Baker puts together a comeback from 14 points down
By GERRY STEELE
Of the Baker City Herald
Baker senior quarterback Casey Mitchell probably summed up the Bulldogs' play against Siuslaw best.
"We played hard in the first half. We just didn't come out as hard as we should," Mitchell said.
"Then, in the second half, we started making the plays."
What that meant was the Bulldogs found themselves trailing 14-0 to third-ranked Siuslaw (9-2) seconds into the second quarter at Bulldog Memorial Stadium. Baker managed to cut the deficit to 14-6 at halftime. Then, as they have all season, the Bulldogs kicked up their play a level in the second half.
The fifth-ranked Bulldogs (9-1) rallied for 15 fourth-quarter points and a 21-14 victory in the OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires Class 3A second-round football game.
"One more time the character of these kids showed up," said Baker coach Dave Johnson. "Down 14-0 14 minutes into the game, a lot of teams would have just folded. But, these guys continue to be gamers."
Bill Mitchell, Baker line coach, agreed.
"These guys are just heartbreak kids," he said. "They have to study their opponents for a half, and then take it to them."
It was Siuslaw who took it to the Bulldogs early in the first quarter. Following a short Baker punt the Vikings took over on their own 42. Eight plays later Siuslaw led 7-0 after quarterback Gabe Haberly bulled over from 4 yards out.
Siuslaw regained possession late in the period and added to its score on the first play of the second quarter. This time running back Daniel Lehman sneaked up the middle from a yard out.
That was the last time the Vikings, who entered the game as the highest-scoring 3A team in the playoffs with a 41.8 average, would cross the goal line.
Baker finally broke its own scoring drought with 1:14 left in the first half. On the scoring play, Mitchell rolled to his left,avoided the grasp of a Siuslaw defender, pumped once, then found Billy Phillips slanting across the middle wide open for a 5-yard touchdown. The PAT failed, leaving the Bulldogs down 14-6 at halftime.
A key play on the scoring drive was a third-down 36-yard completion from Mitchell to Kyle Johnson, giving Baker a first down on the Siuslaw 9. On that play, Mitchell rolled right, broke two tackles, and found Johnson. Johnson caught the ball falling backwards between two defenders.
Baker forced a Siuslaw fumble with about a minute remaining in the third quarter, with the Bulldogs' Tommy Ewing recovering on the Viking 29.
Seven plays later, Garrette Smith followed the block of Brett Smith off the left side for the touchdown. He then gave the Bulldogs a 14-14 tie when he hung on to the two-point conversion pass. Making the touchdown and the catch wasn't as simple as it sounded.
"I almost didn't think I had it," Smith said of the touchdown. "I pushed as hard as I could, rolled up to the line, and got it.
"On the two-point try I took my eyes off the ball, bobbled it, then hung on. It was pretty intense," Smith said.
Siuslaw appeared to be on the verge of regaining the lead, marching the ball downfield. Then, Phillips stepped in front of a Haberly pass and intercepted it on the Baker 7.
"I had a deep zone coverage, and he threw a bad ball," Phillips said. "I just got lucky. I would have been burned if he hadn't thrown such a bad ball. The guys up front did a nice job of pressuring him into throwing a bad pass."
After stopping the Bulldogs, Siuslaw again drove deep into Baker territory. The drive stalled on the Baker 21 when the Vikings' Chris Voogd dropped a Haberly pass near the goal line on fourth down.
Baker then needed just four plays to get the winning score.
Mitchell provided the biggest explosion, scooting outside for a 48-yard gain, giving the Bulldogs a first down on the Siuslaw 26.
Then, after a short run, Mitchell found Matt Bunch in the front left corner of the end zone for the 23-yard touchdown. Bunch caught the ball falling down between two defenders.
"I saw the ball, and there was a man between me and the ball," Bunch said. "I figured I had to get in front of him to make the catch."
As momentum carried the defenders toward the sideline, Bunch was able to stop and come back toward the pass.
"I was just trying to get back to the middle, to get to the ball," he said. "I don't think the defender saw the ball."
Bunch said he made the catch with the ball about a foot above the turf.
"Matt just made a great play and made me look good," Mitchell said, smiling.
Brett Smith's conversion kick gave Baker a 21-14 edge with 4:14 left in the game.
Baker defensive end Reggie Hill quelled a Siuslaw comeback bid on the next series when he batted a Haberly pass into the air near the line of scrimmage, then dove to catch the ball for an interception at the Siuslaw 34.
"That was exciting," Hill said.
"The quarterback was going to the quick, short passes, and all we could do on the line was get our hands up."
Baker drove the ball to the Siuslaw 10, but couldn't punch it in. However, the Bulldogs did run precious time off the clock, leaving Siuslaw just 54 seconds to try for the tying score.
Haberly moved the ball to midfield, but on fourth down Heath Paxton hit the Siuslaw quarterback in the chest as he let go of the pass, causing the throw to fall incomplete.
"I'm very, very proud of these guys. They made the plays when they had to," Johnson said.
"In that fourth quarter, we had the ball a ton. That's just great," he said.
Joel Richardson, Baker assistant coach, noted that it wasn't always the "name" players making the plays against Siuslaw.
"It was the guys like the Reggie Hills making those kind of plays, the guys who don't always get their names mentioned," Richardson said. "Once again it goes back to the idea of team'."
Baker travels to top-ranked Wilsonville in the quarterfinals.
Siuslaw 7 7 0 0 14
Baker 0 6 0 15 21
S Haberly 4 run (Thrall kick)
S Lehman 1 run (Thrall kick)
B Phillips 5 pass from Mitchell (Kick failed)
B G. Smith 2 run (G. Smith pass from Mitchell)
B Bunch 23 pass from Mitchell (B. Smith kick)
First Downs 18 9
Rushing Yards 33-165 39-204
Passing Yards 139 93
Total Yards 294 297
Passing 12-35-2 5-13-0
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 10-67 6-40
Rushing Siuslaw: Lehman 17-88, Haberly 16-77. Baker: Mitchell 13-80, G. Smith 10-60, T. Taylor 10-29, C. Taylor 6-25.
Passing Siuslaw: Haberly 12-35-2-139. Baker: Mitchell 5-13-0-93.
Receiving Siuslaw: Kreil 6-77, Holton 4-27, Lehman 1-20, Voogd 1-15. Baker: Phillips 2-24, Johnson 1-36, Bunch 1-23, C. Taylor 1-10.