For Madras High coach Rick Wells, Friday night will feel like a road game.
An unfamiliar football stadium will surround the White Buffaloes as they line up for a 7 p.m. kickoff against Aurora's North Marion, leading to Wells' feeling of a fifth straight matchup away from Madras.
But then the third-year head coach will see his team, draped in its home blues. This, oddly, will be the White Buffaloes' home opener.
As part of a Jefferson County School District bond measure that was passed last November, a new stadium is being built in Madras. In June, the old stadium was used as a training burn for the Jefferson County Fire Department and then torn down.
After 50 years or so of playing in the same facility, the Buffs, at least for 2013, are without a home.
Fortunately, nearby Culver stepped in, reached out a neighborly hand, and offered its field.
So for three games this season, Madras has a home — away from home.
“That's not the best thing in the world for our fans, especially for seniors — it's a little disappointing for them,” Wells said last month during preseason practices, speaking from the high school parking lot and staring at a massive hole in the ground where the Madras stadium grandstands once stood. “But our team, we've discussed it, and we just said, 'Give us 100 yards and we'll play.' We're fine with it.”
Currently, the Buffs practice just outside the high school, on a grass expanse roughly the size of a football field. As a backup, Wells has the baseball and softball fields. There may be a time, perhaps during weeks with a “home” game, when he calls up Culver athletic director and football coach Shea Little to see if the White Buffaloes can roam the Bulldogs' territory.
But as Wells emphasized: Give the Buffs 100 yards, and they will come, they will play.
“We haven't made it an issue,” Wells said on Tuesday. “My philosophy as a coach is to play where we get to play.”
The bond that passed in 2012 called for, among other things, a performing arts center Madras never had as well as a new surface for the track, which Buffs athletic director Rory Oster said had become unsafe to practice on. The new football stadium and field, according to Oster, became a byproduct of those projects, with the new performing arts center housing the locker rooms.
With the new facilities in the early stages of construction — Oster said he expects the stadium to be ready and open before the 2014 football season — Madras football for the time being has a second home. Oster's first option for a temporary facility, back in the winter, was Jefferson County Middle School, located about a mile east of the high school. But as the AD soon came to find out, lights would need to be hauled in, and portable bleachers would need to be rented. The cost continued to rise.
Then Oster contacted Culver, which offered its complex to the Class 4A Buffs virtually cost-free. Culver's proximity sits well with Wells, especially since the 2A school is located just 10 miles southwest of Madras.
“They've been great neighbors,” Oster said, “and have really helped us out in a bind.”
Madras High is being reinvigorated. A new logo — featuring a modern and ferocious White Buffalo — was released this past spring, and the school's gymnasium now sports a new scoreboard as well as flooring that includes the new emblem. And in June, the stadium that has stood since the 1960s was burned and torn down. The event was opened to community members, many of whom watched from a distance. It was awe-inspiring, Wells said, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Oster.
“There were a lot of people in the community that were actually sad to see it go, and I can understand that,” Wells said. “But I'm just looking forward to, in 2014, having a wonderful, beautiful place for us to play football games and having a good football team to show the community what we're all about.”
For three games this season — one Friday night and two Saturday afternoons — Madras has a home away from home. (The White Buffaloes were scheduled to play four games at home this season but, for convenience, opted to change their home opener against Stayton to a road contest.)
It might not feel that way for Wells and the Buffs on Friday. It may even be a bit surreal. But Wells and his team are not concerned about it. Their approach is still the same, and he reiterates:
“Give us 100 yards and we'll play.”
Prep football this weekend, at a glance
Here is a quick look at the games involving area teams on Friday, with records in parentheses:
Ridgeview (3-1) at Bend (0-4), 7 p.m.: The Lava Bears and the second-year Ravens will square off in a meeting of one of Central Oregon's oldest programs and its newest. Ridgeview's Boomer Fleming, after running for 221 yards in a 35-21 win against Cascade Christian last Friday, brings his 160 rushing yards per game to Punk Hunnell Stadium to go up against Bend, which has been outscored 144-7 in its past three games. But Lava Bears freshman QB Creighton Simmonds has completed 57 percent of his passes for a total of 479 yards, and Chris Wallace, who is expected to be the primary back if Jordan Neelon cannot go due to an injury, comes off a 105-yard rushing performance in a 55-0 loss to Marist in Eugene last week.
Redmond (1-3) at Summit (2-2), 7 p.m.: Tyler Mullen has been the do-it-all player for the Storm, averaging more than 50 yards passing, rushing and receiving through four games. Mullen posted his third 110-plus-yard receiving game last Friday in a 42-28 loss to The Dalles Wahtonka. His total of 13 touchdowns, plus Bransen Reynolds completing nearly 57 percent of his passes for 439 yards and five scores, could test Redmond on Friday in each team's Intermountain Conference opener. The Panthers come off a 41-32 defeat to Franklin in Portland last week, during which freshman QB Bunker Parrish threw for four touchdowns, two each to Derek Brown and Cody Winters.
Wilsonville (3-1) at Mountain View (2-2), 7 p.m.: The Cougars have dropped back-to-back games, and things get no easier on Friday, when Mountain View hosts Wilsonville. The Wildcats dispatched Mountain View during the 2012 regular season, but in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs, and once again at Wilsonville, it was the Cougars coming out on top, 21-14. Conor Nehl has completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 812 yards and eight touchdowns. Nehl is complemented by Keenan Springer, who went from 13 yards rushing against Sprague two weeks ago to 114 and a touchdown last Friday in a 26-25 loss to Class 6A McNary.
Madison (2-2) at Crook County (1-3), 7 p.m.: Freshman quarterback Mike Irwin has the Cowboys rolling after accounting for five of Crook County's seven touchdowns in a 51-13 win against Madras last Friday, snapping a three-game skid. Irwin rushed for 94 yards (the Cowboys totaled 340 yards on the ground) and three scores while passing for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Collbran Meeker, who recorded three touchdowns last week, also looks to contribute in Crook County's nonconference matchup against Class 5A Madison, which defeated Benson 26-12 in Portland last Friday.
North Marion (2-2) at Madras (2-2) in Culver, 7 p.m.: After a 51-13 loss to Crook County in Prineville last Friday, the White Buffaloes return home, sort of, to begin Tri-Valley Conference play. Playing in Culver while its new stadium is being built, Madras looks to bounce back behind Chad Lindgren, Cody Shepherd and Jered Pichette. Through four games, Lindgren has passed for 502 yards and six touchdowns (293 yards and five scores to Shepherd), while Pichette has averaged 128.5 yards rushing per game. The Buffs host Aurora's North Marion, which lost at home to Junction City last week, 34-7.
Sisters (0-4) at Sweet Home (1-3), 7 p.m.: The Outlaws open Sky-Em League action against the Huskies, the reigning conference champs. Logan Schutte, who rushed for 123 yards in a 48-10 loss to Cascade in Turner last week, and Tristan Lewis (averaging nearly 185 yards passing per game with three TDs in the past three contests) lead Sisters into the conference game, as the Outlaws seek their first victory of the season. Sweet Home has dropped three straight since its season-opening win, including last Friday's 13-7 home loss to North Valley of Grants Pass.
Junction City (3-0) at La Pine (0-3), 7 p.m.: The Hawks come off a 51-0 home loss to Burns last Friday, during which La Pine accumulated just 62 yards of total offense. After being outscored 108-0 over the past two games (and compiling a total of just 140 yards of offense), the Hawks look to turn things around in their Sky-Em League opener against the resurgent Tigers. Junction City, which defeated North Marion in Aurora last week, has already matched its win total from 2012.
Culver (0-2) at Vernonia (1-2), 7 p.m.: After a 38-28 loss to Waldport last Friday, the Bulldogs go back to work with a trip to Vernonia for a nonconference contest against the Loggers of the Northwest League. Vernonia won 58-0 over Class 3A Chemawa in Salem last week, and the Loggers have taken two of the past three meetings against the Bulldogs, including last season's 51-0 victory in Culver.
Gilchrist (2-1) at Powers (1-2), 4 p.m.: The Grizzlies were dealt their first loss of the season last Friday in a 38-8 decision at Prospect. After committing six turnovers in that matchup, Gilchrist looks to rebound against Class 1A Special District 2 foe Powers, which lost 44-34 last week at Elkton. In 2012, the host Grizzlies won a 44-42 thriller after forcing a Powers fumble in Grizzlies territory with less than 40 seconds left.