It’s the rematch a year in the making.
Actually, 372 days in the making.
The La Grande Tigers will get their shot at ultimate revenge and look to get past the round that has tripped them up the past two seasons when they host Gladstone tonight at Community Stadium — the team that knocked the Tigers out of the playoffs in this round a year ago.
“The boys are excited for a rematch,” LHS head coach Rich McIlmoil said. “They remember what that tasted like last year. I think things have worked out for a good reason this year in certain situations, and this is another one. It’s good for the boys to have the rematch, and they want it.”
A victory would not only avenge the sting of the 30-27 loss in the 2018 4A quarterfinals — one that has served as motivation for this team since it walked off the field in Gladstone Nov. 9 of last year — but it would be the Tigers’ first win in the quarterfinal round since 1976, when La Grande defeated Lake Oswego, 7-0, to reach the semifinals.
“They’ve put in a lot of hard work and dedication to get where they’re at,” McIlmoil said of the team. “We’re going to be excited to get after this game Friday night.”
The undefeated Tigers, who enter with the best scoring defense in 4A at just under 10 points per game, will face in Gladstone what defensive coordinator Matt Wolcott said is a team that relies heavily on the run. The Gladiators, who come in at 7-2, defeated North Valley in the first round, 51-14, and average 29.9 points per game.
“As coaches we try to put our players in the best position possible,” Wolcott said. “We try to tell them what to expect from our opponents and just allow them to get them in position to make plays. We want them to play fast and hard.”
The key to defeating Gladstone?
“We have to try to make them one-dimensional,” he said. “If you force a run team to throw the ball, you’re doing a good thing.”
La Grande’s top-ranked offense, meanwhile, which enters scoring 47.9 points per game, will be going against a defense that is allowing 15.6 points per game and that McIlmoil said runs a 3-4 defensive front.
“(It’s) a little bit unique, especially at the high school level,” the coach said. “I’ve done everything I can to make sure the boys are prepared. (Gladstone) likes to switch it up a little bit, and every now and then they’ll make it look like they switch over to a 4-3, so we’ve gone through all the blocking schemes and all the appropriate formations. They like to blitz their middle linebacker, so we’ve been working heavy on the blitz. We’re slowly working on the things they do well so we can counteract what they do well and beat them (with) what we do well.”
Kickoff for the contest is 7 p.m. tonight at Community Stadium.
Badgers hit the road again for quarterfinal matchup
Powder Valley’s defense will be put to the test on Saturday.
The Badgers, who are in the 1A state quarterfinals for the first time since 2016, will hit the road for the second time in as many weeks as they travel to face undefeated Camas Valley.
Both teams enter the contest after taking part in their highest scoring games of the season. The Badgers (7-3 overall) had to score a late touchdown to outlast Lowell in the first round, 68-62. Camas Valley, meanwhile, held on for an 86-50 win over Mapleton that saw it rack up its highest point total since the Hornets’ 2012 state title team scored 94 points in a first-round playoff win over Cove.
Camas Valley (8-0 overall) has been a juggernaut on offense. The Hornets enter averaging 64 points per game and have not been held to less than 50 points in a contest this season. The defense, which allowed a season high in points against Mapleton, has been stout for the most part, averaging 15 points per game.
The Badgers have also been strong offensively, and they enter the quarterfinals with the offense clicking at its best level of the season. Powder Valley has had its three highest scoring games — 54, 60 and now 68 — in the last four weeks, and is putting up 45.6 points per game on average.
The defense, though, is allowing 39 points per game, meaning the Badgers will either need to come up with some timely stops or prepare for a shootout.
Powder Valley did both last week, forcing a fumble late in the fourth quarter of its win over Lowell before scoring the winning touchdown.
Kickoff for the contest is at noon Saturday. Camas Valley is aiming for its first semifinal berth since 2014, while the Badgers are looking to get back to the semis for the first time since 2003.