Sunday, September 21, 2008

Small Town Showdowns

Originally uploaded by mdt1960
While walking around before the game, I overheard someone say that this was considered the "game of the week" by six-man It seemed reasonable even if it was the third week of the season. I considered the declaration a bit premature regarding the Montana Class C six-man game between the West Yellowstone Wolverines and the visiting Pirates (and defending state champions) of Hysham. Nevertheless, West Yellowstone had clearly captured the attention of many Montana, Idaho and Wyoming small-town football followers in the first two weeks of the season—defeating perennial six-man powerhouses Highwood and Custer-Melstone. People like me questioned West Yellowstone after the Wolverines defeated Highwood in the first week. "Maybe Highwood is simply down this year," I said to myself. But after defeating Custer-Melstone convincingly, all of us probably started to wonder: What are the chances of two strong teams being down in the same year?

And Hysham? They only lost one starter to graduation (Kyle Strickland) from last year's championship team, so it seems safe to say they are a given power in any Montana Class C six-man mathematical formula.

Wolverine Profiles
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
When West Yellowstone took the field, I was surprised in their numbers and size—reminiscent of last year's Augusta team. And like last year, when Hysham's modestly sized "dirty dozen" finally appeared from the locker room, I'm sure few West Yellowstone fans were afraid for the home team. But this time I wasn't going to be fooled. If I were betting, my money was riding on the Pirates.

Hysham did come out on top, 34-27, despite the lightning-delay and greasy field conditions from the day's precipitation—surely it toned down their notorious speed a notch or two. They dodged a bullet to be sure. Following the game, a friend said to me, "I imagine many teams will be placing an asterisk or two next to West Yellowstone's name on their schedules."

And let me be clear, it was a very, very good game!

Perhaps the Pirates won't look back on the contest and consider it one of their best days given the fact that at least two West Yellowstone turnovers were squandered and a couple of key passes were dropped. Yet, they did what a true champion often does—they found a way to win even if it wasn't pretty or convincing.

I'm unsure how West Yellowstone will look back on their setback. If nothing else, their coach may have said it best after the game, "We just scared the shit out of last year's state champs." Perhaps they did. Even so, the Wolverines certainly proved they can be just as scrappy as Hysham. Down by three touchdowns in the third quarter, they came back in the final quarter within 7 points and recovered a textbook onside kick in the final minute that, if they had capitalized, could have made it a one-point game or perhaps even won the contest if they converted the PAT. However, Hysham's scrappy character shined through as well, holding the Wolverines when it counted. Just too many "if"s in that earlier sentence.

Some probably walked away from the game thinking this year's state title will be a rematch between Hysham and West Yellowstone. I won't be surprised if that's the case, but I suspect the current unknowns of Lambert, Bridger, Geraldine, and Roberts would also like to make a statement or two about who gets to play on that last weekend. And I'm not ready to count out several others after only three weeks of play including Highwood, Augusta or Meeteetse.

Wolverine Fans
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
One last thing—maybe this is a "heads up" to the good folks at West Yellowstone. Two years ago I attended an early season game at Roberts when the Rockets hosted the (then) defending state champs from Highwood. The Mountaineers of Highwood squeaked out a 36-32 victory—thanks in part to three Roberts touchdowns that were called back for penalties. Afterwards, I felt sure that if they met again in the playoffs, Roberts would prevail. As it turned out, they did end up meeting in the title game only Highwood won the contest convincingly, 48-12. So much for crystal balls and six-man football.

Postscript: After the game, while the two teams were having a final huddle on the field, fans from West Yellowstone formed two lines that funneled towards the locker room. I saw it as a final tribute to their team and their extraordinary effort on the day. However, Hysham started towards the locker room before West Yellowstone and I thought to myself, "This could get ugly" as Hysham approached the reception of Wolverine fans. Thankfully, in true small-town fashion, I didn't hear one negative comment—just a lot of "Good game Pirates" followed by the polite response coming from the Hysham players, "Thank you."

BTW: I went to six-man's web site and didn't find anything about yesterday's game—just a bunch of very dated stories and information.


sarah bishoff said...

as a small town girl myself (born and raised in gardiner) your blog hits home for me. i really enjoy reading it, and your pictures are great. i hope you continue your work, and wanted to suggest you check out the twin bridges/sheridan match up this weekend in sheridan... should be interesting to say the least :)

Morgan said...

Sarah... thanks for the kind words. Your comment here pushed me over the edge for the blog that follows this one. Wish I could be in Sheridan, but I'd settle for a game in Gardiner anyday... it's a great setting for a football game—especially if the bison are curious enough to check out the game.

If you're in Sheridan for the game, I hope you'll follow up on my invite... if nothing else, email me about it.

Panther Fan said...

I was born and raised in Sheridan, Montana, and have enjoyed going to football games, more now, than when I was in school. To say that the Twin Bridges/Sheridan game this Friday, will be interesting, but it will also be a very good game. Both teams have their strong points and both will play their hardest. Good luck to both teams, and I will enjoy being at the game watching them play in full force.

Nancy said...

On behalf of all Wolverine fans, thanks for such a great article on our team. By adding your Postscript, you give our community members and students something to be proud of too. Thanks for recognizing the class we try to teach our young people.

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