All it took was one game to confirm what the Madras boys soccer team expected going into the 2017 season: They have a target on their backs, and opponents will be aiming right at it.
Generally speaking, that target comes with the territory of being a state championship contender, a title the White Buffalos earned after reaching their first-ever 4A title game last season against Newport.
In a season opener at home Thursday afternoon, Madras saw its opponent, Ridgeview, throw everything it could at Madras.
For one half, Ridgeview appeared to hold the upper hand. The Ravens nearly got their first goal on a corner kick headed past Madras goalkeeper Jared Holliday, though an official determined Ridgeview was offside. Not soon after, however, forward Jonathan Orozsco gave the Ravens a 1-0 lead when he took advantage of a momentary Madras defensive lapse and scored from the center of the box.
The Buffs' offense, meanwhile, had chances to score but couldn't finish, in large part due to Ridgeview keeper Alex Nadermann stepping up to make timely saves.
But after halftime, a couple key Madras adjustments proved to make the difference in an eventual 3-1 victory.
Madras head coach Clark Jones and assistant Scott Jividen, with input from a couple players, opted to move freshman Yehir Aguirre to the midfield and junior Mellie Olivera to the left wing, where he could unleash his speed to open up chances in the middle.
The Buffs came out in the second half and kept the ball on the attacking side of the field early and often. The game-tying goal came when Jonathan Reynoso passed up a scoring chance of his own to find Alex Diaz for an easy goal.
"When you pass the ball around, like we did, unselfishly, that's when you're able to score," Jones said. "That's how we scored; it wasn't individual efforts and those types of things … Like I tell my kids, I'm more interested in the ones who make assists than the ones who finish."
Just moments later, Reynoso drew a foul inside of the penalty box, which paved the way for Andres Acuna to slot a shot into the top left corner above Nadermann's diving attempt to the same side.
"We came into halftime and we knew we had shots that we should've buried," Acuna said. "Coming out, we knew we were the better team and we could easily beat them. When we missed those shots, we couldn't do anything about it … So we got back, put our heads together, talked about it and tried our hardest to come out with the win."
Meanwhile, the few chances that Ridgeview had offensively were kept away from goal by the Madras defense and keeper Byron Patt, who is currently splitting time with Holliday in goal.
Madras then put away the game for good when Olivera outran Ridgeview down the left sideline, only to flick an accurate pass to Acuna in the center for his second goal of the afternoon. The second-half barrage from Madras was a classic result of teammates setting each other up, rather than trying to do too much individually.
"With Mellie on the side, he's a quick guy, he's very skillful and he can easily beat the fullbacks," Acuna said. "And Jonathan is just crazy at dribbling. He can easily take on five players and give a good pass. We just do what we can from there."
The win was only one game in a long season, but the Buffs will certainly take it after losing their first two nonconference games last season. Of course, they went on to notch 14 consecutive wins after the fact, but starting this season with a come-from-behind win, and snapping a three-game winless streak against Ridgeview, is the first step in what will surely be a challenging season with everyone gunning for them.
"We know what need to get back to where we were last year," Jones said. "And that's a tough road; I told them it's going to be one of the toughest things you're ever going to do."
Madras had a 1-0 lead against Sisters at halftime of their game Tuesday, before officials called off the rest of the game due to poor air quality. The Buffs now have a weeklong break before they take on The Dalles Sept. 14 at home.