SHERIDAN — Tongue River High School football has started the year off on the right foot, winning its first game of the season and dominating in a scrimmage earlier in the year.
Heading into the first conference game of the year against Niobrara County High School in Lusk, head coach Steve Hanson said the team is sitting in a much better spot compared to last year when they were heading into this game 0-2 and dealing with multiple injuries.
The Eagles have not been injury-free this year, losing senior Daie’n Bear Don’t Walk to a broken hand that occurred last week during practice. Hanson said Bear Don’t Walk was probably his best player on defense, being able to play any linebacker spot and strong safety. Most importantly, though, the team loses the on-field leadership Bear Don’t Walk brought to the team.
In the first game of the year against Moorcroft, Hanson said his defense still played well and executed a game plan the coaches had in place. The goal was to prevent big plays, forcing the team to drive the ball against them. Moorcroft only had two big plays, Hanson said, one of which went for a score. Outside of those two plays, he was happy with the performance of the defense and looks for improvement in Week 2.
The same goes for the offense. Tongue River was able to build a solid lead against Moorcroft. Hanson said with the way the team executed this week, he looks to add some new plays to the game plan, mixing in plays that Lusk has not seen yet this week. Hanson looks to open the playbook a little more, implementing more passes and possibly involving the tight ends more in the game.
The Eagles worked on ball security this week after having two fumbles in the first half against Moorcroft; luckily Tongue River was able to recover one of them Friday night. Hanson said the rainy weather helped with practices, giving the team a chance to practice holding on to the ball in wet conditions, knowing a game to decide playoff spots could be played in similar conditions.
Hanson said Lusk presents a tough conference opening opponent. In the past two seasons, games were determined by one possession and the Eagles expect a similar battle this week. Hanson said this will be the first tough test for Tongue River — not taking anything away from the previous opponents — but the way the previous seasons have gone against Lusk, Hanson knows this will a close and physical game.
Offensively, Lusk will line up with two tight ends along with two fullbacks and a running back, looking to run the ball downfield. It is a simple but effective scheme, Hanson said. It will be old school football with a lot of dives, power and isolation run plays. Tongue River looks to simply prevent a big play.
Hanson said there are some young guys playing key positions along the offensive line for Lusk, but from what he can see they will be tough and scrappy, giving the Eagles a challenge.
Tongue River will be facing an excellent tackling defense that Hanson credits to the wrestling program. In previous games, Lusk started out in a 4-4 defense before switching to a five-man front. Hanson expects Lusk to possibly start the game out with five downed defensive linemen, trying to stop the Eagles’ running game.
No matter what kind of defense Lusk shows, Hanson still expects the Eagles to score points Friday night.