Riverhawks Depart, Ontario Returns, Graduation Hurts-Our 4A Special District 5 Football Preview

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John L. Braese

Playing at the 3A level, the Ontario football team found the score go their way too many times last season for the OSAA’s liking. After making the 3A playoffs, the Tigers were given notice to return back to the 4A ranks for this year, joining familiar teams from two years ago in the Special District 5.

The Dalles, not excited about a 300-mile drive for a game versus Ontario, moves to the Special District 2 for the year after playing in the Special District 5 last season.

Graduation takes numbers every year in high school football. The 4A Special District 5 looks at the upcoming year minus 72 players scattered among the six teams. La Grande and Pendleton/Nixyaawii see the largest losses.

Last season saw the Tigers and Buckaroos meet in the state 4A quarterfinals. This season is seen as a bit more wide open as Crook County returns with experience, Baker looks to be improved and Ontario now knows how to win. Madras could play the spoiler in the league action.


2022-23 Record: 5-4 Overall, 2-3 League

League Finish: 4th

2022-23 Final State Ranking: 10th

Seniors Lost To Graduation: 6

Returnees: Scheduled to return are 8 sophomores, 10 juniors and 10 seniors

Season Opener: Saturday, September 2 hosting Cascade 

Comments: Experience is back for the Bulldogs this season after finishing mid-pack last year. Sophomore Rasean Jones is already receiving some national attention. For a better idea of where Baker is for the year, look for the road game on Sept. 8 as the Bulldogs visit the Idaho powerhouse Homedale Trojans (this game went the wrong way for Baker last season in a 14-41 loss). The following week will see the 3A Vale Vikings in town. League play sees La Grande and Crook County at home with the remainder on the road.   

Crook County

2022-23 Record: 5-5 overall, 3-2 league

League Finish: 3rd

2022-23 Final State Ranking: 14th

Seniors Lost To Graduation: 9

Returnees: Scheduled to return are 7 sophomores, 12 juniors and 12 seniors

Season Opener: Friday, September 1 hosting Philomath

Comments: The Cowboys played their way to a state berth last season and like Baker, return a large amount of experience on the field. Crook County was balanced last year, holding opponents to 241 points while putting 247 points on the board on offense. There is no reason not to believe the Cowboys will once again be in the mix for a league title this year.

La Grande

2022-23 Record: 9-3 Overall, 5-0 League

League Finish: 1st

2022-23 Final State Ranking: 2nd

Seniors Lost To Graduation: 18

Returnees: Scheduled to return are 10 sophomores, 2 juniors and 10 seniors

Season Opener: Friday, September 15 hosting Estacada

Comments: The current league champions are back on the field this season without a host of familiar faces after graduation saw 18 players depart. La Grande did make a run towards a state title last season, winning in the first round and quarterfinals before seeing Tillamook in the semifinals and falling by a touchdown. While EOS does not believe in the term “rebuilding year”, the reigning champions will need players this season to step up and fill some holes. Meeting Baker and Crook County on the road, La Grande will host Madras, Pendleton/Nixyaawii (always a big game) and Ontario at home.


2022-23 Record: 4-5 Overall, 1-4 League

League Finish: 5th

2022-23 Final State Ranking: 16th

Seniors Lost To Graduation: 12

Returnees: Scheduled to return are 5 sophomores, 8 juniors and 11 seniors

Season Opener: Madras will be in Redmond on Thursday, Aug. 24 before opening the season on Thursday, Aug. 31 hosting Sweet Home

Comments: Last season saw the White Buffaloes start off the non-league season with three wins but then take their only league victory due to a forfeit by The Dalles. The schedule for Madras finds the White Buffaloes hosting the Buckaroos, Bulldogs and the Cowboys while seeing the both Tiger teams on the road. If the home field is an advantage, look for a better season for Madras.


2022-23 Record: 5-4 overall, 3-1 league in 3A

League Finish: 2nd

2022-23 Final State Ranking: 17th

Seniors Lost To Graduation: 8

Returnees: Scheduled to return are 1 sophomore, 13 juniors and 11 seniors

Season Opener: Friday, August 25 hosting Burns for jamboree

Comments: Ontario returns to the 4A level after a year playing in the 3A ranks. A successful season and a trip to the 3A playoffs propelled the Tigers back into the 4A due to OSAA rules. Last season saw Ontario fall to powerful La Grande, 30-62, in the lone nonleague matchup versus a 4A opponent. The Tigers have planned an easy nonleague start to the year with Caldwell, Idaho (played an independent schedule last year due to poor performance), and 3A teams McLoughlin, Burns and Nyssa. Once league time hits, only Baker and Madras will make the trip to Malheur County.


2022-23 Record: 8-3 overall, 4-1 league

League Finish: 2nd

2022-23 Final State Ranking: 7th

Seniors Lost To Graduation: 19

Returnees: Scheduled to return are 6 juniors and 17 seniors

Season Opener: Friday, September 1 hosting Caldera after a jamboree with Hermiston on Aug. 26.

Comments: Fans last season were able to witness two games pitting league opponents La Grande and Pendleton/Nixyaawii as the Buckaroos met the Tigers in the quarterfinals of the 4A playoffs (La Grande won both games). This season, like La Grande, the Buckaroos see last year’s graduation take a chunk out of the team with 19 players needing replaced. With Baker expected to be much improved, the final game of the season should be a good one as the Buckaroos host the Bulldogs.

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