Bulldogs maul Irrigon in prep football action

Nyssa’s Jo Jo Sanchez bulls his way through Irrigon defenders Friday night in Irrigon. Nyssa defeated the Knights 35-14. (For the Enterprise/Tracy Cleaver).

IRRIGON – On a football field deep in Morrow County Friday night, the Nyssa Bulldogs nailed down a postseason playoff slot with a convincing 35-14 win over Irrigon.

Now for Nyssa – which has a bye this week – the regular season is over but the postseason picture for the Eastern Oregon League remains murky.

That’s because No. 3 ranked Vale and No. 5 ranked Burns play Friday night in Vale. The winner of that contest will determine the final EOL rankings and slots for the playoffs.

Nyssa defeated Burns earlier in the season, but Vale beat Nyssa 20-10 two weeks ago. If Vale beats Burns Friday night then the Vikings win the EOL outright, Nyssa is second and Burns third.

However, if Burns defeats Vale then the playoff picture becomes “a bit tricky,” said Nyssa coach Lee Long, as all three of the league’s top teams defeated each other. Then, said Long, playoff seeding will come down to final rankings and strength of schedule. No matter which way the Vale-Burns Friday shakes out, Nyssa (6-2 overall) qualified for postseason play.

Long said he is proud of his team. He said, however, the playoffs will be a new season with stronger challenges.

“Going into the postseason we will have to control the line of scrimmage and work hard to solidify the dual threat,” said Long.

Nyssa’s propensity to move the ball both on the ground and through the air proved to be one of its major strengths during the season.

With a high-octane offense built for speed and versatility, the Bulldogs can – and often do – stack up a lot of points.

Long said that versatility will be crucial in the postseason.

“If you are one-dimensional in the playoffs you generally don’t go far,” said Long.

Friday night against an improved Irrigon team, the Nyssa offense started slow but erupted in the second half to clinch the win.

“They started out playing us tough. At halftime it was 7-0,” said Long.

Jo Jo Sanchez scored Nyssa’s only touchdown of the first half – a 4-yard jaunt in the second frame – but the Bulldogs added four touchdowns in the second half to seal the victory. Sanchez paced the Bulldog attack with 168 yards on 20 carries while teammate Caleb Benson finished the night with 157 yards rushing. Nyssa racked up 21 first downs to Irrigon’s nine. Long lauded the performance of Sanchez and Benson and singled out freshman quarterback Landon McDowell’s play during the game.

Long said the Bulldogs are looking forward to the playoffs, regardless of where they end up playing.

“I want the kids to be successful because I think they deserve it,” said Long. “But just because you deserve it doesn’t mean they give the game to you.”

 Long said the top four teams in the Oregon School Activities Association rankings are about right in terms of talent and potential. Now, undefeated Rainier, out of the Coastal Range League, is ranked No. 1, and Amity – from the PacWest Conference – is ranked No. 2 with a 7-1 record. The Warriors lost to Rainier earlier in the season.

At No. 3 is Cascade Christian of the Far West League, while Vale is ranked 4th and Burns 5th. Nyssa is ranked 8th.

“Rainier’s offense is very difficult to control, and they have 20 seniors. Amity took them to overtime. Amity is also really, really good,” said Long.

Long said Vale is “pretty darned balanced.”

“Cascade Christian always had athletes, but we’re are right there,” said Long. He said Nyssa’s two losses – to Baker 7-6 and to the Vikings – still resonate.

“I felt we were too good to drop two,” he said. “Losing to Baker by one still bothers me.”

Long said the outcome of games is always hard to predict. Nothing, he said, is for sure in prep football action.

“Truly every week somebody who isn’t supposed to win does so. I take that seriously. You can’t take it for granted,” he said. Friday’s matchup in Irrigon was a case in point. Irrigon did not roll over for the Bulldogs and was right in the game until intermission.

“We really didn’t play great in the first half. But sometimes that is how it goes, and you keep plugging away,” said Long.