LA GRANDE — The La Grande High School football team could not have asked for much of a better start to the postseason.
The Tigers defeated Gladstone 34-12 in a very well-balanced effort on both sides of the ball. La Grande is riding a five-game winning streak into a rematch against Estacada in the quarterfinals, the team’s only loss on the year.
“We knew it was going to be tough, that’s a good team. We knew it was going to be a battle and we knew that we had to grind it out,” head coach Rich McIlmoil said. “I had a good feeling that we were going to come out and perform today.”
La Grande did just that, rattling off 21 unanswered points to build a big lead throughout the game. Early on, both teams battled back and forth in a low-scoring affair. Both teams were scoreless throughout the first quarter, as each squad exchanged fumbles and punts early in the matchup.
Early in the second quarter, junior quarterback Logan Williams connected on a 25-yard pass to Jace Schow that moved the ball deep into Gladstone territory. The Tigers ran the ball consistently, as they did the whole game, and were able to push into the end zone for the first score of the game. Senior running back Brody MacMillan steamrolled several defenders on his way to a four-yard rushing touchdown. MacMillan finished the game with 103 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
The Tigers missed a two-point conversion to take a 6-0 lead with 7:42 remaining in the first half.
Right when it looked like La Grande was going to gain some early momentum, Gladstone’s Johnathon West returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. The Gladiators were unable to convert the extra point and the score stood at 6-6.
It was at this point in the game that momentum tipped heavily to La Grande, with the Tigers controlling the field for the remainder of the game.
Williams recorded several crucial runs on the following drive, converting on a 4th-and-3 and breaking loose for a 25-yard run. The first-year starter ended the game with 79 rushing yards, 180 passing yards and two passing touchdowns.
“We knew that we needed to open it up a little more, since they would be keying on Brody,” McIlmoil said. “Logan came out and did a great job tonight.”
The Tigers moved the ball downfield efficiently and finished off the drive with a one-yard touchdown by MacMillan to regain a 13-6 lead with 2:33 remaining in the first half.
After a three-and-out by Gladstone, Williams connected with senior Coby Hibbert on a 50/50 ball deep down the field. Hibbert was able to gain possession of the ball and score from 30 yards out to give the Tigers a 20-6 lead at halftime.
La Grande opened the second half with more of the same on offense, relying on a balance of MacMillan runs and efficient passing from Williams. Junior Noah McIlmoil hauled in a 14-yard pass to create a commanding 27-6 lead with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
Gladstone came out on the ensuing drive and looked to regain momentum, passing the ball efficiently. The Gladiators worked their way down the field and converted on a one-yard rushing touchdown by senior running back Tate Brechbiel. Gladstone cut the lead to 27-12 with 8:27 left in the fourth quarter.
The Gladiators kept up momentum, recovering an onside kick and taking over at the La Grande 49-yard line. Just when it appeared like Gladstone might make a comeback, defensive lineman Cole Jorgensen came up with a huge sack to force a turnover on downs. The home crowd at Community Stadium erupted as momentum switched back to La Grande.
“Our defense really swarmed the football,” McIlmoil said. “We really worked on that all week. We just focused on all 11 guys getting on the football all game.”
With such an efficient rushing attack, La Grande was able to run the time out well. The Tigers matriculated down the field and eventually scored on a one-yard touchdown by MacMillan with time ticking down in the fourth quarter, which put the icing on the cake. The Tigers held onto a 34-12 victory for a first-round win.
La Grande will move on to play No. 3 Estacada in the quarterfinals, a team that beat the Tigers 44-14 back in September. Kickoff time is yet to be announced, but the teams will square off at Estacada on Friday, Nov. 12.