Sunday, November 22, 2009

Weather, The Home Field... Next

Post-Game Group Shot
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
OK, it can snow now.

Another football season has come to a close and I’ve managed to not get myself stuck or stranded in the middle of nowhere as the result of travelling to some far-off gridiron game.

And though this past championship weekend in Montana was no tropical paradise, the snow stayed in the mountains even if the wind blew its cold across the football fields. In Denton, the sun was even shining, although wooly hats were still the preferred attire.

I found myself reminiscing about those warm-weather championship games of the past: Centerville 1999, Cokeville 2001, and Hysham 2007. I’ve been pretty lucky. Chalk it up to the benefits of global warming.

Beyond the fairly hospitable weather, I splashed out this final weekend of travel, overnighting at Big Timber’s Grand Hotel and then retreating to Lewistown’s Yogo Inn after Saturday’s shootout in Denton.

Lahr Unloads
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
No Place Like Home?
So much for the home-field advantage—unless you’re a Huntley Project fan. Of the five Montana title games, only the Red Devils playing at home were victorious. Helena Capital, Billings Central, Wibaux and Denton all played host to someone who ended up wrecking their parties. I can only imagine that there must have been some pretty jovial bus rides as the victorious visitors made their way home on Saturday night.

What’s Next?
Although the football season is over as far as I’m concerned (OK, part of it remains as long as the Griz are chugging along), it still lives on here as I plan to tie up a few loose ends that I didn’t get to address this past season (or perhaps previous seasons). It would be nice if two to three postings per month materialized, but I’m not making any promises on football’s 26th day of December. I realize that many readers will lose interest as other sports heat up. However, upon their return sometime next August, they’ll find a backlog of postings to catch up on—priming them for the new season.

What’s on next year’s agenda for this small town football fan? Wibaux summer practice (if they’ll have me. I hear its tougher than Marine Corps boot camp), Charlo, Circle, Medicine Lake-Froid, Lincoln, more Wyoming six-man, and, with any luck, another visit or two into Idaho.

And this: Can we get some of Wyoming’s new six-man teams to play at least one Montana team during the regular season?

Which teams will be “up” next year and which will likely have a “rebuilding” year?

Go Griz (and their small town football contingency)...

Monday, November 09, 2009

Purple Passion and the Wibaux Standard

No Photoshop Here
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
It was a day to fight for the purple as both Sheridan and Charlo claim purple as their dominant school colour. Everywhere you looked during the Montana Class C eight-man quarterfinal there was purple—which made me think fondly of those select (but few) Stanford fans way back in 2005 who throttled me for wearing purple wind pants to one of their games on this same blog. Too bad they couldn’t have attended this clash of purples between the Panthers and Vikings.

Panther personalities
I continually feel a need to apologize to the kind folks in Sheridan these days for neglecting to cover any of their home games until just this past weekend. Having been to other gridirons like Sunburst, Noxon, Scobey and Ekalaka, I can’t stand on the leg that says Sheridan has always been too far for me to drive. And even if their home games are at night (my least favorite environment to photograph), I confess to once driving all the way to Eureka for a Lion Friday night game. I suppose it has something to do with seeing the Panthers on the road three previous times—Alberton, Big Sandy and Sunburst and coming away from those games feeling as if I had encountered everything that was Sheridan.

I’ll admit it’s my loss for not having attended a Sheridan game years earlier given the warm reception I received this past week. Sheridan principal Jory Thompson approached me before the game and ask me if I was that “small town football guy” (or something like that in so many words) and informed me while we chatted that there was a complimentary Polish dog from their concession stand waiting for me whenever I wanted it.

Quarterback's Dad
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Then there was Rob Crippen, the father of Sheridan quarterback Casey Crippen. He was working the sidelines keeping stats of the day’s game and also tagged me regarding my work while inviting me over to his house after the game for tacos and the Griz game on TV. That kind of hospitality is downright bold and somewhat uncommon, but if it’s ever going to happen to a stranger, you can be sure it will happen at one of these small town high school football games like Sheridan. I suppose even bolder than Crippen’s invite is that I showed up at his home after I secured my motel room.

Speaking of bold, Sheridan defensive coordinator Clint Layng is right out of the movie Top Gun when he’s sending in signals to his defensive unit on the field. Watch him long enough and he’ll convince you that he directs fighter planes for takeoff on an aircraft carrier during the weekdays.

Wibaux… not your usual playoff game
Following the Panther’s 36-20 victory over Charlo, my ears perked up when I heard Layng tell the team that he’s always wanted to play Wibaux. One hundred years ago, that would have been the talk of a gun fighter. Which found me thinking how (over the years) Wibaux has somewhat, informally (at least in my tiny brain) become the standard of measure in Montana Class C eight-man football. I mean, there’s few conversations around Montana about this class of football that Wibaux doesn’t come up in the conversation sooner or later. Might as well paint a target on every Wibaux player’s chest. Even in previous years when another team has defeated Wibaux in a quarterfinal, semifinal or in the finals, they probably take more pride in defeating Wibaux than anything that followed.

Once I had the opportunity to talk to the starting line-up of Drummond’s 2005 championship team and when asked to pinpoint their toughest opponent in their three-year domination, they all agreed it was the 2004 semifinal game with the Longhorns. Despite winning 30-0, one Trojan recalled, “Yeah, Wibaux really brought the wood.”

Horns Relax
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
And so, the Montana Class C eight-man semi-finals are decided again—reminding me of a popular play that keeps on showing year after year. Mind you, I’m not complaining, I’m just saying (as they say). It’s Centerville, Drummond, Wibaux and Sheridan—with Sheridan the freshest of this tested line-up. Should we be surprised? Each is undefeated and ranked number one from their respected division.

I started thinking about how the world might be today if none of these teams advanced to the semifinals. Imagine if Joliet, Twin Bridges, Charlo and Fort Benton advanced instead. I know there are several signs that signify the end of time—this semifinal scenario would surely have been one of them.

Back in August I was confident the addition of Ennis and Fort Benton would really shake things up—given their newcomer status in stepping down from Class B eleven-man play. And less we forget, it wasn’t that long ago that the Longhorns of Fort Benton won the Class B state title in 2002 and were runner-up in 2004 while Ennis secured their own Class C titles in 1978 and 1982. Well, Fort Benton almost pulled it off until they tangled with those other Longhorns way out/back east.

Of course, there’s the riddle of the Superior Bobcats—formally Class C for several years, then they moved up to Class B for several years after, followed by a short two-year stint back down to Class C—just long enough to defeat Wibaux in the title game last year. They moved back to Class B (again) this year and probably haven’t stopped talking about beating Wibaux in last year’s title game.

Ah yes, Wibaux, the standard of measure—beyond Class C perhaps.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Joliet Steps Up... Somehow

Anthem Line Up
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Typically reports on the details of a small town high school football game usually don't appear here, but today’s shootout between Joliet and Scobey might merit such a departure. But above all else, it truly was a picture-perfect day in Joliet for a football game, period.

I’ll be the first to admit it, I had my doubts about Joliet. And after two early turnovers in the first quarter that lead to Scobey touchdowns, it started to look like a blow-out. Honestly I wasn’t too surprised to see these early events unfold. After all, Scobey has been a rich-in-tradition football team that has a state title or two in their trophy case, while Joliet hasn’t been one of the stronger teams since I-don’t-know-how-long.

Nevertheless, the J-Hawks success seemed to improve with the appearance of the sun because once it came out, Joliet sprung to life.

I heard more than one J-Hawk fan say, “They’re a slow-starting team.” Indeed they were—almost slow in starting like the-first-game-of-the-year slow, where very basic mistakes are the norm.

Yet, despite Joliet’s turnovers, Scobey managed to make a few of their own and the J-Hawks slowly clawed their way back into the game. Late in the second quarter, Joliet managed to take the lead, but with time running out on the last play of the half, Scobey found an open receiver who in turn found the end zone giving the Spartans an abbreviated halftime lead.

Another oddity about this particular game, two safeties were recorded—one by each team. That doesn’t happen very often, does it?

Open Field
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Given the number of blunders and turnovers, several times I found myself saying, “Whoever wins this game won’t stand a chance in Drummond next week.” Yet, I suspect this year’s Drummond lineup isn’t composed of immortals like their teams earlier in the decade. As it turned out, the Trojans may have struggled a bit themselves in their 38-20 victory over Stanford. So, who knows? I counted out Joliet once already and they proved me wrong, maybe they can do it again.

On another note: one thing is known for sure in this year’s eight-man semi-finals, the Longhorns will be playing. And next week’s quarter-final showdown between the Longhorns of Wibaux and the Longhorns of Fort Benton will determine which one. Yeee-Haaa!