DAYTON — The game Friday night between Tongue River High School and Lusk stood as one the Eagles circled before the season started. The Tigers represented a team that TR thought it matched up well against, making for a winnable and critical game if the Eagles had playoff aspirations.
The night didn’t go as planned for TR as Lusk toppled the Eagles 26-12 in their home opener, dropping them to 0-2 on the season.
TR head coach Steve Hanson knew going into the season that the final playoff spot in the conference would go to a team that would likely accumulate three conference wins. With only five conference games remaining — and games against powers such as Big Horn and Pine Bluffs still left to play — the loss Friday put the Eagles in an unfavorable spot.
That’s precisely why Hanson pulled four of his seniors aside after the final whistle to convey a simple message.
“He just told us that if we keep our heads up, our whole team will keep them up,” Zach Schankey said. “If our heads go down, our whole team will do down.”
Hanson felt that message was necessary for the entire team’s sake, but especially for his senior group.
“They’re pretty down,” Hanson said. “They already feel like October is closing in, and I just wanted to remind them that we have a long season left. There’s a lot of things that could happen. There’s a lot of teams that are an injury away, and a lot of teams we haven’t seen their best football yet. I don’t think we’ve seen our best football. We’ve got a lot of growth left. From what we were last week — where we had 73 total yards — to what we did this week, and what we’ll be able to do in the future, I just wanted to remind them that we have a lot of weeks left to play this game.”
Schankey gained more yards on the ground Friday than the entire team accumulated in week one. The senior running back — who missed the season opener at Moorcroft with an injury — carried it 22 times for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Elias Dillon-Bennett also missed the opener with an injury and returned Friday to spell Schankey every now and again. Dillon-Bennett gained 22 yards on 10 carries, and had a 30-yard touchdown called back on a penalty.
TR made quite a few errors Friday. Along with a few more flags and a couple mental lapses, quarterback Luke Stutzman — who competed two passes for 52 yards and a score — threw two interceptions, one where the wide receiver ran the wrong route.
“It shows our youth at times, and the number of freshman and sophomores that are starting,” Hanson said. “We are a heck of a lot of better football team than we were last week, and I’m very proud of them.”
TR drew first blood on an 8-yard touchdown run from Schankey midway through the opening quarter. The Tigers scored the first half’s last two touchdowns, the second of which was a Teagan Tschacher 80-yard pick-six that made it a 12-6 game with under a minute to play.
Stutzman connected with Kyle Breen for a 26-yard score that cut Lusk’s lead to 26-12 with over 11 minutes to play in the game, but the Eagles couldn’t construct another scoring drive from then on out.
It doesn’t get any easier for TR as it travels to Upton-Sundance next week — a team that throttled Lusk 41-6. But Hanson has no doubt that his seniors will rebound and have the team ready.
“They are a resilient group,” Hanson said. “That’s one thing about these kids, they go through a lot. There’s a lot of things in our little community out here that these kids fight through. They’ll be fine. They’re tough. We’ll be fine.”
Lusk 0 12 14 0 — 26
Tongue River 6 0 0 6 — 12