Molalla outmuscles Madras 27-12 in each team's Tri-Valley Conference opener
Madras and Molalla had plenty to gain in their Tri-Valley Conference opener Friday.
Both teams entered the game with 1-2 records, and although each program found itself in different situations, a win to begin TVC play would have been a welcome sign.
Ultimately, the Molalla Indians (2-2, 1-0 TVC) were the ones walking away with a 27-12 road victory, feeling like their season may have just taken a pivotal turn. The White Buffalos (1-3, 0-1 TVC) meanwhile, were brought back down to earth one week after an emotional win ended their 23-game losing streak.
The Buffs claimed the first points of the game in the second quarter when sophomore Treyvon Easterling broke loose for a 52-yard gain, before running in a touchdown from one yard out three plays later. From that point on, Molalla was the team in control, and Madras time and again was unable to get out of its own way.
The Buffs were in position to put more points on the board and give themselves a cushion, but were unable to do so. Costly penalties and an out-of-sync passing game doomed them.
"We just flat out didn't execute," Madras head coach Kurt Taylor said. "They took advantage of it, and kudos to them and their players, especially, because they took it to us, and our boys didn't know how to respond."
Molalla began to find its offensive rhythm when quarterback Chase Jazdinski hit three different receivers, Silverio Lopez, Casey Brooks and Ben Pruitt in successive plays, which put the Indians on the Buffs' 10-yard line. Jazdinski then threw to an uncovered Lopez for a 10-yard touchdown, tying the game 6-6.
On the ensuing Madras drive, quarterback Liam White threw an interception to Molalla's Brandon Palmer, which he returned to the Buffs' 29-yard line.
Lopez gained two yards on first down, then Jazdinski tried to air out a couple shots toward the end zone, but both fell incomplete. That brought up fourth down, when Jazdinski, again looking down the left side of the field, completed a 26-yard pass to Palmer, who leapt above a Madras defender for the snag. The pitch and catch jolted the Molalla sideline, and also set up first and goal on the 1-yard line, where Jazdinski was able to score easily on a quarterback keeper.
Molalla could've folded after a discombobulated first quarter, but seized momentum in the second quarter from its two scoring drives. The Indians' 14-6 lead at halftime was never relinquished in the remaining two quarters.
"Especially in the (second) quarter, they scored right away," Palmer said of the momentum shift. "You always got to keep your head up — our coaches always tell us that. You can't look down at the ground, you got to keep it up."
Yet for all the plays that could've broken the Buffs' backs, they did not lay down. Madras forced a Molalla punt on its opening drive of the third quarter that Molalla downed at the Buffs' 20-yard line. On their first play from scrimmage, White took the shotgun snap and handed off to Easterling — a familiar-looking play — but this one had a clever wrinkle.
Easterling faked as if he was going to run, then handed off to Robert Pacheco in the backfield. Thanks to the trickery, and a particularly crucial seal block from Damon Bentz, Pacheco ran up the middle untouched for an 80-yard touchdown.
"Their run game is a lot stronger than it used to be; they really run it hard," Palmer said. "Against a 3-5 (defense), it's tough always fill it right … They're a really good team; they've got a lot of big guys. Their running back (Easterling) is a hell of a guy, he's really good too."
Trailing 14-12, Madras opted to go for two, calling a run up the gut for Easterling, but officials ruled him short of the goal line. In the end, that sequence would prove to be the Buffs' best chance to tie or reclaim a lead.
Molalla marched down the field on its following possession, and found a running game to complement the aerial attack and vice versa. Pruitt scored on a run with 1:57 remaining in the third, but a failed extra point kept the game one possession, 20-12.
Playing from behind, the Buffs' one-dimensional offense became easier for Molalla to stop. Second and long became third and long, and although White and Madras receivers connected a few times, the passing game never fully got in rhythm.
"I feel like our quarterback and receivers just weren't in the right mindset tonight," said senior tight end Harrison Manu, who also racked up five sacks as a defensive lineman. "We had some success running the ball, we had some good catches, but for the most part, I think we were just unprepared a little bit."
"It was more of a mental issue. We just couldn't execute correctly."
Madras couldn't muster any more points, and Molalla sealed the game when Jazdinski again found Palmer in the end zone, this time from 21 yards out with 3:49 remaining in the fourth.
"This was a pivotal game," Molalla head coach Tim Baker said. "It could go one of two ways tonight. It looked a little dicey there into the second quarter. But that's where we started to jell. Again, they started trusting each other and things just started clicking."
Palmer, one of 10 seniors on the roster, said the win was important for the confidence of a team that has had to replace a lot of important players from last year's team.
"It's a big deal, because, you know, it's a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride, and it means a lot for us," Palmer said. "We're down on numbers, so we really all got to step it up. We've got a lot of people hurt, so it's a big confidence booster."
Madras plays host to Estacada next Friday, Molalla returns home. Both games are scheduled to kickoff at 7 p.m.