DAYTON — The Tongue River High School football team has an identity. In this new age of spread offenses, where four wide receivers span from hash mark to hash mark across the field, the Eagles still prefer their tight end on the line and a fullback blocking for a tailback looking to run north and south without much lateral movement.
“The way our backs run the ball, they’re not finesse runners,” TR head coach Steve Hanson said. “God love ‘em, but Zach (Schankey) and Elias (Dillon-Bennett) and Jackson (Claire) and Luke (Stutzman) are not finesse runners. They initiate contact downfield.”
That style of play lends itself to long, time-consuming drives, and that is precisely what TR wants when it travels to Upton-Sundance Friday at 7 p.m. The 0-2 Eagles don’t want to get in a scoring match with the 2-0 Bobcats, but rather they want to keep things simple.
“Our best defense might be our ball-control offense,” Hanson said. “We have to go in with the mentality that a 4-yard gain is a win on that play. And that, followed by a 3-yard gain, followed by a 3-yard gain, that’s first down, move the sticks and we take two minutes off the clock every four downs.
“That might be the most important aspect of the game for us this week, and it’s something we are really focusing on,” Hanson continued. “We are making sure our backs and our linemen understand 4 yards in a cloud of dust is a win for this crew.”
TR would like to have a drive much similar to the opening drive it had last week against Lusk. The Eagles took the opening kickoff, kept the ball on the ground and drove for a touchdown that gobbled up nearly half of the first quarter.
TR’s ability to stay on the field offensively and limit the number of plays and possessions both teams have will be imperative come Friday. Upton-Sundance boasts a high-powered offense that just hung 44 points on the board in a win over 2A Wheatland. The Bobcats also own a 41-6 victory over the same Lusk team TR fell to last week.
The Eagles enter the game Friday with a much different attitude than they had a week ago. In the few practices leading up to the game against Lusk, TR felt it was in a must-win scenario. The Eagles matched up favorably against the Tigers, and in an effort to make a playoff push, felt they needed a victory over Lusk.
With the disappointment from last Friday in the rearview mirror, TR has embodied a new mentality. Coming into the game against Upton-Sundance, the Eagles simply want to play fast and free.
“There’s a little bit of extra pressure when you go into a week and it’s a must win,” Hanson said. “When you know it’s a must win and you know it’s a team you’re very evenly matched with, there’s added pressure. This week, there’s a different sense, more like, ‘Man this is good football team we are playing here, so let’s go let it all hang out,’ And there isn’t that extra tension.”
The Eagles hope that new mindset and their ball-control game plan will help pave the way for their first victory of the season.