The small town of Dufur, Oregon appears on the horizon, a tiny burrow of trees and houses nestled in a grassy valley. A few hundred yards from the turn-off, the twin light stanchions become visible in the October gloaming. The Friday night UFO has landed in remote Wasco, County. This is rural high school football at it’s small town finest.
Tonight, Dufur squares off against Condon/Arlington, their foe in the 1A ranks. The mighty Rangers lost 30-24 to Sherman last week, a defeat “they needed” according to the ticket taker, a man with vibrant grin and papery hands. Their heads were getting too big for their helmets.
Everyone in town comes out tonight, filling the bleachers on either side of the barn red press box. Moms and Dads and ranch hands line the opposite sideline, wedged in between grass and the parking lot chock full of trucks. Dufur’s sideline is straw strewn, measures taken to keep the mud down, the remnants of the bale piled near the water bucket by the medical kit.
When the teams take the field, the scale of competition becomes obvious. Twenty kids total per side, none of them much bigger than a cornerback from a large school back in the big city. Eight man football is the rule in this part of the state. There simply aren’t enough players to run the usual eleven out there. Consequently, with fewer, smaller athletes, the field seems bigger.
Dufur runs up a 40-0 halftime lead. And it looks pretty easy. A court of Homecoming Princesses descend onto the field in a blue Camaro and red GTO. It seems as though every family in town has had some featured tonight, whether throwing, catching or carrying roses.
Condon/Arlington punches in a touchdown after the break. Nothing is quite crisp. The few back-ups find their way onto the field in garbage time. Half-way through the third quarter, with the score 46-8 and the mercy clock running, the ball changes hands via fumble on three consecutive plays around mid-field. The field isn’t wet. It’s getting late though, bodies worn out but the blue and white clad Honkers from Condon/Arlington continue their cheers, “go white, come on.”
Broken plays give each team a final touchdown. 58-14 when time expires. Everyone shakes hands. The folding chairs fold up and the few hundred intrepid souls head for the parking lot, opposite sentiments as rivals say goodbye. Condon/Arlington is a ninety minutes away by car, a time one may be able to shave down by ten minutes on a dry, Friday night on the open road.
For Dufur though, their worries are different. Next week on Thursday night it’s South Wasco County down in Maupin. And then there is a 9:50 last call down at the Pastime Saloon.