Vale’s Eli Aldred (29) runs toward daylight as La Pine’s Leon Le (63) sprints to make a tackle during their game Friday night. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL).
VALE – When the Vale football team needed a big play Friday night against La Pine, quarterback Tanner Steele delivered.
With under a minute to play, the Vikings and La Pine were deadlocked 14-14 and it looked like the game already delayed because of an epic thunderstorm was going to go into overtime.
After a quarterback sack pushed the Vikings back to the 10-yard line, Vale stood more than half a field away from the endzone with 27 seconds left.
Steele then took the snap, dashed around the left end of the line, evaded at least two tacklers and then ran for the open field.
He picked up two key blocks from teammates and dashed 88 yards for the touchdown and a 20-14 Viking win.
“I thought I would run out of air before I got to the endzone,” Steele said.
Steele, who finished the night 4-of-17 for 117 yards passing, said he wasn’t sure when he started his run how far he could get.
Steele paced the Viking ground attack, racking up 136 yards rushing. He also threw two scoring strikes, both to John Wolfe.
“I was like, let’s see if we can get some yards, but when I cut back I thought, I might have a chance,” he said.
Steele, though, didn’t want to talk about his touchdown run. Instead he praised his teammates.
“A big shout out to the line. I love those guys,” said Steele.
Jeff Aldred, Vale football coach, said the ending of the game was unique.
“I’ve never been part of something like that. But I like Steele out in the open. He is an absolute competitor,” said Aldred.
The Hawks didn’t fall apart after Steele’s touchdown. They used two big pass plays to reach the Vale 17 with just seconds remaining. An incomplete pass, though, ended the threat.
The late-game big plays by both teams underscored a strange contest that showcased two evenly matched prep squads. For most of the contest, neither team could hold on to the momentum. The Hawks staked out an 8-0 advantage late in the first quarter but Vale tied the game when Steele hooked up with receiver John Wolfe on as 59-yard touchdown pass, then hit Diesel Johnson in the end zone for the point-after attempt at the 11:50 mark of the second quarter.
Vale threatened midway through the second quarter and reached the La Pine 25-yard line but a Viking turnover stymied the drive.
Vale then manufactured two potential scoring drives in the third quarter.
Each time the Vikings reached deep into La Pine territory, to the 1-yard line and the 8-yard line, but stalled.
The Vikings eventually picked up speed late in final frame and Steele’s 30-yard touchdown strike to Wolfe put the home team ahead 14-8 with 8:50 left in the game.
La Pine, though, struck back, knotting the game 14-14 on Dawson Cook’s two-yard dive with 59 seconds remaining.
Aldred was obviously pleased – and a little relieved – after the game.
“That was close. It came down to the last play. But I am super happy. This is a game we can build on,” said Aldred.
Colton Campbell led the Hawks (0-1) with 116 yards rushing.
On Friday the Vikings (2-0) will be on the road for a game in La Grande against the Tigers at 7 p.m.
In other area prep football action, Melba defeated Nyssa/Harper Charter 56-6 in a non-league game Friday night. Adrian’s winning ways continued Friday as the Antelopes defeated Crane 24-0.
Adrian next faces Wallowa in Wallowa Friday at 2 p.m. Ontario plays at Nyssa Friday at 7 p.m.
Santiam Christian ends Vale’s football season with 58-6 win
Rainier overpowers Vale in semifinal football contest
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