DAYTON — Tongue River High School’s football team is floating into uncharted waters.
The Eagles were the underdogs for three seasons in which they recorded a combined record of 7-18.
But after their breakout season in 2015, the Eagles are coming into week one with a completely different outlook.
Last year’s state runner-up will open the season hosting the Wind River Cougars in a nonconference game Friday.
Instead of being the underdog heading into the season, the Eagles enter with a huge target on their backs.
“There is a different dynamic,” head coach John Scott said about this year’s season opener. “It’s different from coaching guys and telling them to keep fighting every day to the 180 pivot of knowing expectations are high.”
After losing their quarterback and the catalyst of their offense, the Cougars will return this year with plenty of new faces. Last year, Wind River finished with a 2-6 record — sixth in the 1A West — and failed to make the playoffs. Its only wins in 2015 came from a forfeit by Burlington and against a struggling Wyoming Indian program.
But that doesn’t mean the Eagles are going to walk their way through this one. Scott said in the opening weeks of practice, he has constantly reminded his team that, despite the success of 2015, the athletes have the same 0-0 record as everyone else.
“We can’t afford to get complacent this year,” Scott said. “We haven’t done anything in 2016 yet. … We have to keep working hard.”
The Eagles haven’t had many bouts with the Cougars. The last time they were on the same field together was 2008, and the two teams have only ever had five contests. Tongue River leads the series 3-2.
Tongue River is going to find a team that loves to run in Wind River. Wind River operates out of a three-back set with four solid running backs that have the potential to give the Eagles fits.
“That’s going to be our biggest thing to try to duplicate is to continue to get better at stopping the run,” Scott said. “We are preparing for them being a downhill team, and we have to step up and take that on.”
Following last year’s game plan, Brennan Kutterer and Will Kerns will take turns under center for the Eagles.
But one of the big unknowns this year is determining how the Eagles’ running game is going to hold up.
After losing a running back who gave the Eagles 1,300 yards on the ground in Dillon Lyons, Scott said the team will have a running back by committee early in the season.
“We want to establish the run, as well,” Scott said. “We have to find a way to replace a 1,300-yard back, and we aren’t going to get that out of one guy. We are going to have to use various guys. We are going to have three or four guys getting their hands on the ball.”
The Eagles will spar with Wind River beginning at 6 p.m. Friday at Tongue River High School.