PENDLETON — Connor Johnson, the Pendleton Buckaroos’ undersized quarterback, had just scrambled for his second touchdown of the game. A little bootleg keeper around the left side opened up a world of space for an easy score.
Pendleton celebrated as they regained the lead against Baker. An extra point from Pyper McCallum put the Bucks ahead 29-26 with nine minutes to play Friday at the Round-Up Grounds. A roughing the kicker penalty on the PAT meant McCallum would be booting the kickoff from the 45 yard line on the Bulldogs’ side of the field.
But the Bulldogs wouldn’t be muzzled. A line-drive kickoff hit Dane Bachman in the chest at the five-yard line and he slashed the coverage team for 95 yards and a touchdown. The Bulldogs stole the lead right back and with it the game.
Baker would pull away 48-29.
Bachman’s run-back — and subsequent two-point conversion reception from quarterback Braden Phillips — put the Bulldogs (4-1) up 34-29. But the receiver did more than score eight points. The senior’s scamper lit a fire in his team, a single ember that exploded into a blazing inferno.
But the play was designed specifically to avoid any Bachman heroics. Pendleton coach Erik Davis wasn’t playing the trickster, hoping to bury the Bulldogs deep with the kick.
He called for a touchback.
“Pyper’s got a great leg and we wanted to kick it out of the end zone and make them drive it 80 yards, but he just didn’t get all of it,” Davis said.
Bachman was thinking the same thing. He said he was prepared to watch the ball sail over his head.
“That’s what I was expecting but I saw it coming to me,” he said. “I figured, ‘Hey, I’m not going to take the ball on the 20.’ I decided to take it and hope for the best.”
Pendleton (1-4) became a different team after that run. The disciplined unit that had built a 22-8 lead in this game disappeared, lending its jerseys to a different Bucks squad. The Buckaroos of the fourth quarter felt frantic, forcing plays and stumbling on mountains of mistakes.
Johnson — so good in the first half, completing 13-16 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown — lost his receivers in the coverage. The Bulldogs intercepted three errant passes.
Baker would turn two of those into touchdowns in the game’s final quarter, extending its lead to the 48-29 final that taunted Pendleton from the Round-Up scoreboard.
“We can kind of get down on ourselves; we’re pretty heavy,” said Pendleton linebacker Laramie Boston, who picked up two sacks including one on a Baker two-point try in the third quarter. “Coming into the season losing the first three and now against Baker, we need to look deeper into ourselves and find where our heart is in this game.”
For as bumbling as the end of this one felt, the Bucks were looking quite the opposite early.
Dylan Holcomb rushed for 71 of his 89 yards in the first half with a score as Pendleton used the run game to open up passing lanes for Johnson and his talented young receivers.
One of those pass catchers, Isaiah Polhamus turned in the play of the night for the Bucks. And it wasn’t his 17-yard touchdown catch that opened the scoring at the end of the first quarter.
Polhamus set up Holcomb’s touchdown just before halftime with a 35-yard grab that required some defensive back skills first. A Baker defender snatched Johnson’s lobbed pass out of the crisp, late September night air for an apparent interception just ahead of the Bulldogs’ goal line. When both players hit the ground, though, Polhamus found the ball cradled in his arms.
“He intercepted it and I went to tackle him and I guess in the process I ripped the ball out,” said Polhamus, who caught eight passes for 152 yards. “I was surprised to have the ball in my hands.”
Phillips led Baker on the stat sheet with 170 yards passing and two touchdowns to go with 80 yards rushing and three scores on the ground. Running back Trent Taylor played the sidekick to Phillips’ superhero with 111 yards rushing and a touchdown as well.
Pendleton has one more game — next week at home against Mountain View — to work out the kinks before Columbia River Conference games start. Only one win in four games isn’t where coach Davis saw his team in his first year at the helm in Pendleton.
“We have to figure out how to win and that’s just a blanket statement,” he said. “That’s a mental thing as much as it is a physical thing or anything else.”
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.