La Grande vs Burns football (7 of 8).jpg

La Grande’s Brody MacMillan (11) looks for running room against the defense during the Tigers’ 35-20 win over Burns at Community Stadium in La Grande on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. The Tigers are set to host Gladstone in the first round of the 4A state playoffs on Nov. 5

LA GRANDE — The La Grande football team is attempting to close out the season strong.

The Tigers have found their stride midway through the season, gaining two straight victories after a brutal 44-14 loss to Estacada on Thursday, Sept. 23.

Ahead of a matchup with Ontario, La Grande is keeping its eye on the prize.

“Having that league championship has been our goal from the beginning,” La Grande head coach Rich McIlmoil said.

The two teams play at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, at Community Stadium.

Ontario is one of two league matchups left on the docket for a La Grande team looking to finish the season near the top of the 4A rankings. Recent victories over Burns and Nyssa have propelled the team to No. 7 in the OSAA rankings.

A heavy dose of rushing attempts combined with a hard-nosed defensive effort have been the key for McIlmoil’s squad this year. The emergence of running back Brody MacMillan has been a major positive to the team’s offense, while Cole Jorgensen has been an anchor on the defensive line.

Things are starting to peak at the right time for La Grande, who looked heavily outmatched in the early-season contest against No. 1 Estacada. The offense went stagnant in the team’s only loss, but exploded for 35 points in the first quarter against Nyssa in what became a blowout victory.

“I felt like it was our best game of the season, to be honest,” McIlmoil said. “It was a whole team effort. Our offensive line played super well.”

Ontario has struggled this year, going 1-5 so far. The team’s only win came in a 52-0 rout against McLoughlin on Oct. 8. In the team’s five losses, Ontario is being outscored 39-10.

Ontario lost to Baker in a contested 27-14 matchup last week, while La Grande was able to take the week off for a bye. McIlmoil emphasized that the team is always training toward getting better, but that the bye week was good timing in terms of allowing injured players to heal.

“We’re never going to take a week off, but the bye will allow us to get back into playing shape,” McIlmoil said.

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