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Buffs unable to complete comeback attempt in second half despite a flurry of shots on goal

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Before the match against Gladstone, all the Madras seniors were honored at midfield. Afterward, the close-knit group hugged and exchanged handshakes on their way back to the bench.On a dark and cloudy Monday night in Madras, it seemed like another black cloud was hanging over the boys soccer team in the second half of their 3-1 loss to Gladstone.

The Gladiators went up 1-0 midway through the first half after a header from Gladstone junior Hudson Winfrey. Just before halftime, a misplayed ball in the Madras defense gave Gladiator sophomore Juan Villegas a free run on net which resulted a in two-goal lead for the visitors.

Energized out of the break, Madras freshman Steve Gonzalez cut the deficit in half five minutes into the second stanza. While attacking the Gladstone defense, Gonzalez's first shot was blocked; however, the deflection bounced favorably and allowed the freshman to press on for his sixth goal of the season.

Despite controlling much of the game over the next quarter hour — and launching a flurry of shots at the Gladiator goal — the Buffs were unable to complete a storybook comeback on Senior Night in front of the home crowd at the MHS football stadium. The bad-luck bug seemed to hit senior Luis Benitez especially hard, as the all-league attacker created chance after chance but could not find the net. Gladstone added a third goal at the 60-minute mark to seal the final score.

"We had our opportunities to capitalize, but didn't in a number of ways," said head coach Clark Jones after the match. "At this level, if you don't finish, you don't win."

That is not a knock on Benitez or any other Madras player, though. The Tri-Valley Conference is strong this season, with three teams in the top 16 including No. 6 North Marion. Estacada and Molalla have clinched the other two playoffs spots out of the Tri-Valley, leaving Madras on the outside looking in.

For the record, Benitez was the team's best finisher all season long, leading the team with eight goals and hitting multiple direct free kicks from more than 30 yards out. Monday night was simply one of those nights.

It is somewhat uncharted territory for a White Buffalo program that normally competes at the state level, but it is not as though the team is in dire straits. Just last week, the Buffs crushed Corbett to the tune of a 6-0 rout in their final game on the regular soccer fields. Benitez and Gonzalez both scored twice in that match, and seniors Israel Estrada and Ethan Nava each added goals of their own.

"We've had a couple down years, but I think since we joined 4A this is just the second time we haven't made it (to the playoffs)," said Jones. "Sometimes you have all the pieces, you just can't get them to gel together at the right time. Sometimes you just don't have enough pieces to fill in all the time. I think we're somewhere in the middle of that."

Before the match on Monday night, all of Madras' seniors were honored at midfield with their families. The emotion of the moment was enough to choke up public address announcer and MHS teacher Cameron Rosenfield as he spoke to the team. The team's seniors include Luis Benitez, Elmer Egoavil, Israel Estrada, Dustin Gomez, Antonio Hernandez, Ethan Nava, Leo Olivera, Andrew Pineda, Jeremy Sanchez, Ethan Tapia, Alex Tejeda.

After the match, those same emotions crept back up as the team left the field one last time. The student section made the long march north to the meet their fellow classmates and offer condolences and reassurances as the Buffs mourned their loss. Though not the moment of triumph that Madras is accustomed to seeing on the pitch, it served as a poignant reminder of just how much the game means to each of the team's players.

"A couple of them are really good players," said Jones of his departing senior class. "We'll have a few people on the all-league team at the end of the year, which will be pretty cool. Some of them, like Luis (Benitez), are some of the better players in the league. Hopefully the other coaches are going to recognize that. Then you have some other ones that are decent kids who are great to have around."

"Half of them were players who were on the field the entire time," the longtime coach added. "The other half were players who were helping them get better in practice."

"It should show you the character of the kids when the announcer is breaking up," Jones noted with a smile, a nod to his colleague's pregame tear-jerker.

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