Vikings set for big gridiron contest with Nyssa

Nyssa will face Vale Friday night in one of the biggest early-season prep football games. Nyssa will enter the contest undefeated while Vale holds a 2-3 overall mark. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

NYSSA – On paper, Friday night’s football matchup between Nyssa and Vale looks simple.

The Bulldogs are 4-1 and 1-0 in league and spent the past few weeks rolling over lesser-caliber teams with a one-two punch of explosive offense and a solid defense.

The Vikings, meanwhile, enter the game 2-3 after a grueling pre-season schedule that included games against top-ranked teams from Oregon and Idaho.

Each team also sits on opposites of the fence in terms of their last game. Last Friday Idaho powerhouse Homedale defeated the Vikings 55-22. Meanwhile Nyssa crushed Umatilla 49-0.

So, the record books, the conventional wisdom, points to a clear advantage to the Bulldogs.

But both Nyssa coach Lee Long and Vale coach Jeff Aldred said what appears on paper isn’t worth much, especially when the opening kickoff sails through the early October air Friday.

Aldred said the past exploits of both teams wouldn’t matter.

“I’ve emphasized to the kids that in this game, we throw the records out the window,” said Aldred.

Long said Friday’s game is important for both teams.

“It is going to be big. I view this game as it is going to be a real football game. It will be possession to possession,” said Long.

Recent history indicates both teams will have something to prove.

Against Homedale Friday night, Vale stayed close to the Trojans for a half – down 21-14 at intermission – but watched as the bigger Idaho team took control in the second half.

“They do have a lot of team speed and their quarterback is quick and really accurate. But what sets them apart is their depth. They just kind of wear you down,” said Aldred.

There were some bright spots for the Vikings against Homedale, specifically quarterback Colton Kesey. Kesey finished the night 15 of 21 for 248 yards against the Trojans.

Aldred said the loss, while disappointing, would pay dividends for his team in the future.

“I think it was good. I don’t really see where we will play a team better than Homedale the rest of the season. Our kids didn’t give up,” said Aldred.

For the Bulldogs, last Friday was another blowout victory. The Bulldogs built a 21-0 lead after the first quarter and at intermission were out in front 49-0.

Long said Umatilla plugged in a good game plan that stopped two of Nyssa’s premier threats – running backs Jo Jo Sanchez and Caleb Benson – and forced the Bulldogs to go to an air attack.

“Inside the box they played extremely well and brought a lot of pressure. It forced us out of our game plan a little bit which was OK,” said Long.

The switch proved beneficial and Nyssa quarterback Ethan Draper thrived. Draper, a senior, tossed six touchdown passes and ended the night with 197 yards passing.

“All of the sudden our receivers and our quarterback were firing on all cylinders,” said Long.

Now, Long said, the focus is on Friday night’s game against the Vikings, a contest both Aldred and Long have dubbed the “Black and Blue Bowl.”

“We feel great and are excited. It is really fun to have a rivalry game and there are a lot of schools that don’t have one,” said Long.

Long agreed Nyssa hasn’t faced any playoff-caliber teams as it rolled up three straight victories.

He said that fact is an advantage to his team.

“It has enabled us to really be firing on all cylinders and to be unified in what we are doing,” said Long.

Aldred said he believes Vale’s tough preseason docket will help the Vikings against Nyssa.

“I think our kids will be ready. The preseason was such a learning experience for us with every week being a big game, so our kids are battle-tested,” said Aldred.

Two weeks ago, Vale knocked off then-No. 4 ranked Clatskanie on the road.

Both coaches agreed the stakes Friday would be a bit higher than usual.

“If we want to have a high seed in the playoffs and host a playoff game, this is a game we must win,” said Aldred.

To win, said Aldred, Vale can’t underestimate the Bulldogs.

“Nyssa is very opportunistic. They have some big plays. Lee’s defenses are known for bending and not breaking so we can’t give them anything,” said Aldred.

Long said he expects the contest to be close.

“For Vale and us the last two years it has been a one score game,” said Long. “So, to think our guys are not going to play hard and be physical that doesn’t enter into my mind.”

Over the preseason the Vikings evolved into a blue-collar, workmanlike persona and Aldred said the title fits.

“We are that team that is not afraid to do the dirty work or the grunt job. We roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty,” said Aldred.

Lee said the game would pivot on execution and setting the tone early.

“The team that maintains possession and executes consistently, that will be the key,” said Long.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.