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Cowboys build early lead then survive a late White Buffalo rally to take a hard-fought win

It was a hard-fought game that came down to the last play.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Colton Burkhardt intercepts his second pass of the game as the Crook County Cowboys survive a late Madras White Buffalo rally to take a 25-21 win.It was homecoming night for the Crook County Cowboys, who built a big early lead, but the Madras White Buffalos never gave up and battled back to within 4 points late in the fourth quarter.

"I think that's what I'm most proud of," Madras head coach Kurt Taylor said after the game. "They fought hard. They haven't been in a game like that in who knows how many years, and for them to not quit on us and to keep running the ball and playing hard, we couldn't ask anything more of them."

With time running out, the Cowboys had the ball on the White Buffalo 26-yard line. However, an illegal shift penalty left the Cowboys with third and long with 1:03 left in the game.

Crook County quarterback Colton Burkhardt dropped back to pass, but the ball was deflected and finally intercepted by Erik Boynton, giving the White Buffalos one final chance.

The White Buffalos tried to run the ball but were stuffed at the line of scrimmage on their initial play. With no time outs and time running out, Madras quarterback Liam White threw a desperation pass down the left sideline, and Burkhardt stepped in front of the intended receiver, intercepting the pass.

One play later, Burkhardt took a knee, and the Cowboys had a 25-21 victory.

It started off kind of rough," Burkhardt said of the fourth quarter, "but it ended pretty good. We took our heads out of the game for a little bit, but we saw the play coming because it was just an easy kind of read, so it ended on a good note."

Dominic Langley returned the opening kickoff to the Madras 48-yard line, giving the Cowboys an early scoring opportunity. However, Madras recovered a fumble by Kaden Horton.

The Cowboy defense quickly shut down the White Buffalos, and Crook County regained the ball on their own 8-yard line. Ten plays later, Horton carried the ball over the goal line from 6 yards out, giving the Cowboys a 6-0 lead.

Neither team scored the remainder of the first quarter, however, the Cowboys were driving as the period ended.

Two plays into the second quarter, the Cowboys scored again, this time on an 8-yard run by Kyle Knudtson. The kick by Victor Ramirez was good, and the Cowboys led 13-0.

"The first half turned out to be big," Crook County head coach Ryan Cochran said. "It ended up being a dogfight in the second half, and they were able to move the ball a lot easier, so that lead that we took care of in the first half turned out big."

The White Buffalos were able to move the ball late in the second quarter, but Burkhardt intercepted a White pass with 17 seconds remaining in the half, ending the drive.

Madras opened the second half with the ball and moved all the way to the Crook County 47-yard line, but the drive stalled. On the ensuing punt, the ball was snapped over the head of punter Robert Pacheco, who made a hustling play to get to the ball and get a punt away.

That play turned out to be huge as the White Buffalos quickly stopped the Cowboys. Burkhardt punted the ball to the Madras 35-yard line, where Brandon Desjardins fielded the ball and sprinted up the middle of the field. He was hit about midfield but spun out of the tackle, sprinted to his left, and then raced 65-yards to the end zone.

The White Buffalos were called for a personal foul on the play, but the foul was ruled to have been committed after the touchdown, so the play counted. Pacheco made the kick, and the White Buffalos were back in the game, trailing just 13-7.

The personal foul penalty was enforced on the kickoff, so the White Buffalos kicked off from their own 25-yard line. That gave the Cowboys great field possession as Knudtson returned the kick to the 43-yard line.

From there, the Cowboys quickly drove down the field, scoring on a Burkhardt run around left end and down the sideline from 23 yards out. The 2-point attempt was not good, but the Cowboys still led 19-7.

On their next possession, Madras started on what looked like a promising drive, but the snap from center was high, and Crook County defensive end Ethan Cossitt dove on the ball, giving the Cowboys possession on the Madras 37-yard line.

Crook County quickly capitalized as Horton scored from LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Catalino LeClaire runs for some tough yardage against the Crook County Cowboys Friday night. LeClaire finished with 43 yards on three carries.4 yards out, giving the Cowboys a seemingly insurmountable 25-7 lead with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter.

That's when the Madras comeback began. With Treyvon Easterling picking up big chunks of yardage on the ground, the White Buffalos quickly drove down the field, scoring on a 4-yard Easterling run with 9:08 left in the game as Madras closed to within 25-13.

"Our progress is unmeasurable," Taylor said. "Last year, we went into games hoping that we stayed healthy. And now, we go into games and we expect to win, and if we take care of the ball and we do things the way we are supposed to, we expect things to come out our way."

The Cowboys went three plays and out on their next possession, and Madras regained possession on their own 34-yard line. Four plays later, Easterling scored from 10 yards out. Easterling also converted the 2-point conversion, and the White Buffalos were in the game, trailing by just 4, and setting up the dramatic finish.

Madras ran 18 plays in the fourth quarter, compared to just 12 plays for Crook County, but the Cowboys did just enough to hold on for the big win.

"It was tough up front, but I think we won the fight tonight," Crook County senior lineman Will Combee said. "I think we were more physical, and we won the fight in the trenches. It feels great to get a win at homecoming. It's one of the best feelings I've ever had in my life."

As excited as Combee was, Easterling was just as disappointed.

"It hurts bad because we have put in so much work in the off season," he said. "This is hard. There are things that we could have worked on, but we did good. Watch out for the future."

Despite the loss, Taylor told his team that he was proud of them after the game.

"You never stopped," he said. "You never let them get to you. You never quit, and it literally came down to the last play. I couldn't be more proud of you."

Easterling finished with 198 yards rushing on 28 carries. Burkhardt led the Cowboys with 77 yards rushing on nine carries. He was also effective through the air, completing 10 of 14 passes for 89 yards.

Knudtson added 48 yards rushing for the Cowboys, while Horton gained 44.

Catalino LeClaire was the second leading rusher for the White Buffalos, picking up 43 yards in just three carries.

As a team, the Cowboys gained 289 yards, with 200 coming on the ground, while the White Buffalos gained 257 yards, mostly on the ground as White completed just one pass for 6 yards.

Clayton Berman led the Cowboy defense with nine tackles, while Erick Gonzalez was in on seven, and Knudtson finished with three.

With the win, the Cowboys improved their record to 3-5, while the White Buffalos fell to 2-6.

More importantly for the Cowboys, they finished in a tie for third place in the Tri-Valley Conference with a 2-2 league mark. The Cowboys will play at Sweet Home in a play-in game on either Friday or Saturday, Oct. 27 or 28.

The two teams met in a preseason game earlier this year, with Sweet Home taking a 21-0 victory.

"It was not a pretty game, but in the end, we won, and that was a big thing for our guys and for our community," Cochran said. "It was big for homecoming. It was big for our seniors, and it keeps our playoff hopes alive."

"We've had kind of a rough season," Burkhardt said. "But a couple good wins and then this third one kind of lit it up and made our season."

Madras 0 0 7 14 – 21

Crook County 6 7 12 0 – 25

Crook County – Kaden Horton 6-yard run, run failed. Crook County – Kyle Knudtson 8-yard run, Victor Ramirez kick good. Madras – Brandon Desjardins 65-yard punt return, Robert Pacheco kick good. Crook County – Colton Burkhardt 23-yard run, Ramirez kick failed. Crook County - Horton 4-yard run, run failed. Madras – Treyvon Easterling 4-yard run, Pacheco kick failed. Madras – Easterling 10-yard run, Easterling 2-point conversion run.

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