The challenges facing the Meeteetse six-man football team this season were encapsulated in the Longhorns’ opening game last Saturday.
Meeteetse lost 45-15 to Encampment at home, but a squad with a thin-ice roster barely avoided plunging through a hole just to make it to the end of the ticking clock.
With a roster of 10 players to start with, the Longhorns began this game with just eight because two had been temporarily suspended from school. Then quarterback Dace Bennett went down with a debilitating leg cramp in the third quarter.
Until then, the Longhorns looked sharp. But depth is one thing Meeteetse does not have this year.
“I think we got a little bit drained,” running back Hadley Abarr said. “I’ve never played a full game.”
That’s what was required of most of those still standing. Never had eight-minute quarters seemed so lengthy.
Senior Asa Eldredge, who played several positions, said he was somewhat tired and somewhat bruised from his carries and tackles.
“There at the end, body-wise,” he said of fatigue. “Now we understand every player is important.”
Short-handed or not (and Encampment had just 10 players in uniform), Meeteetse seemed to run at will against the Tigers in the early going.
Courtney Braten charged across on a six-yard run for a Meeteetse touchdown in the first quarter and Eldredge ran in the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
Eldredge scored on a two-yard run and in a play rarely seen at any level of the sport anymore, Bennett drop-kicked an extra point for a 15-0 lead.
After that, however, the holes in the line closed up due to Tiger defensive adjustments, Bennett hit the grass and was groaning as his right calf muscle was massaged, and most position shifting flexibility was lost to coach Zeb Hagen.
While the Longhorns out-gained Encampment by a surprising 255-243 differential on offense (173 of them on the ground), Meeteetse turned the ball over three times to the Tigers’ once.
“Which was a big difference,” Hagen said. “Plus, our depth was tough to overcome when we were already down two guys and lost Dace.”
That situation forced Hagen to be “putting guys in positions they haven’t been in so far this early in the season.”
Players, however, blamed themselves for permitting Encampment’s good breaks to pile up and let mistakes discourage them from fighting back.
“The thing that got us was that we got ourselves down,” lineman Brandon Tew said. “Petty things.”
When Bennett was writhing on the sideline, he called for pickle juice, which has been discovered as a useful antidote to muscle cramping. Better than that, Tew said, is yellow mustard.
He said next game the team should have a ready supply on the bench of little packets of mustard ordinarily available to hot-dog purchasers.
This Saturday, Meeteetse is at St. Stephens, expecting to have 10 players ready and more resilience if the other team pulls off successful plays.
“All in all, this doesn’t define our season,” Tew said of the loss.