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Madras kept Tigers in view, was driving for tie late in the third, before La Grande stretched out lead with two late touchdowns; Buffs face Baker in key showdown Friday

TONY AHERN  - Madras quarterback Dru Boyle, 9, shakes hands with receiver Tyler Clarkson, 4, Saturday, Oct. 8 after the pair hooked up for a short touchdown pass in the first quarter against La Grande. Madras hung tough with the fifth-ranked Tigers but came up short 28-7.Madras gave La Grande -- now ranked fifth in the 4A classification -- all it could handle through three quarters Saturday evening at the Buffs' stadium. 

But looking to tie it at 14-all late in the third, the Buffs' luck ran out. On fourth-and-12 from inside the 20, quarterback Dru Boyle, under a heavy rush, tried to hit Tyler Clarkson with a pass that would have been a first down. Instead, Jarett Armstrong picked it off for La Grande.

From there, the strong Tiger running attack controlled the ball and the clock. La Grande, now 4-2, scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and left town 28-7 winners.

Madras now faces Baker, which has been highly ranked throughout most of the season and is currently ranked ninth, on the road Friday night. The Buffs are 0-2 in Special District 5 action, with losses to the two best teams in the league, Pendleton and La Grande. La Grande beat Baker 55-21 on Sept. 30, so Madras has to feel it can compete with the Bulldogs. 

The game started horribly for Madras, which received the kickoff. A bad snap led to a big loss on first down, then La Grande intercepted a Boyle pass. The Tigers unleashed their rushing attack and quarterback Logan Williams punched in a keeper and they led 7-0 less than three minutes into the game. 

Madras responded with their lone touchdown drive, covering 61 yards. Two big pass plays keyed the drive -- the first to Cael White, who hurdled a defender to gain 24 yards, the next to Clarkson for 36 yards, which set up the Buffs on the La Grande 19. 

A reverse attempt to White led to a fumble. Madras got on it but were left with a fourth-and-10 back near the 19. La Grande jumped off-sides to make it fourth-and-five. Boyle then kept it around the right side and packed it to the 3-yard line for a first down. After a counter play was stuffed for minus-two yards, Boyle hit Clarkson on a slant, throwing a bullet low where only Clarkson could get to it, and the junior receiver made a nice catch. A Johan Poland kick tied it at 7-all at the 1:52 mark of the first quarter.

La Grande came back with another solid drive, opening the playbook to show some passes. Madras had them facing third-and-13, gave up 11 on a pass play, then Williams kept it for four yards on a fourth-and-two. It was a theme of the night: Madras not being able to stop La Grande on third and fourth down. Another pass hit for 16 yards, then Williams hit Sam Tsiatsos on a post deep over the middle, in stride, and he ran it to paydirt. 

Madras couldn't move the ball much the rest of the period. They held the Tigers on downs once later in the quarter, but La Grande was back in position to score before the end of the half. A couple of penalties hurt their drive, and they faced a four-and-25 with seconds left. Williams threw it to the end zone but Buff cornerback Wade Simmelink picked it off to end the threat.

Coach Judd Stutzman's Buffs came out for the second half fired up and aggressive. They forced La Grande into a third-and-nine on their first series, and junior linebacker James Lange got around the corner and sacked Williams to ignite the crowd. However, Lange got the back of Williams' collar in the tackle and was called for a horse-collar penalty and the Tigers kept the ball. A few plays later, though, Skytus Smith stuffed a Tiger run and La Grande was soon punting. 

Madras then put together its second good drive. After an errant lateral pass to running back Poland, the Buffs were facing second-and-19. But Boyle hit White over the middle and then Clarkson on the right edge, and Madras was out to its own 32. White again zipped over the middle and Boyle hit him in stride. In one of the Buffs' biggest plays of the night, White carried it to the La Grande 33. 

A sack of Boyle put Madras again in a long situation. They went back to the lateral pass to Poland. This time he caught it, then he threw it. White had gotten behind the Tiger defense but had to come back for the ball. But the sure-handed senior receiver made a great catch and Madras had it at the La Grande 13-yard line and first down.

Boyle tried to hit White in the right corner on first down. White nearly made another great catch, but the defender forced the incompletion. The Tiger defense them clamped down, forcing a fourth-and-12. That's when Boyle tried to hit Clarkson, and Armstrong made his interception.

La Grande had it back on its own 11 with less than a minute left in the third quarter, and from there unleashed it tough running attack. The Buffs forced a couple of third-and-one situations, but each time La Grande ran for the first, eating clock all the way. They made it 21-7 at the 6:16 mark, when Dominick Fields ran it in from the 4.

Desperate to score fast to have a chance to win, the Buffs went to the air. Boyle hit Clarkson for nine then tried to hit Simmelink deep with a post, but Kaden Nelson picked it off. 

The Tigers put the capper on it with a pass play over the middle that brought it to the 3. Fields ran it in from there for his second TD of the night.

La Grande -- which has only lost to Weiser, Idaho, a 5-1 team, 13-6, and to 5-1 Estacada on the road 32-28 -- hosts Crook County Friday. The Cowboys lost 39-0 to Pendleton at home Friday. 

On paper, the third playoff spot in the very tough Special District 5 league looks like a three-way race between Baker (4-2, 1-1), Crook County, (3-3, 1-1) and Madras, (3-3, 0-2). Madras has already played Pendleton and La Grande; Baker and Crook County have only played one of those top two teams. A win in Baker would be huge for the Buffs' playoff hopes.

The Buffs have certainly played tough teams in preparation for the Baker showdown. No team in the 4A classification has faced the same type of meatgrinder in successive weeks: Scappoose (now ranked second) on Sept. 23; Pendleton (ranked sixth) on Sept. 30; then La Grande (ranked fifth) on Oct. 8. This week's opponent, Baker, is currently ranked ninth. Madras is the highest-ranked 3-3 team at 13th.


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