NYSSA — The La Grande High School football team in its season opener took off right where it left off at the end of 2019 — with a big win.
The Tigers traveled Thursday, March 11, to face the Nyssa Bulldogs in the first game since winning the OSAA Class 4A Football State Championship against the Banks Braves on Nov. 30, 2019. La Grande defeated Nyssa 42-8.
“I was extremely proud of our boys for their effort, they really gave 110%, you could say,” La Grande head football coach Rich McIlmoil said.”I was proud of them — they really came together as a group and played well as a team. There wasn’t any individuals trying to, in a sense, steal the show — they really played well together. With this whole COVID experience that’s been going on, it’s been really good for them to come together and bond.”
The key moment in the game came early.
“Our first drive, we just marched down the field and scored, and it set the tone for the rest of the game,” he said.
But the win was such a team effort, he said, there wasn’t one play that stood out to him as a coach, although the offensive line did. Jarrett Armstrong, Ryan VanderZanden, Nick Bornstedt, Cole Jorgensen, Noah McIlmoil, the coach’s son, and Lukas Schelin, he said, were outstanding.
“Our offensive line — every guy playing on the offensive line, every one of my players, it was their first true varsity game,” McIlmoil said, “and so to play that good their very first game and as young as they are, was really impressive to me.”
He said no one should get the wrong idea that Nyssa was not a good team.
“A lot of people are going to think Nyssa wasn’t very good because we countered them, but actually they’re a pretty good team, and we just played very well,” he said.
And while Nyssa’s players were bigger, McIlmoil said La Grande’s were faster and stronger. He also said the real victory here was getting youths back on the playing field.
“It’s so nice to get the kids out there again, playing,” McIlmoil said. “They just really enjoyed themselves. It’s less about the score and more about that — don’t get me wrong we played great, a lot of kids really stepped up, it’s just fun watching them play.”