The Baker football team broke out of its early season doldrums, and the Bulldogs only had to drive halfway across Oregon, arriving home a few hours before dawn, to do it.
Baker’s 41-0 romp over Newport on Saturday evening, Sept. 25 at Sisters High School more than doubled the Bulldogs’ offensive output in its three losses to open the season.
But neither the opponent, nor the neutral field venue, was what Baker had been expecting.
The Bulldogs (1-3) were supposed to open Greater Oregon League play on Friday, Sept. 24 by traveling to Milton-Freewater to take on Mac-Hi.
But the Pioneers, due to a positive COVID-19 case on their roster, had to cancel the game.
Baker coach Jason Ramos said that after learning about the cancellation, Buell Gonzales Jr., athletic director for the Baker School District, scrambled to find an opponent.
Gonzales found a willing team in Newport, which had its own scheduling travails when its Sept. 24 game at Marshfield was canceled.
Ramos said Gonzales set up the game against Newport — at Sisters, so that neither Baker nor Newport had to make a cross-state trip — last weekend. That made it possible for the two teams to exchange film of their previous games, the customary practice that allows coaches to get a sense for their upcoming opponent and design practices accordingly.
Ramos said that although he had hoped for a Friday night game rather than a Saturday evening kickoff, he was gratified that Gonzales made the arrangements.
“We’re ready to go if it means the chance to play a game,” Ramos said.
The Saturday kickoff gave Baker an extra day of practice, and the Bulldogs took advantage.
After leaving Baker City about 10 a.m. on Saturday and driving the 240 miles or so to Sisters, the Bulldogs moved the ball down the field almost as rapidly as their bus had traveled.
“We want to establish a running game, and we did that right from the start,” Ramos said.
Senior running back Gauge Bloomer had a breakout game, rushing 14 times for 195 yards and four touchdowns.
Ramos said Baker’s young offensive line blocked well, creating gaps in the Cubs’ defense that Bloomer exploited.
“Gauge was getting big chunks of yardage,” Ramos said. “We’re getting better, week by week, as expected. It’s a process.”
After forcing Newport (0-4) to punt on the game’s first series, Baker scored in just three plays, the last being Bloomer’s first touchdown, to lead 7-0.
On the ensuing possession Baker forced a turnover, then scored in just one play.
“We were up 14-0 after just four offensive plays,” Ramos said.
Baker extended the lead to 21-0 after one quarter, scoring a third touchdown on its third possession.
Baker capped its dominating first half by driving 97 yards in about two minutes to score a final touchdown and lead 34-0 at halftime.
Ramos said he was pleased to see sophomore quarterback Paul Hobson execute the hurry up offense during that final drive.
With Bloomer and Dylon Freeman (nine carries for 72 yards) controlling the game on the ground, Ramos said Hobson didn’t have to force passes. During Baker’s losses to Cascade, Homedale and Weiser, the Bulldogs trailed the entire game, and Hobson was put in difficult positions, having to scramble against aggressive defenses and throw on the run.
But it was a much different scenario against Newport.
With Baker’s offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage, and the running game established, Ramos was able to mix in passing plays.
Hobson completed 10 of 14 passes — to six different receivers — for 137 yards and one touchdown. He threw one interception.
“It was a good, solid performance for Paul,” Ramos said. “He was able to relax and settle in, he was poised and made some good throws from the pocket.”
Malaki Myer caught three passes for 35 yards and a touchdown, and Hudson Spike had three catches for 52 yards.
With the game in hand at halftime, Ramos said he was able to substitute younger players frequently in the second half. Freshman quarterback Jaxon Logsdon ran the offense for a couple of possessions and gained valuable experience.
After the challenging start to the season, Ramos said he was pleased to see Baker not only get its first win, but also gain some momentum for the league schedule to come.
Baker’s first three opponents have a combined record of 14-0.
“We do have significant potential,” Ramos said. “Against Newport we got a sense of what we’re capable of doing.”
The Bulldogs, who returned to Baker City about 3 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 26, now have a short week to prepare for their league opener Friday at 7 p.m. against Nyssa/Harper Charter at Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
Nyssa/Harper Charter is 1-2, its one win a 38-6 rout of Ontario on Sept. 17.