Madras snaps 23-game losing streak in win over Valley Catholic
It began three years ago, but the burdensome losing streak is now history.
Dating back to Sept. 19, 2014, the Madras football team compiled 23 losses without a win. With each passing week, the number grew. It grew through changes, from former head coach Sean Cease giving way to Kurt Taylor, to players coming and going, some graduating, others quitting on a program that had hit rock bottom.
Early into this season, however, Madras already had the look of a team on the rise. At the very least, it showed signs of improvement that simply weren't there in the prior two seasons.
Friday night in Madras, fittingly, the White Buffalos' home opener, those improvements coalesced into a complete game. The Buffs let go of a longstanding stretch of forgettable football by knocking off the Valley Catholic Valiants 19-7 and laid the foundation for the start of a new era in Madras.
"I can't even begin to tell you what kind of weight is off my shoulders," Taylor said.
Although the place was quiet leading up to kickoff, spectators slowly filed into the Buffs' home stadium and by the game's end, the bleachers were nearly full. Those who did show up were about to witness an important moment in Madras football history. But the game didn't begin all too smoothly.
Madras' first offensive play, a pass that Valley Catholic linebacker Cade Napoli intercepted at the Buffs' own 14-yard line, was one of three turnovers they committed in the first half — the other two occurring on fumbled exchanges.
But the Madras defense came ready to play, and save for one touchdown drive in the second quarter, it shut down the Valiants. Taylor suspected Valley Catholic's offensive strength — passing — would play right into the strength of Madras' defense — its stingy secondary. His defensive backs proved him right.
With Allen Jackson roaming the field from his safety position, and cornerback Dalton Waldow locking down wide receivers, Valley Catholic couldn't string together many positive passing plays.
"Even if they got a first down, and all those flags, we just never gave up; we kept positive," Waldow said. "That's what we're trying to change about Madras football — keeping positive, pumping guys up, don't bring them down. If they mess up, just keep the positive."
Madras lived up to that mantra after Valley Catholic scored first, when running back Trey Eberhart took a direct snap and flicked a one-yard touchdown to Napoli with three minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Still, with the game remaining a defensive struggle, something had to give. Like it has done on a several occasions already this season, Madras turned to its trio of talented sophomores to get the Buffs some points.
Quarterback Liam White hit wide receiver Robert Pacheco for a 32-yard touchdown pass, bringing the Buffs within one point, 7-6, in the third quarter. The two connected again in the fourth quarter, this time for an 11-yard touchdown and more importantly, a 12-7 score in favor of the Buffs.
"All this hard work makes us confident," Pacheco said. "He sees me open, I'm gonna take it. I'll make something happen, that's for sure. But man, words can't even explain how proud our team is."
The game took a somber turn when an injury halted the game for a half hour. Valley Catholic freshman George Eisenhardt sustained a head injury while trying to tackle Madras running back Treyvon Easterling, and stayed down on the field until an ambulance arrived. He gave a thumbs up to the crowd as EMTs carted him off on a stretcher.
Aside from the seriousness of the injury, the delay forced both sides to warm back up as if they were starting a new half. The team did some light running, and on the sideline, White and Easterling practiced taking snaps from center David Sumner for several minutes.
"We were just thinking, we need to stay focused and keep going," Easterling said. "We can't get cold, we can't let them get a comeback, because if they scored, they could've won. We had to stop them and keep it going."
Hoping to bleed the 6:11 remaining on the clock, Madras called seven consecutive runs to Easterling, which gained a total of 28 yards and three first downs. The Buffs gave Easterling the ball an eighth time, which he made the most of. The sophomore ran through the initial wave of Valley Catholic defenders, broke a tackle, then ran free for a 28-yard walkoff touchdown.
Jackson sealed the win for Madras when he picked off Valley Catholic quarterback Daniel Pruitt, allowing the Buffs to take a couple knees with less than a minute remaining.
"We just (didn't) know how they were going to respond with that delay, and luckily, they put their feet in the dirt and said, 'No, this is our game. We're going to take it.' They did what they needed to do," Taylor said.
The losses that piled up seemed like an eternity for everyone, but likely no one felt it more than the group of Madras seniors, who had never won a varsity football contest until Friday. Neither the younger players, nor most of the coaching staff felt the losing streak in its entirety. The seniors did. After the game, they, more than anyone else, relished the victory afterwards that came with a crowd Madras students and supporters storming the field to embrace them.
"Unbelievable — that's what's going through my head right now," senior Brady Pattenaude said.
"We didn't give up, we didn't show that we were beat, we didn't show that we were down. "We stayed on our feet, but we kept driving the ball and just running it. We stayed together, we never folded, nagged or bad-mouthed anybody, and that's what kept the team together tonight."
Taylor and the Buffs liked their chances at getting at least one win this season. That they accomplished it in week three, with an entire league schedule yet to begin, gives them a newfound confidence going into their remaining five regular season games.
"We're going to take this in, we're really going to absorb it. But Monday's a new day, and we gotta get back to work," Pacheco said.
Madras hosts Molalla on Friday at 7 p.m. to open its Tri-Valley Conference schedule.