Buffs run past Crook County to advance
With a little more than six minutes remaining in the game, the Madras White Buffalos defense had one more big play left in them.
On fourth-and-one and ahead 26-21, the Buffs stuffed a sneak attempt by Crook County quarterback Joe Saenz to get the ball back, preserve the lead and eventually punch their ticket to the Class 4A state football playoffs.
The Buffs avenged a loss earlier in the season to Crook County by taking out the rival Cowboys, 33-21, in a Class 4A play-in game Friday night in Madras.
Madras running back Joe Hisatake scored his third touchdown of the night on the drive after the big short-yardage stop to put the final nail in the Cowboys' coffin.
This Friday will be the first time since Madras was in Class 3A that the program is back in the official state playoffs.
Madras lost to Sutherlin in the first round in 2005, and is 2-9 in school history in the playoffs.
Friday's game wasn't technically a state playoff game, rather it was a game to get into the 16-team bracket.
The program has come a long way in just the past couple years. After not being playoff eligible for three seasons due to playing an independent schedule from 2007 to 2009, compiling a not-so-impressive 4-25 record, being moved down to Class 4A from 5A was the best thing to ever happen to the program - and the results prove it.
"When I got here four years ago as an assistant, the program was just about as low as it could be," Madras head coach Rick Wells said. "We went through some transition, but when we put in what we wanted to put in, and developed these guys as young men and football players, this is the result."
The team earned a spot in the play-in round last season, but lost to one of the best teams in the state in Banks. This time in the play-in round, they were able to establish a solid pass/run balance and capitalize on Crook County mistakes.
On a wet, slick night due to driving rain showers that lasted most of the game, Madras quarterback Steele Haugen threw the ball extremely well. He completed his first eight passes, which included a 14-yard touchdown strike to Cody Shepherd in the first period - and also a nifty shovel pass to avoid a sack the play before - and finished with 19 completions in 24 attempts for 197 yards.
The highlight of the first half for the Buffs, however, came on the defensive end, but it still came from a very reliable source.
Devin Ceciliani had a Marcus Greaves fumble literally bounced into his arms and he took it 80 yards the other way to pay dirt to give the Buffs a 20-7 lead late in the second quarter.
While Ceciliani was double, sometimes even triple, covered all night by Crook County, he didn't have the spectacular statistical night he is accustomed to. It did, however, leave Madras' other great wideout, senior Jack Fine, in single coverage - and he made the Cowboys pay.
Fine hauled in eight catches for 113 yards and was a constant chain-mover for the Buffs in key situations.
"He never drops the football," Madras head coach Rick Wells said. "He's an awesome player and has just worked so hard to get better. He's definitely a first-team all-league player, no question about it."
Without Hisatake's services in the first game against Crook County, a 60-52 loss, the Buffs are "completely a different team" Wells said with Hisatake in the lineup.
The senior tailback ran for 87 yards on 22 carries and three touchdowns, creating a balanced offensive attack for Madras they simply didn't have without him.
"He's absolutely critical to what we want to do," Wells said. "When we can run and pass, we're tough to beat. Joe ran his butt off and just did a great job."
For Hisatake, standing on the sidelines with a knee injury hurt almost as bad as the injury itself, he said, so being back carrying the pigskin in a big game was something he'll never forget.
"We came together as a team, rather than playing like individuals," Hisatake said. "I fumbled earlier in the game, and rather than being negative about it, all the guys came to me and picked me up."
His two touchdowns in the fourth quarter were especially big in sustaining momentum and keeping the game from being swung in just one possession.
Both scores were from five yards out, but during his second one, he bounced off about four different Crook County defenders, spun past another one, then fell into the scoring area to cap a nearly four-minute drive to ice the game.
The insurance score came with 2:37 left.
For good measure, Madras defensive back Tristen Smith intercepted a Saenz pass with less than two minutes left to rub some salt in the Cowboys' wound.
The Buffs will hit the road north to take on the No. 1 Scappoose Indians at 7 p.m. Friday in Scappoose in the first round of the Class 4A OSAA football playoffs.