DAYTON — It’s only the second week of the season, but the Tongue River High School football team has pegged Friday as a game it simply can’t lose. And the veteran players know that.
“We’ve got a very winnable game, we’ve got a conference game, and these seniors know exactly what’s at stake,” TR head coach Steve Hanson said. “If you can have a week-two must-win game, then we do right here. If we expect to be a playoff team, we know who we need to beat to put ourselves in position to be in playoff contention.”
The Eagles host Lusk in their home opener Friday at 6 p.m. TR will look to rebound from a week-one loss to Moorcroft, a game in which the Eagles struggled to get anything going offensively en route to a 20-6 defeat.
The long weekend allowed TR’s coaching staff extra time to dig deep into the tape and find the areas of weakness.
“Now, looking back on it with clearer eyes without the emotion of the loss tied to it, it gave us a chance to analyze what we do well and what we don’t do well,” Hanson said. “We simplified, modified, adjusted and had the week of practice we needed to have.”
Not having two of its most potent offensive weapons played a sizable role in TR’s deficiencies. Zach Schankey and Elias Dillon-Bennett — who collectively gained more than 900 yards of all-purpose offense in 2017 — sustained injuries in a preseason scrimmage against Greybull and didn’t suit up against the Wolves.
Both Schankey and Dillon-Bennett are expected to return Friday, and while that will give the Eagles an extra boost come kickoff time, the effects of their return are already being felt in practice.
“Those guys are back in the rotation now and have had a really good week of practice,” Hanson said. “We feel pretty rejuvenated after what was a tough loss.”
The Eagles are also feeling a little extra motivation after last year’s week two result. TR traveled to Lusk in 2017 and got shut out 12-0, a week after claiming a big win over Wright. The Eagles felt a little extra sting after the loss to the Tigers. Not only did it come on the back end of the victory, but stood as a game TR felt it could have won.
“It was a tight game, and we knew it was a tight game, and we knew last year that it was one we let slip away,” Hanson said. “So there’s a little bit of renewed energy from that aspect.”
The Tigers have defeated the Eagles three of the last four years. In the last three seasons, Lusk has gone a combined 7-16 under head coach Ryan Nelson.
The Tigers currently sit at 0-1 after dropping their season opener to Upton-Sundance 41-6. Lusk will likely enter Friday with similar must-win motivations as TR.
However, the Eagles stand confident that their full complement of skill players and home-field advantage will push them over the top.
“We feel like this will be our night to really get it rolling,” Hanson said.