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With advent of 6-man division, St. Paul will be a contender in a more stable and balanced 8-man classification

SETH GORDON - Junior running back Mitch Curtis is one of several athletic ball-carriers the Buckaroos will throw at opposing teams this season, including 2A All-State players Justin Herberger and Saul Martinez.
When St. Paul left the 1A classification following the 2013-14 school year, 8-man football was dominated by a short list of powerhouse programs at the top, while many of the state's smallest schools struggled to field teams in the first place or make it through the season with enough healthy players to compete.

The Bucks were certainly among the classification's elite, having won back-to-back 1A titles in 2009 and 2010, and are expected to resume that status upon their return this fall following a successful four-year run in 2A.

However, the latest round of reclassification has significantly reshaped the landscape of 1A football, hopefully in a way that not only increases the number of teams competing for the state title but also creates a more level playing field from top to bottom.

The biggest and perhaps most impactful change is the advent of a 6-man football division featuring 16 schools, which should eliminate at least some of the forfeits that plagued the classification prior to the previous realignment heading into 2014-15.

The smallest schools, which have been divided into two special districts, should worry less about suffering injuries in games that were practically guaranteed to be blowouts and carried very little value for either side. Among those moving to 6-man are Alsea, Jewell, McKenzie and Triangle Lake in Special District 4 and Dayville/Monument, Echo, Joseph and South Wasco County in Special District 5.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how they do and how that works out, but I think that's a great opportunity for some of those schools," St. Paul Head Coach Tony Smith said.

While the 8-man classification loses those schools this fall, it has been replenished by the return of some traditionally 1A schools that moved up four years ago and are moving back down, like St. Paul. It will also include schools that moved up to 2A and will remain there in all other sports but football, like Lowell, as well as some 2A schools that have traditionally struggled at that level and will play down in football only, like Oakridge.

The result is a 40-team classification that will be split into three special districts, each of which will be divided into two divisions.

St. Paul landed in the 13-team Special District 1, while teams from southwest Oregon, like Camas Valley and Triad, will compete in 15-team Special District 2. The remaining 15 teams on the east side of the state, including Dufur, Wallowa and Adrian, will comprise Special District 3.

SETH GORDON -  St. Paul Head Coach Tony Smith says the team's jamboree on Friday behind the high school will be the first time Gleason Field has hosted live high school football in decades.
Each special district will host crossover matchups between teams in each of its divisions, according to the standings, in week nine, including a title game between the top teams from each side.

Within Special District 1, St. Paul will compete in the North division against fellow Casco League schools Perrydale and Falls City, as well as Crow, Mohawk, Waldport (2A) and Siletz Valley. The South division is comprised of Elkton, Lowell, Mapleton, North Douglas, Oakridge and Yoncalla.

Special District 3 has taken advantage of the setup to establish a special championship week event and host several, if not all, of its crossover games in week nine at the same location, Eastern Oregon University.

Although Special District 1 has not been able to schedule a similar single-site event, Smith likes that idea, as well the new setup overall.

"I think it will be fun," Smith said. "I think having the larger leagues is good just because of the concern about schools having a consistent schedule."

When it comes to the state playoffs, the top two teams from each division in each of the three special districts will qualify for the state playoffs, with four-at-large teams then filling out the 16-team bracket according to the OSAA power rankings.

Because Special District 1 has an odd number of teams, Smith had to find a second non-league game to fill out its schedule. The solution was to pair up with schools from Special District 3, which has 15 members, and St. Paul will play Powder Valley in a neutral-site contest in Dufur in week eight.

The Bucks will also play Wallowa at home to open the season Aug. 31, but fans won't have to wait that long, or go that far, to catch a glimpse of St. Paul in action, as Smith will host a jamboree with Perrydale, Falls City, Elkton and North Douglas at 5 p.m. Friday at the practice field behind the high school.

It will be the first time in decades Gleason Field has hosted live competition football. Smith joked that it didn't even have goal posts until about 10 years ago when he bought a pair from Tigard High School that had been in storage.

"I think they started using the Rodeo Grounds in the '60s," Smith said. "I don't know if we've done anything over here since then."

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