DAYTON — An upbeat Steve Hanson addressed his team at midfield following a Friday night game at Tongue River High School. While the final score didn’t read how Hanson would have liked — 28-0 in favor of Pine Bluffs — the Eagles’ head man couldn’t hide the pride he had for his team.
“We went toe to toe with a darn good football team, and we never backed down,” Hanson said.
“I can’t ask more of my boys than what they’re giving, and that’s why I’m so pleased with our effort. Week in and week out, we’ve gotten better, we’ve gotten, we’ve gotten better. It’s going to come together. It might come together too late in the season, but I saw all good things tonight. We are being men of our word, and that’s all I can ask these young men to be.”
The Hornets, the reigning two-time state champions, entered Friday having won 18 in row — their last loss coming in Dayton during the 2016 season — and averaging 34 points per game. For three quarters, Tongue River held Pine Bluffs to just 14 points, and the game still hung in the balance.
“There in the third quarter, it looked like they wanted a fight, and we gave them one,” Hanson said. “I haven’t seen that side of my boys very much, and I’ve seen that from Pine Bluffs. But dang what a game.”
The Eagles started to match the Hornets’ physicality up front, and stymied much of what they wanted to do. Tongue River’s offense, however, couldn’t sustain drives and its defense, as a result, wore down in the final 12 minutes.
Pine Bluffs entered the game having not given up a point all season and even though the Eagles had a couple opportunities on the plus-side of the 50-yard line, they couldn’t solve the Hornets’ riddle.
“They play physical,” Tongue River quarterback Luke Stutzman said. “Physical defenses usually win.”
The Eagles accumulated 69 total yards of offense. With running back Elias Dillon-Bennett injured, Zach Schankey received nearly every handoff and earned 28 tough yards on 17 carries. Stutzman finished 2-for-9 for 17 yards with two interceptions.
Stutzman’s first pick proved quite costly as the Eagles had just forced the game’s first turnover — a third-quarter fumble — and Schankey returned it inside the Pine Bluffs’ 25-yard line. But on the ensuing play, the Eagles took a shot downfield and the Hornets’ defense recorded its first pick of the night.
Tongue River couldn’t created another bonafide scoring opportunity from there on out.
Pine Bluffs opened the scoring on a 9-yard touchdown run from Michael Shain that capped an impressive opening drive for the Hornets. On their very next possession, quarterback Donte Jacobsen found Seth Tangeman for a 58-yard score, and it looked as though the Hornets would ease to a victory.
But Pine Bluffs couldn’t find the end zone again until midway through the fourth frame as running back Isaiah Montanes logged two rushing touchdown in the final 7:30 of the contest. He finished with 133 yards on 15 rushes.
Tongue River (0-4) will look for its first victory when it travels to Southeast next week.