Courtney Braten (77) and Asa Eldridge break through a banner before the game against Hanna-Elk Mountain on Friday. (Photo by Angie Erickson)

If the Meeteetse football team could erase the game’s start, the Longhorns might still be playing this week.

After falling behind undefeated Hanna-Elk Mountain by 32 quick points, the underdog Longhorns showed some explosive offense too late.

The No. 1 seed held serve with a 73-36 victory in the opening round of the 1A six-man playoffs last Friday.

That concluded the Longhorns’ 4-5 season, overcoming the disadvantage of having a roster with just 10 men.

The result was a mix of disappointment for the loss and pride in how the group survived and kept fighting back.

“It was definitely hard,” said senior two-way star Asa Eldridge. “It was devastating for me to end it like that. My muscles are bruised and my ego is bruised.”

Hanna, 9-0, scored 32 first-quarter points, hitting hard and fast and capitalizing on Meeteetse mistakes.

“They came out and got that first touchdown on us,” Eldridge said, “and it kind of hit us in the face. We realized, ‘We’ve got to get to work.’”

Coach Zeb Hagen said his team made way too many errors, including a bad snap on a punt, two lost onside kicks, dropping passes, committing ill-timed penalties and surrendering big plays.

“It was a tough game for us and we dug ourselves into a hole right off the bat,” Hagen said.

“Hats off to Hanna, as they are a good football team, but I believe we are, as well. We just didn’t play to our full potential that day.”

There were highlights, though.

Eldridge finished his last high school game with 78 yards rushing, including 42 on one carry, and scored two touchdowns.

Quarterback Dace Bennett threw for 143 yards and ran for 73. He tossed a 55-yard touchdown pass to Kalvin Erickson. The sophomore grabbed five passes for 136 yards.

Senior Courtney Braten rushed for 51 yards and scored one TD.

Braten said he was not concerned about going up against the No. 1 ranked team. He neither feared Hanna, nor was in awe.

“I was definitely respecting them,” he said.

Braten played more diversified roles this season.

“I definitely enjoyed it,” Braten said.

Bennett said things did not work for Meeteetse at game’s start, but the offense did get going for a while, even if the season ended when the scoreboard hit 0:00.

“It’s not how I wanted it to turn out,” Bennett said. “I wanted to play another couple of weeks. It’s definitely weird not having practice this week.”

Worried about injuries all year long that would reduce the size of the already small roster, Hagen said he was pleased with how his players grew and persevered.

“I am proud of all the guys, as they never quit and finished the season better than they were from day one,” Hagen said, “and they were able to walk off the field on their own two feet, which is a good thing.”

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