The football rivalry between the Baker Bulldogs and the La Grande Tigers resumes this Friday, Oct. 29, but much more than bragging rights will be at stake when the teams battle at 7 p.m. at Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
On Baker’s Homecoming night, the teams will be vying for the Greater Oregon League championship and to clinch a home game in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs next weekend.
Both Baker and La Grande are 1-0 in league play, each having beaten Ontario.
Baker City Herald sports editor Corey Kirk and his counterpart at The Observer in La Grande, Davis Carbaugh, have compiled statistics comparing the teams, along with an assessment of their seasons to this point and a list of players to watch.
Baker could hardly have had a more difficult three-game stretch to start the season.
The Bulldogs lost all three games, to teams that have a combined record this season of 23-1. Baker hosted Cascade in the season-opener on Sept. 4, and after beating the Bulldogs 35-0, the Cougars have won seven straight games, and with an 8-0 record they are the top-ranked Class 4A team.
Baker also lost to two of Idaho’s top teams — 8-0 Homedale and 7-1 Weiser.
But since the Sept. 17 loss to Weiser, the Bulldogs have won four of five games to clinch a playoff berth and put themselves in contention for the Greater Oregon League title.
Baker has had strong second halves in most of its wins, so my key to the Homecoming game against La Grande is simple.
The Bulldogs need to strike earlier than the second half.
La Grande’s offense has proven to be strong, so Baker will need to match the Tigers’ firepower by converting on offense early and often.
Baker has relied heavily on senior running back Gauge Bloomer, who had four touchdowns in consecutive wins over Newport and Nyssa/Harper Charter.
The Bulldogs have also been effective in the passing game at times, with sophomore quarterback Paul Hobson throwing to fellow sophomores Hudson Spike and Malaki Myer, among others.
One thing that can thwart offensive momentum is penalties, and the Bulldogs have struggled at times with ill-timed flags that disrupted a promising drive. Cleaning up the penalties will give the Bulldogs a better chance not only against La Grande, but in the playoffs.
With a young team — the Bulldogs have just six seniors — Baker’s potential for the next few years is considerable.
But Friday night under the lights, there’s plenty of motivation for the Bulldogs for what this season could bring. It’s going to be an entertaining night at Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
— Corey Kirk, Baker City Herald
La Grande preview
The La Grande Tigers come into this matchup off the heels of three straight victories. Ever since a 44-14 loss to No. 3 Estacada on Sept. 23, La Grande has looked like a brand new team in the following three matchups.
A large part of that success comes from senior running back Brody MacMillan, who has been a force in the ground game. He scored four rushing touchdowns in last week’s 34-24 win against Ontario and ran in two long touchdowns in the fourth quarter to secure a victory over Burns on Oct. 1. Getting MacMillan up and running in the ground game will be a major point of emphasis for La Grande in this matchup, with Baker likely focusing its defensive efforts on slowing him down.
The Tigers have had a slight problem with turnovers, which was evident in last week’s victory. La Grande went up 28-0 against Ontario, but two fumbles allowed Ontario to claw back into the game. Against the Bulldogs, La Grande will have a smaller window for error when it comes to giving the ball away.
Both teams know how important this game is, beyond just the rivalry aspect of the matchup. With the league championship on the line, the stakes are high in the final regular season game of the year. Even in summer workouts, several La Grande seniors from last year’s roster were still upset about a 22-7 loss to Baker on April 9, 2021, during the pandemic-abbreviated spring season. While that added motivation can be a benefit, the Tigers will need to keep their emotions in check and play fundamentally sound football against a tough Baker team.
— Davis Carbaugh, The (La Grande) Observer