PENDLETON — In 2017, La Grande snapped a three-game losing streak against Pendleton as the Tigers came away with a 36-29 victory in Week 1. The game spoiled Pendleton’s highly anticipated home opener under the brand-new lights, and dashed any dreams of an undefeated season right from the start.
The Buckaroos and Tigers are scheduled to meet once again in the season opener at 7 p.m. Thursday night at Pendleton High School, though the Buckaroos aren’t looking for any sort of revenge, per se.
“I don’t know if I’d use the word revenge,” Pendleton head coach Erik Davis said during Tuesday’s practice. “I think if you go into a game with that idea of ‘Gotta get them back for something that happened last year,’ it takes you out of the game plan and our kids aren’t doing that. They’re focused on simple things and trying to come out with the W.”
The Buckaroos will see a much-different La Grande team on Thursday night. The Tigers graduated their stud quarterback Andrew Peasley, who fleeced Pendleton’s defense for 335 total yards and four touchdowns last season, as well as running back Isaac Chamberlain, receiver GT Blackman, and five offensive linemen. But that doesn’t mean that the Buckaroos won’t be facing a talented team, led by a new starting quarterback in Parker Robinson.
“La Grande’s always a really good team, and they’re going to be a good opponent,” said Pendleton senior and former La Grande Tiger, Willie Camp. “But we’re going to treat it like every other opponent and try to be 1-0 at the end of the day.”
On the other sideline, Pendleton returns much of the same team that took the field against La Grande last season, though now those Buckaroos bring more experience to the field. The only uncertainty, really, is at quarterback, where senior Trent Sorey begins his first year as the starter after serving as the backup for the past two seasons.
Sorey has been known more for his running ability than throwing ability so far in high school, and junior Cooper Roberts has been playing well enough in practice that Davis has hinted that Roberts may push for playing time. But as of now, Davis says that Sorey has earned the right to be the guy.
“We’re going to ride him and let him go develop under center,” Davis said. “He’s untested a bit in that position after playing behind Nick Bower, so I’m going to go ahead and give him a bit of a leash and let him go be an athlete. Do I expect to see Cooper Roberts under center at some point? Yeah, I do. But we’re going to go give Trent the full confidence as our starting guy.
“I think Trent has earned that spot of not looking over his shoulder and just going and playing.”
THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Pendleton and La Grande’s game is one of only eight Week 1 games that are being played on Thursday night as opposed to the typical Friday night spot. Davis said the reason for the move is a shortage of officials in the Blue Mountain Officials Association is forcing a few games each week to be moved to Thursday and/or Saturday to help the association cover the games.
“Everyone chooses a game to go to Thursday to allow them to spread their workload, so I figured Thursday was a good day for the first one,” Davis said. “First week of school, it works out well. I don’t think it’s going to take us out of our game, it’s actually better because these kids are ready to go play.”
KEYS TO A BUCKAROO WIN: Davis believes there are four main things that the Buckaroos need to do to win on Thursday: disciplined defense, a quality game from Sorey, establish a run game and take care of the football — perhaps none more important than the last. In the previous meeting, Pendleton turned the ball over five times on the way to the loss.
“Our defense has to fly around with the same speed and tenacity that we’ve seen so far in this preseason,” Davis said. “Our front seven has to contain the quarterback and our defensive backs have to stay on their receivers throughout the play. Offensively, Trent’s got to get going a bit. The good thing is we have a couple of tailbacks that we can hang our hats on with Aiden Patterson and Shawn Yeager ... I think we can truly establish a run game early and then get the ball in our athletes hands with short, concise passes.”
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