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FORCING THE ACTION: La Grande's Trae Perry (11), who had a goal from beyond 35 yards, brings the ball into the offensive zone. (The Observer/PIERRE LaBOSSIERE).
FORCING THE ACTION: La Grande's Trae Perry (11), who had a goal from beyond 35 yards, brings the ball into the offensive zone. (The Observer/PIERRE LaBOSSIERE).

By Pierre LaBossire

Observer Staff Writer

The La Grande soccer boys' only loss of the season came against Madras way back in early September.

Since then, the Tigers have come a long way in playing together as a team, and La Grande got its revenge on the visiting White Buffaloes Friday, winning 5-1 to stay tied for first place in Division 7.

Actually, the Tigers got a double dose of good news this week. A tie against Ontario earlier in the season was wiped from the books because Ontario used a 20-year-old player in that game. La Grande was awarded a win and the Tigers are 6-1-0 in league (18 points) after their Madras win. Mac-Hi, who La Grande has beaten, is also 6-1-0 (18 points) because a Pioneers' tie with Ontario was also wiped from the books.

La Grande lost to Madras 2-1 on Sept. 6 on a smoky day in central Oregon. Madras came into Friday's game 4-1-0 in District 7 play, looking for a share of first place. The Tiger players say their team has changed since then.

"We're playing more as a team. We've gotten to know each other," said Manuel Arceo, who scored two goals Friday.

Coach Jessy Watson agreed. "The first time we played Madras, we hadn't played that much together at that point," he said. "We've had a lot more time to play together."

Trae Perry, who scored a goal from 35 to 40 yards out on a high shot just under the crossbar, said the Tigers knew how important this match, and every match the rest of the season, is because it doesn't appear that anyone other than La Grande is going to beat Mac-Hi.

"This is it. This is our playoff right now," said Perry.

Defender Aaron Nebeker, who scored a goal, and for the second time in a big league game, came up with a huge save to keep Madras out of range, said he and his teammates wanted to show Madras the Tigers are a better team than what they showed in September.

"We wanted revenge on them," he said.

Joe Hibbert got the Tigers off to a fast start with a quick goal, and Arceo and Perry added a goal each before the end of the half as La Grande dominated the first 40 minutes.

Madras came out in the second half fired up, however. The White Buffaloes scored a quick goal to make it 3-1, and only Nebeker's sliding save in front of the maw of the goal mouth kept the score from going to 3-2 with tons of time left.

La Grande got its second wind, however, and the Tigers took over the final 20 minutes of the match. Nebeker scored and Arceo added a goal in the waning seconds for the final score.

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