Baker’s had two weeks to prepare for 11th-ranked Ontario
When the 4-2 Baker Bulldogs take to the field for Friday’s
Homecoming game against their fiercest regular-season rival, the 5-1
Ontario Tigers, there will be much more at stake than mere bragging
The winner will probably have a relatively smooth path to the Greater
Oregon League title, with only La Grande and Mac-Hi (combined records:
5-7) standing in their way. Friday’s winner will also no doubt break
into the Class 4A Top-10 rankings. Ontario enters the game ranked 11th;
Baker is 12th.
“It has been a great rivalry over the years,” said Baker coach Dave
Johnson. “They’ve got great team speed, they’re well-coached and they
“But we’ve been doing a lot of things well, too,” Johnson said. “We’ve
run (the football) well, thrown it well and caught it well.”
Johnson makes no secret of the offensive approach he favors for Baker’s biggest game to date.
“Our plan is to go right at them, to slug them in the mouth, then throw
it a little, try to control the tempo and throw the occasional deep
pass,” he said.
The Bulldogs’ two-headed running attack, Steven Talbot and Chad Adams, will continue their practice of checking into the huddle every three plays.
“We don’t notice any difference” one over the other, Johnson said. “They complement each other. If we weren’t happy with them both, we’d have just one.”
Senior quarterback Jordan Harlow “has been throwing the ball nicely all season, and I like how our guys are catching it,” Johnson said, especially wide receivers Walker Kaseberg and Trace Richardson. “And I really like our pass protection.”
Johnson noted Baker quarterbacks have been sacked only six times in the Bulldogs’ six games. Some came on blitzes where Harlow couldn’t dump off a pass in time.
Overall, the Bulldogs have done well with Harlow at the helm, Johnson said.
“He is making good decisions,” Johnson said. “So far he’s done a marvelous job.”
The defense relies on team speed to get at least 3 defenders to the point of attack, Johnson said. Players on both sides of the football have been helped by having two weeks to prepare for the Tigers, he said. Ontario had just one week to ready themselves for the GOL showdown.
“Having two weeks has benefited us both psychologically and physically,” Johnson said. “This time of year it’s always good to have a little break.”
Johnson deemed his team 98 percent healthy.
“We’re not first-of-the-season healthy, but we’re a whole lot better off than we were two weeks ago,” Johnson said. “The break gave us a chance to get some of our owies healed.”
Johnson said his defenders have worked in practice on stopping a play that Oregon State University has made famous: the fly sweep.
“(The Tigers) like to go outside, and they’ve got the speed to get to the edge,” Johnson said, especially Ontario’s feature back, Jake Turner, whom Johnson called “a good football player with good skills.”
To combat the fly sweep, Johnson brings his safeties toward the line of scrimmage “to fill the alley and wait for him, and try to force him inside.”
“We have a very good scheme for defending them,” Johnson said. “Without spilling too many of the beans, last year as good as they were (Ontario was a state semifinalist) we were right there and should have made plays. We just didn’t make them.
“We think we match up well. It should be a great game.”
Especially if the Bulldogs aren’t derailed by any Homecoming distractions.
“We talk about it, and remind them what has happened in the past,” Johnson said.
As a point of emphasis, he tells a story on himself.
A safety at Corvallis High School in the day, Johnson said his team “lost a game we shouldn’t have lost” during Homecoming one year.
“We had guys focused on rah-rah rather than playing,” he said.
That’s not likely to be the case Friday night in front of the home crowd.
“My sense of things is that they feel really good about where we are at,” he said. “Their confidence is built on a lot of hard work, in the weight room, in camp this summer, and a pretty good time of preparation during this first six weeks of the season.”
“They are confident they will pay a good game,” Johnson said, “and that good things will come our way.”