LA GRANDE — Faced with fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line, La Grande punched in the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter to beat McLoughlin High School, 19-18, here Friday night.
Mac-Hi ended its season in heartbreaking fashion, as the Pioneers were a few yards away from winning their first Greater Oregon League game of the season.
“It’s horrible,” Pioneers head coach Tim Hutchison said. “You hate it for the kids. As a coach you hate to lose, but you hate to see the kids that have worked so hard (lose). You see it in their eyes, they left every ounce of energy out on that field. That’s tough to take.”
Mac-Hi held a 12-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter before La Grande regained the lead on a passing touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
The Pioneers responded, with Jacob Podolski punching in the go-ahead score from five yards out.
But the Tigers blocked a Mac-Hi punt and recovered deep in Mac-Hi territory to set up the winning score.
“The boys fought every second,” Hutchison said. “So nothing to take away from the boys, unfortunately sometimes you lose those games that are close.”
Quarterback Chase Copenhaver scored the Pioneers’ first two touchdowns of the game. In the second quarter, Copenhaver scrambled for a 23-yard touchdown and then took a five-yard run for a score in the third quarter.
He finished the game with 131 yards on the ground and 113 through the air.
Hutchison called his signal-caller a gutsy player who refuses to roll over.
“He looked like he spent three rounds with Manny Pacquiao,” Hutchison said of Copenhaver. “He has a black eye, every one of his knuckles is cut up and he didn’t come out (of the game). He took a hit that I thought almost killed him and he popped back up. Chase is a football player and he doesn’t come off the field. Most kids would have folded after some of those hits.”
Mac-Hi had two costly fumbles inside La Grande’s 5-yard line during the second and third quarters. On both plays, Hutchison said the ball carrier was fighting through contact in an attempt to score, which he said he could live with.
“They are effort fumbles,” Hutchison said. “Chase (Copenhaver) is fighting for every yard and a kid puts his helmet on the ball and pops it out. You can’t fault a kid for trying to score. Same thing with Jake (Podolski). Both were effort-oriented fumbles. You don’t like fumbles, but when they happen you want a kid to do everything he can to score.”
The loss marked the end of the season for Mac-Hi. The Pioneers lose four seniors to graduation: Copenhaver, lineman Aaron Lefore, defensive end Beau Birdwell and running back Blake Yensen.
“They’re a special group of guys who love playing the game and play the way it’s supposed to be played,” Hutchison said. “They’re leaders and they make the right choices and do the right things. As good of players as they are, they’re better young men.”
La Grande 19, Mac-Hi 18
Mac-Hi 0 6 6 6 — 18
La Grande 6 0 0 13 — 19
Mac — Copenhaver 23 run
Mac — Copenhaver 5 run
Mac — Podolski 5 run
Passing Yards 113
Passes (Att-Comp-Int) 24-8-0
RUSHING — Mac: Copenhaver 19-131-2, Podolski 16-79-1, Jensen 7-19.
PASSING — Mac: Copenhaver 24-8, 113 yards.
RECEIVING — Mac: Podolski 4-45, Jensen 3-62.