Nyssa’s Caleb Benson (No. 20) runs for daylight as Vale’s Jason Ponce (No. 25) goes in for the tackle. Benson racked up 211 yards and scored three touchdowns against the Vikings last Friday. (Angie Aldred/For the Enterprise)

VALE – Friday night’s football game between Nyssa and Vale was a contest of discoveries.

The Vikings discovered there would be no hangover from a grueling, non-league schedule that included a 65-12 drubbing by Homedale last week.

They unearthed a reservoir of Viking pride and determination and used it to post a 27-21 Eastern Oregon League win on a clear but bitterly cold night.

The game was instructive for the Bulldogs, too. Nyssa learned its youth was more of an advantage than a handicap and running back Caleb Benson came into his own, piling up 211 yards and three touchdowns against a tough and opportunistic Viking defense. Especially late in the game, Benson ran roughshod, nearly single-handily willing the Bulldogs back into the contest.

The contest contained all the familiar hallmarks of a rivalry game with big plays punctuated by outstanding individual performances. 

Vale put the Bulldogs on their heels but then had to withstand a late-game surge by Nyssa to win.

With all of that, the game was also something else, said Nyssa coach Lee Long.

“Awesome game. This is the most fun I’ve had in a year. It was just awesome,” said Long. 

Jared Fulwyler led the Viking ground attack and amassed 181 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown and Vale ended the evening with 298 yards of offense.

“We will take it. A win is a win,” said Vale coach Jeff Aldred.

The Vikings built a 20-0 lead by halftime and seemed to be firmly in the driver’s seat. The Bulldogs, though, stopped the Vale car and pulled the Vikings out from behind the wheel late in the second half, powered by a successful goal line stand midway through the final quarter. 

After Benson sliced the Vale advantage to 27-21 with 7:54 to go, the Vikings quickly moved down the field – utilizing a no-huddle offense - on their next possession, reached the Nyssa 3-yard line and prepared put the game on ice. That’s when the Bulldog defense stopped two back-to-back run plays and forced a turnover on downs. 

The goal line stand was crucial, said Aldred.

“I started to get worried because that was a heck of a stand. It got them the momentum back,” said Aldred.

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The Bulldogs then started on their own 2-yard line and, helped by a pass interference penalty against the Vikings, reached the Vale 28 with just over a minute left. Benson’s run to the 22 put the Bulldogs within reach of a score but the Vale defense stiffened and a final pass from quarterback Landon McDowall to Elijah Cleaver in the end zone fell incomplete. 

The Vikings established jurisdiction at the beginning of the game when Vale senior TJ Speelman ran the opening kick off back for a touchdown.

Vale quarterback Colton Kesey’s one-yard touchdown dive pushed Vale out in front 12-0 just before the end of the first quarter. Moments later, the Vikings recovered the ensuring kickoff deep in Nyssa territory and Kesey hooked up with Speelman on a 28-yard scoring strike for a 20-0 Vale advantage.

Nyssa, which ended the night with 380 yards of total offense, struggled in the first half and faced a 27-0 deficit after Fulwyler’s scoring sprint with 3:05 remaining in the third quarter.

On Nyssa’s next drive, the Bulldogs quickly drove from their own 40-yard line in six plays to the Vale three, where Benson punched it in for a score just before the third quarter ended.

Benson’s touchdown run at 9:45 in the fourth quarter cut the Vale advantage to 27-14. 

Vale running back Jared Fulwyler powers past a Nyssa defender during their game Friday night. Fulwyler ended the evening with 181 yards rushing and a touchdown. (Angie Aldred/For the Enterprise)

The close game and comeback by Nyssa didn’t surprise Aldred.

“Nyssa is a very opportunistic team,” said Aldred.

Aldred said one key for the win was the Viking run game.

“We established the run and we played some inspired football,” said Aldred.

Long said the quick start by the Vikings hurt.

“We weren’t ready. They started the way we wanted to start. But I am proud of the kids. We had our opportunities, and this is definitely a game we could have won,” said Long.

After the game, as a crowd of parents and students converged on the Viking players, running back Matt McBride summed up the win for his team.

“Everyone was focused. I think everyone was ready coming into this game,” said McBride.

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

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