The La Grande football team looked much improved after what Tigers’ Head Coach Rich McIlmoil called a “rough” opener a week ago at Pendleton.
The La Grande defense forced seven turnovers — including grabbing five interceptions — and Blaine Shaw turned in a career night with 191 receiving yards and five total touchdowns as the Tigers got into the win column for the first time in 2018, pulling away late for a 48-20 win over The Dalles Friday night at Community Stadium.
McIlmoil said La Grande learned a lot from the loss at Pendleton a week ago — from the top of the coaching staff all the way down — and was able to clean up mistakes it made against the Buckaroos.
“Everyone’s making improvements,” the first-year head coach said. “We just need to work on some discipline things and understand a few defensive schemes a little bit better, (and) we’ll be on the right road every week. If we can keep understanding what we’re seeing, how to block it, how to run it, and how to read the defense a little bit we’ll be a lot better.”
Quarterback Parker Robinson hit Shaw for four touchdowns, including on a roll out and deep ball on the Tigers’ third play of the game that turned into a 70-yard scoring strike for an early 7-0 lead.
“That was an audible he hit me up with. I ran it, he tossed it up to me and I caught it,” Shaw said of the call on the first TD.
The two also connected on three more scoring strikes of two, 38 and 44 yards.
But the last catch was by far the most impressive. One play after Isaac Zamora snagged his second interception of the game, Shaw jumped over the top of a defender, pulled the ball in at about the 15-yard line, then scrambled the rest of the way for a 44-yard touchdown and a 40-12 lead for the Tigers with just 8:05 to play in the game.
“I still don’t know how I caught that,” he said. “(It was) a little bit underthrown, so I went back for it, reached around, caught it with my bad thumb.”
McIlmoil said Shaw’s play was indicative of what he expects to see from him this fall.
“From (the first day) that Blaine showed up in the summer, he’s been working really hard. I knew right away that Blaine was going to be special this season,” the coach said. “He’s going to be one of our main go-to guys. I told him I expect him to be one of our leaders.”
While Shaw was making plays on the offensive side, the secondary of La Grande went bonkers collecting interceptions in the second half. The Tigers picked off The Dalles quarterback Gabe Helseth four times in a span of about seven minutes of game time, converting three of those turnovers to touchdowns to help swing the game in La Grande’s favor. The first one in that stretch, collected by Josh Zollman, ended a Riverhawks drive with La Grande up just 20-12 and led to Shaw’s third TD reception. Wyatt Earp and Zamora both also got in on the act during the frenzy.
“I was just in my coverage. I read the quarterback’s eyes, he looked right at the receiver (and) I went up and made a play,” Zamora said of what happened on his picks.
Earlier in the contest, Gabe Shukle collected an interception for La Grande, and both Nathan Reed and Spencer Gerst recovered fumbles.
Helseth threw for 346 yards but was held to just 27-of-64 passing. Zamora said the La Grande defense had to focus knowing that Helseth was going to throw the ball a lot, especially with The Dalles trailing and managing just five yards rushing on the night.
“Just expect the ball every time. Be ready for it,” Zamora said.
La Grande appeared ready to turn the game into a blowout after the two early TD receptions by Shaw made it 13-0 with 5:25 in the first quarter.
But Robinson left midway through the first half with a right left injury, forcing Shaw to take over at quarterback. After the offense stalled a couple times, Shaw found the end zone again, scoring on a 35-yard scamper for a 20-0 lead.
Ty’jean Green scored on a 25-yard catch and run to get The Dalles on the board late in the half and make it 20-6 at the break. Denver Neill’s five-yard run made it a one-score game late in the third before La Grande’s ball-hawking defense took over.
Robinson returned at the start of the third quarter and finished 9-for-17 passing for 202 yards.
Reed, who rushed for 78 yards, helped ice the game with rushing touchdowns of six and 17 yards in the fourth quarter.
La Grande (1-1 overall) returns to the road Friday when it travels to face defending Greater Oregon League champion Ontario to open GOL action.
Imbler routs Union
Ryan Patterson rushed for 184 yards and scored three touchdowns, Isaac Herron added 111 yards and a TD, and the Imbler Panthers roughed up the Union Bobcats, 46-16, Friday night in the Special District 3 opener for both teams.
Chance Goodman added 130 yards on 10-for-12 passing and threw two touchdowns for Imbler, which raced out to a 38-0 halftime lead and never looked back.
The Panthers gained 319 yards on the ground and racked 449 yards of total offense. Wade McDonald had six catches for 68 yards and two scores for Imbler.
Union was led by Tate Lantis, who rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Levi Obindorf added 70 yards rushing, and Gannon Carreiro rushed for 56 yards
The Panthers (2-0 overall, 1-0 SD3) host Enterprise Friday, while Union (1-1, 0-1) travels to Dufur.
Wallowa pummels Badgers
Gus Ramsden accounted for six touchdowns, including four in the second quarter, and the Wallowa Cougars bounced back from their season-opening loss at St. Paul to thump the Powder Valley Badgers, 60-0, Friday night in the Special District 3 opener for both teams.
Ramsden had touchdown runs of eight, 66 and 40 yards in the second quarter, and added a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown to seal the second for a 44-0 halftime lead. He also had a 61-yard touchdown pass to Freddy DeVore in the first quarter and a one-yard TD run in the third. The senior quarterback finished with 143 yards rushing and 61 yards passing.
Austin Brockamp added 166 rushing yards and had an 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter for Wallowa. Zeb Ramsden was also close to 100 yards on offense, finishing with 95 yards.
Powder Valley was held to just 13 yards of offense, including minus-34 yards rushing, and turned the ball over four times.
Wallowa (1-1 overall, 1-0 SD3) travels to Elgin Friday, while Powder Valley (1-1, 0-1) hosts Pine Eagle Friday.
Joseph rolls over Bulls
Chase Homan rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns and returned a fumble for a score, and the Joseph Eagles recorded their second consecutive shutout to open the season, blanking the Burnt River Bulls, 60-0, Saturday in their home opener.
Juston Rodgers and Brad Wilcox both added touchdown receptions for the Eagles, who built a 30-0 lead after one quarter and were up 48-0 by halftime. Carson Littlepage returned an interception for a touchdown and Hayden Hite recorded 108 yards rushing.
Joseph (2-0 overall) hosts Dayville/Monument Friday.