La Grande’s opportunistic defense took advantage of four first-half Baker turnovers Friday on the way to a 34-21 Greater Oregon League football win at Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
“Our defense was solid,” said La Grande coach Rich McIlmoil.
It was actually Baker’s defense that made the first dent in the scoreboard.
Two plays into the game, Baker’s Alex Hammans stole the ball from a La Grande runner and scooted 35 yards for the touchdown.
Less than two minutes later La Grande’s evened the score at 7-7 when Payton Cooper raced off right tackle and outran the Baker defenders for a 51-yard TD.
That’s when La Grande’s defense took over.
The Tigers recovered a Baker fumble at the Baker 7. Two plays later, quarterback Parker Robinson scored the first of his three touchdowns, going 5 yards off left tackle.
La Grande’s Dawson Gaertner then intercepted Kaden Myer’s pass, giving the Tigers the ball at the Baker 5.
Two plays later, Robinson scored again, this time from the 1.
La Grande led 21-7 at halftime.
“We got off to a great start,” said Baker coach Jason Ramos. “Then we had too many mistakes, too many turnovers in the first half. We gave them a short field a couple of times. You can’t do that against a good team.”
McIlmoil said the Tigers took advantage of the Baker miscues, then got its running game on track.
“We made some adjustments in the second half and started pushing the ball up the field,” McIlmoil said. “We ran the ball pretty well.”
The Tigers outgained Baker 220 yards to 13 on the ground.
In an attempt to jump-start a stagnant offense, Baker switched to Spencer Smith at quarterback in the second half. Smith, a senior, had not played quarterback since his sophomore season.
“Spencer did fine. In fact he did more than fine,” Ramos said.
Smith finished 9-of-19 for 174 yards and two TD passes.
Robinson’s third touchdown run gave La Grande a 28-7 lead before Smith connected with Myer for a score with 4:09 left in the third period.
La Grande added a TD run in the fourth quarter before Smith connected with Riley Flanagan for Baker’s final score.
“We challenged the kids to play better in the second half,” Ramos said. “We fixed some things. I was proud of the kids the way they played hard to the finish.”
La Grande received a minor scare when Robinson was knocked out of the game twice in the second half.
“I think he’ll be fine,” McIlmoil said after the game.
La Grande (5-0 overall, 2-0 GOL) travels to Ontario Friday. La Grande defeated Ontario 56-6 in its GOL opener.