MILTON-FREEWATER — Most everyone figured it was going to be a long night for Mac-Hi, and it was — beginning with the opening kickoff.
Rather than send the ball downfield with the opening whistle, Baker’s Dekker Smith booted a short, line drive off the back of one of the Pioneers.
The ball was recovered by a pile of Bulldogs, and it was all downhill from there as Mac-Hi dropped its Greater Oregon League football opener 48-7 here Friday night at Shockman Field.
Baker started at the Mac-Hi 47-yard line and scored quickly, striking hard and fast with a balanced attack of the air and ground game. A 33-yard pass from Jesse Brown to Trace Richardson opened the drive, which was capped by a 6-yard TD jaunt, one of running back Stephen Talbot’s four touchdowns in the game.
Good field position and great defense were the themes the Bulldogs maintained for the rest of the night. Baker allowed only 76 offensive yards to the Pioneers and took advantage of four Mac-Hi turnovers, three interceptions and one fumble.
The next score for the Bulldogs came when Smith, who plays linebacker on defense, picked off a Pioneer pass and returned it 40 yards into the Pioneers’ end zone.
The Bulldogs scored two more touchdowns before the end of the first quarter. Brown hooked up with Richardson again, this time for 47 yards, and Talbot scampered 26 yards after a second Mac-Hi interception. The score after one quarter was 27-0 Bulldogs.
"Baker is a good football team," Mac-Hi coach Chuck Pease said. "The Bulldogs are undefeated and ranked in the top 10 in state."
The Bulldogs finished off 40-yard scoring drive early in the second quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run by Talbot that upped the lead to 34-0.
Mac-Hi’s first-half inability to move the ball from deep in its own territory led to punts that gave the Bulldogs great field position. Baker scored mainly on drives of 50 yards or less. Turnovers near midfield also contributed to the Bulldogs having a short field ahead of them most of the evening.
Even with the great field position, Baker racked up plenty of yards in the air, throwing for 263 yards while running for just over 100 yards.
A short Mac-Hi drive, followed by Talbot’s 53-yard punt return and 27-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Smith right before the half, made it 41-0 Bulldogs at intermission.
Talbot’s 29-yard TD pass from Brown to open the second half proved to be Baker’s only score after the intermission as the Pioneers appeared to play with a renewed sense of focus and determination.
"All of the coaching staff challenged the players at halftime," Pease said. "The players responded well in the second half, but it was too little, too late."
Mac-Hi’s offense also looked like a different team on its first possession of the second half, going 67 yards before the drive stalled at the Baker five-yard line. The running of Kendall Brown and Jacob Knight keyed the drive.
After Mac-Hi turned the ball over on downs, Baker was whistled for an illegal block in the back and pushed back inside its own three-yard line. The Bulldogs moved forward on a 11-yard pass, but Mac-Hi defensive lineman Dylon Wagoner sacked the quarterback for a loss of 12 yards.
With Baker facing a third down and 14, Mac-Hi blitzed on a Bulldog screen pass that didn’t get out of the end zone. Cornerback Patrick Sheets read the pass and picked it off in the end zone for the touchdown.
The defensive touchdown for Mac-Hi reduced its deficit to 48-7 and completed the scoring with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
"We didn’t play good football in the first half," Pease said. "We’ve got to learn to play a full four quarters and to really believe in ourselves throughout the game."
In Friday’s other league opener, Ontario overpowered La Grande 41-0 in La Grande.
Mac-Hi travels to La Grande Friday for a GOL game with huge postseason implications. The winner will clearly be in the driver’s seat for the league’s third postseason ticket.
"La Grande is in the process of learning and rebuilding — like the Pioneers," Pease said. "This coming week will be a good, evenly matched game with the advantage leaning toward the Tigers with home field."
Like every other week, Mac-Hi plans to work hard in practice this week, Pease said, and prepare well for the Tigers.
"Too many kids and too many people have worked too hard to make this program a success," Pease said. "And we deserve that. We’ll have our chance next week against the Tigers."
The kickoff will be at 7 p.m. in La Grande this Friday.
Baker 27 14 7 0 —48
Mac-Hi 0 0 0 7 —7
Bak — Talbot 6 run (kick failed).
Bak — Smith 40 pass interception return (Talbot run).
Bak — Richardson 47 pass from Brown (kick failed)
Bak — Talbot 26 run (Smith kick)
Bak — Talbot 1 run (Smith kick)
Bak — Smith 27 pass from Brown (Smith kick)
Bak — Talbot 29 pass from Brown (Smith kick)
Mac — Sheets pass interception in end zone (Saldana kick)
First downs 12 7
Rushes/yards 21-101 32-72
Passing yards 263 4
Passes (att-comp-int) 20-15-1 6-1-2
Punts 0 3-95
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 8-53 1-5
RUSHING — Baker: Talbot 16-96, Brown 4-9, Austin 1-(-4), Smith 1-2, Skillings 1-(-5); Mac-Hi: Brown 15-57, Knight 8-8, Warne 1-2, Law 3-9, Sheets 5-(-3).
PASSING — Baker: Brown 15-20-1, 263 yards, 3 touchdowns. Mac-Hi: Knight 1-4-2, 4 yards; Brown 0-1-0; Field 0-1-1.
RECEIVING — Baker: Talbot 3-63-2, Richardson 5-112-0, Austin 2-13-0, Dolby 1-5-0, Smith 1-27-1, Barr 1-15-0, Durflinger 1-9-0. Mac-Hi: Field 1-4-0.