VALE — The Vale football team put an end to a three-game losing skid on Friday night, holding on late for a 27-21 win over archrival Nyssa in the 2019 Black and Blue Bowl.
The Vikings looked ready to turn Friday’s game into a full-fledged rout, holding a 27-0 lead in with three minutes to go in the third quarter, but the Bulldogs had other ideas.
Caleb Benson came alive late in the game for Nyssa, scoring three second-half touchdowns. The sophomore ended the game with 19 carries for 118 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per carry in the second half. Also showing his speed was Nyssa quarterback Landon McDowall, who had 17 carries for 91 yards.
While the Vikings (3-3, 1-0 EOL) struggled to stop the Nyssa (4-2, 1-1 EOL) run game, they were able to hold on late for the win. The win means the Vikings are keeping the Munk Family Dental Wagon Wheel Trophy in their trophy case.
The Vikings got a major spark early in Friday’s game by Speelman, who was a one-man army.
Speelman got the game started by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Later in the first quarter, the Vikings kicked the ball midrange on a kickoff with it landing away from the Nyssa players. Speelman came flying in to grab the live ball at the 28 yard line. On the first play of the game, Colton Kesey passed the ball to Speelman for a 28-yard touchdown.
Speelman also came up big on defense. On the final play of the game, Speelman defended Nyssa receiver Pedro Chavez in the end zone to make sure the Bulldogs couldn’t score.
“That guy has been putting in extra time in practice every day,” Vale coach Jeff Aldred said. “And our receivers, they take it personally when they have drops. They all keep track of their drops and their pushups. They take a lot of pride in it. That’s today was a testament to the extra time put in at practice.”
Speelman ended the game with three receptions for 32 yards and a touchdown.
Having lost one of the top wide receiver duos in 3A last fall, Speelman said the receiver staff at Vale are hoping that Friday’s game was a turning point for the Vikings.
“I really work my butt off in practice to try and fill what we lost last year,” Speelman said. “Not to take anything away from the other guys, like [Jason Ponce] and [John Wolfe]. We do have good receivers. But we are still trying to figure it out.”
The Vikings came into Friday’s game on a tough 0-3 losing streak, facing Idaho 3A powerhouses Weiser, Gooding and Homedale. In that span, the Vikings were outscored a combined 148-39. But even through their preseason gauntlet, Aldred said he was never worried that the Vikings would lose morale.
“We do a good job as a coaching staff in that regard,” Aldred said. “We’re managing the season in sections. There’s the preseason, the league season and the postseason. The kids understand what we’re trying to accomplish and that’s what we preach here.”
“We’re thinking, those guys, they’re all so good,” Fulwyler said. “We know that we just have to take those losses and fix some mistakes, but come out to play.”
And Fulwyler said the Vikings did exactly that on Friday. Fulwyler credited the Vikings’ energy on the field to their hot start against the Bulldogs.
“We were excited,” Fulwyler said. “We were just ready to go. Pumped up and ready to go.”
“We just really wanted to kick it off and get ourselves going in a good direction,” Speelman said. “We put all this hard work into practice, we had to keep the intensity up.”
Fulwyler led the Vale rushing attack that was firing on all cylinders. The senior gained 148 yards and scored a touchdown on 19 carries. Matt McBride had 10 carries for 42 yards.
Colton Kesey completed five of nine passes for 40 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
After the second half, Aldred said the Vikings’ defense is still struggling with something that’s been an issue for them all season: tackling.
“We’ve got to tackle better,” Aldred said. “There were so many opportunities in the game where we had the ability to take a guy down in the backfield and just didn’t execute. The guys are coming in high.”
Another thing plaguing the Vikings on Friday was penalties. Nyssa was flagged just three times for a total of 16 yards. Vale drew 13 penalties for 125 yards.
“The penalties have been plaguing us all year,” Aldred said. “Our drives stalled out on penalties. And Nyssa’s a very opportunistic team.”
Despite the loss, Nyssa coach Lee Long was all smiles on Friday night.
“That was fun,” Long said. “It’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time. The kids, they brought life back into us. I mean, obviously we want to win the game and I could nitpick a couple of different ways that we win the game if plays go a different way. But for the kids to be down so far and come all the way back with multiple chances to win the game late, that’s huge. This game was good for us.”
The Bulldogs will need to keep their game faces on, as they are hosting Burns on Friday.
“Let’s do it,” Long said. “I’m ready.”