Bulldogs defense stymies Burns despite absence of key player

Sophomore running back Caleb Benson runs the ball for the Bulldogs on Friday in Burns. Nyssa put together a solid four quarters to claim an Eastern Oregon League victory. (For the Enterprise/Randy Parks)

BURNS – Nearly two weeks ago, the Bulldogs stood on their home field staring at the cinders of a hard-fought loss to Vale. That night Bulldog Coach Lee Long tipped his hat to the Vikings for their 20-10 win.

The Bulldogs spent the next week considering that defeat and dealing with the loss of quarterback Ethan Draper to a back injury. Draper is a key component to Nyssa’s high-octane passing game and he wasn’t going to be behind the center when the Bulldogs cruised into Burns to face down the undefeated Hilanders. 

Once again, conventional wisdom dictated that Nyssa faced a tough Friday night. 

Their starting quarterback was out.

They were coming off a hard loss to Vale. They faced Burns at Burns, a traditionally tough place to play and win in the Eastern Oregon League.

Something, though, happened between the loss to Vale and the second half of the Burns game Friday. 

Behind the running of veterans Jo Jo Sanchez and Dearden Woodruff and a primetime performance from rookie freshman quarterback Landon McDowall, Nyssa snapped Burns’ undefeated streak to claim a 31-21 league victory. Long said his team learned a great deal from its loss to Vale and used those lessons against Burns.

“When you play against great teams you just can’t show up and win. In a close contest, which Burns was the entire first half, you just have to know what you can’t do,” said Long.

Against Burns, Long said, “We were confident but not overconfident. I wasn’t thinking, we have to pull a rabbit out of the magic hat to beat these guys.”

Long didn’t have to find any magic. His team did the heavy lifting and took control of a close game in the second half to post the win. 

The Bulldogs relied on the run as Sanchez amassed 168 yards rushing on 29 carries and Nyssa finished the game with 366 yards on the ground. Woodruff ended the night with 130 rushing yards.

“The first half was back and forth. They (Burns) were dynamic,” said Long.

A harbinger of things to come for the Hilanders arrived just moments into the game when McDowall sprinted 45 yards on the first play of the contest.

McDowall put in a solid performance – he ended the night with 53 yards passing – and did enough in his first varsity start to keep the Bulldogs alive in a difficult first half. 

“He did a great job,” Long said.

Nyssa collected 18 first downs while Burns finished the night with just eight and the Hilanders turned the ball over three times. 

Nyssa held a 24-21 lead at halftime and then used a six-minute minute scoring drive to open the third stanza to seal the victory. Sanchez capped the drive with his one-yard touchdown run to put the Bulldogs out in front 31-21. 

From there, Long said, the Nyssa defense took control and held Burns scoreless in the second half.

“They (the defense) really came on,” said Long.

Long said the Nyssa clinched the game in the second half.

“We controlled possession. We knew we’d have to control the clock and went to the run game,” said Long.

Nyssa (5-2 overall) will journey to Irrigon Friday for the Bulldogs’ last game of the regular season. 

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