We tried to just wear them down, (play) ball control as best as we could, and it eventually paid off in the fourth quarter.”
Imbler took advantage of a short field after Elgin turned the ball over on downs on its own 45 with 5:35 to play. The Panthers ran the ball on all eight plays on the ensuing drive, with Patterson capping it off with a one-yard plunge to break a 26-26 tie.
“We know that we’re a big team up front, and there’s not a lot of people who are going to stop us, so (we were) going right up the middle,” Patterson, who carried the ball 32 times, said.
Elgin gave itself a final shot when Gage McKay returned the kickoff to the Imbler 37 before Wyatt Hallgarth reversed the field on a 12-yard run to get to the 25.
But two big plays, including a sack by Imbler’s Aidan DeLint, backed Elgin up, and on fourth and 21, Tristan Simpson’s scramble for the first down marker came up short, allowing Imbler to run out the clock.
“It came down to turnovers and us shooting ourselves in the foot on different occasions,” Elgin Head Coach Jeff Rysdam said. “There were opportunities (where) we could have scored, but we had dropped balls, holding penalties (or) fumbles. We’re going to be fine, (but) this was a hard one (to take).”
Imbler sprinted ahead out of the gate with a 50-yard scoring drive, an onside kick recovery and a 49-yard scoring drive in the first 6:50 of the contest. Patterson finished off the opening drive with a one-yard run, then quarterback Chance Goodman went over the top to Wade McDonald for a 29-yard touchdown pass and a 12-0 lead.
Elgin got on the board with a 29-yard scoring strike from Simpson to Ian Smith on the first play of the second quarter, then knotted the score up when Cody Harvey scampered left 14 yards for a 12-12 game with 6:03 to play in the half.
But a botched punt by the Huskies late in the half gave Imbler a short field, and the Panthers capitalized on a second Goodman-to-McDonald connection — this one of 21 yards — with just 15 seconds left to give the Panthers an 18-12 lead at the break.
After the teams traded turnovers to open the third, Elgin pulled even again on a 46-yard touchdown catch by Harvey. Patterson found the end zone from 10 yards out late in the third to again put Imbler ahead 26-18, but the see-saw affair swung again on Hallgarth’s 38-yard run to again tie the score with 9:27 left.
The turnover bug struck big time in the second half. The teams combined for seven giveaways — five after halftime. Slater was key in that, twice picking off Simpson in the fourth quarter — including right after an Imbler turnover — and collecting three picks on the night.
Slater credited the defensive line for the interceptions, though.
“If those guys up front aren’t putting pressure on the QB, there’s no way I would be able to be there,” he said. “That’s a big part of it, probably the biggest.”
Patterson’s effort paced Imbler’s 248-yard night on the ground, which Adams said will be the key for the Panthers this fall.
“That’s where we have to be. We don’t have a ton of team speed, but we’ve got pretty good size up front, so we have to stay inside, in between our tight ends and just ground and pound,” Adams said.
Goodman finished 4-for-13 passing for 69 yards with the two TD strikes to McDonald and an interception. McDonald had 58 yards receiving.
Simpson led Elgin both through the air and on the ground. The junior was 9-for-19 for 147 yards and had two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also accounted for 95 of the Huskies’ 221 rushing yards.
“Tristan is the leader of this team,” Rysdam said. “He knows how to get in there and get those guys wound up and ready to play.”
Hallgarth added 59 yards rushing, and Smith had 57 yards receiving.
Both teams open Special District 3 play next week. Imbler (1-0 overall) travels to Union Sept. 7, while Elgin (0-1) visits Cove Sept. 6.
La Grande was under constant pressure from the Pendleton defense all night, and was unable to get itself out of an early 22-0 hole as the Tigers fell on the road, 38-12, Thursday night to open the 2018 season.
The lone scores for La Grande came on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Parker Robinson to Zach Wiggins late in the first half to make it a 22-6 game at the break. Nathan Reed added a one-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
But the Tigers also gave up 11 sacks on the night.
Robinson finished 7-for-20 passing for 126 yards and a touchdown. The sacks, through, resulted in him accumulating minus-86 yards rushing on 14 carries. Reed added six carries for four yards.
The Tigers (0-1 overall) host The Dalles Sept. 7.
Badgers open with win
The Powder Valley football team opened the 2018 campaign with a 34-6 win over Ione Thursday at the Dufur Classic.
Stats were unavailable.
The Badgers (1-0 overall) open Special District 3 play Sept. 7 at Wallowa.