MILTON-FREEWATER - The Cardinals of Medical Lake rushed for 298 yards and left an indelible mark, not unlike that of a cleat, on the Pioneers' psyche after Friday night's non-league showdown.
Mac-Hi's Francisco Saldana, in his first game back from a knee injury, exploded for 100 rushing yards in the second half of the loss, but it was not enough for the Pioneers to overcome a 17-0 lead the Cardinals built in a physical, bruising first-half performance as Mac-Hi fell, 24-8.
"The effort today was very, very good considering all of the adversity the kids have faced," Mac-Hi coach Chuck Pease said. "I'm really proud of them, how they continued to go after the win even at the end."
After some soul searching at halftime, and another quarter of futility, Mac-Hi's rushing game finally got traction behind an offensive line that seemed to be learning on the fly.
"We made some adjustments on the offensive line (at the half)," Pease said. "We had some new boys in there and I'm proud of those guys. Beau Birdwell and Dakota Ray just stepped up to the plate and went after it. We had three sophomores on that line tonight, and they knew they made mistakes, but they just kept going after it."
Saldana was able to turn those key blocks into yards and finally a touchdown with 1:50 remaining in the game.
"I feel pumped," Saldana said after the game. "After we started rolling down the field, that's when the line started picking it up. Every single play they held a second longer every time so we got more yards.
"I'm glad I scored today," he said.
After the late touchdown, Mac-Hi went for an onsides kick and recovered it.
Everything was going right for the beleaguered Pioneers as Mac-Hi's quarterback Chase Copenhaver found senior Troy Kessler for a 27-yard pass to bring the Pioneers to the Cardinals' 14.
That was when Saldana, who had seemingly willed his way into the end zone earlier, faltered, putting the ball on the turf and ending the drive.
"I wanted it (another touchdown) so bad," Saldana said. "But whatever happened, it's over - we can't change it any more."
Three Cardinal knees later and the game was over.
In the first half, the Cardinals ran the ball, then for a change of pace they ran it some more. After that became tiresome, Medical Lake again decided that running the ball was the best option, handing the ball off 26 times compared to only three passing attempts.
The domination started from the first drive. Medical Lake took 5:19 off the clock as fullbacks Ishmael Teshome, Micah Tappero and halfback Blake Andrews led Medical Lake on a 10-play, 38-yard drive down to the Pioneer 38 before Teshome fumbled the ball. The longest play from scrimmage was a six-yard run from Andrews to start the drive.
Mac-Hi went three-and-out, amassing negative seven yards in the effort, before a five-yard punt gave the Cardinals possession on the Pioneer 40.
This time, Medical did not waste time scoring.
A 15-yard run from Tappero and a 14-yard scramble from quarterback Adam Paulson gave the Cardinals the first down on Mac-Hi's 17, and from there Teshome found a seam and powered into the end zone for Medical Lake's first score.
The Pioneers managed to find a rhythm on the following drive, converting a first down and picking up another thanks to a 10-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, before Mac-Hi's Copenhaver mishandled a snap and was left diving on the ball seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. A five-yard run from halfback Jacob Morris and an incompletion later Mac-Hi was forced to punt the ball.
Neither team could move the ball on their next possessions; Mac-Hi went three and out when a pitch to Nathan Dombrosky was blown up in the Pioneer backfield and Cardinals were called for holding and a personal foul on the same play to give them a third-and-35 they couldn't convert.
On the Cardinals' next drive, the Pioneers managed to hold Medical Lake to a field goal when Teshome was gang-tackled at the Pioneer 6.
With slightly more than two minutes left in the half, Mac-Hi just needed to convert a first down to run off the clock and go into halftime with a respectable 10-0 deficit. But again, the Pioneers could not move the ball, as Copenhaver was sacked for a five-yard loss to kill the drive.
A minute later, Medical Lake's Sawyer Kent took a 35-yard run in for the 17-0 lead that would not be bested.
"Our goal is to be a competitive football team," Pease said. "And tonight, we were a competitive football team after we got things rolling. That, and life skills, is all you can ask for."
The Pioneers host the defending Class 4A Oregon state champions, Baker, Friday at 7 p.m.
Medical Lake 24, Mac-Hi 8
Medical Lake 7 10 7 0 - 24
Mac-Hi 0 0 0 8 - 8
Med - Teshome 17 run. (Hess kick)
Med - Hess field goal.
Med - Kent 35 run. (Hess kick)
Med - Teshome 15 run. (Hess kick)
Mac-Hi - Saldana 8 run. (Copenhaver run)
Medical Lake Mac-Hi
First downs 13 5
Rushes/yards 46-298 33-129
Passing yards 42 26
Passes (att-comp-int) 7-3-0 12-3-0
Punts 3-60 5-123
Fumbles-lost 1-1 4-1
Penalties-yards 5-55 2-15
RUSHING - Med: Andrews 11-103, Teshome 21-103, Tappero 9-39, Paulson 1-14, Kent 1-35, Underwood 2-(-)1; Mac-Hi: Saldan 14-100, Morris 9-49, Hodgen 2-(-)9, Copenhaver 6-(-)5, Dombrosky 1-(-)8, Freemantle 1-2.
PASSING - Med: Paulson 3-7 42 yards; Mac-Hi: Copenhaver 3-12, 26 yards.
RECEIVING - Med: Kent 1-5, Haynes 1-27, Butorac 1-10; Mac-Hi: Dombrosky 1-5, Kessler 2-21.