Sam Hollinger looks for running room against Kaycee. (Photo by Angie Erickson)

In the last five years, the Meeteetse Longhorns 6-man football team has lost consecutive games only three times.

With two weeks to clean up mistakes following a close loss in Bridger, Mont., the top-ranked Longhorns traveled across the Bighorns to take on the Kaycee Buckaroos, a rematch of last season’s playoff semifinal. It didn’t take the Longhorns long to find a groove and Meeteetse cruised to its first win of the season, 51-6.

“We were able to run and pass well, get the ball in a few different players’ hands,” coach Zeb Hagen said.

That avoided back-to-back losses, which last happened in 2019, when they fell in back-to-back contests to Farson-Eden and Riverside by a combined score of 44-92.

The Longhorns (1-1) got contributions across the board and from their bench, but the game started with a familiar sight – a strike from senior quarterback Dace Bennett into the arms of senior receiver Kalvin Erickson for six points. Fellow senior Mickle Ogden ripped the ball away from the Buckaroos on Kaycee’s opening possession, and the Longhorns opened a two-score lead early in the first quarter.

The Buckaroos (0-2) responded, punching the ball into the end zone on the next drive, but it would be the last time Kaycee would hit pay dirt. The Longhorns, however, did not stop scoring. By the halftime break, Meeteetse was firmly in control, up 45-6.

“Our offensive passing game is our biggest strength. Me and Dace were able to hit the short passes early, which opened up the long passes later in the game,” Ogden said. “The ultimate goal is always to win, so it felt pretty good. It doesn’t matter if you win by two or 45.”

Ogden played one of the best defensive games of his career, nabbing 12 tackles (six solo, two for a loss), a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

“I think the key for me was the preparation,” he said. “I didn’t get as many snaps last year as I will this year, so I’ve been working really hard to get myself to that level of play.”

Hagen took the opportunity presented by the big early lead to work on the short passing game and get some inexperienced players some more game reps, like junior Sam Hollinger, in his first-ever season on the gridiron.

“He was able to score for us, had a couple of nice catches,” Hagen said. “Defensively, he had three or four solo tackles. It was kind of a breakout game for him.”

In total, five players scored for the Longhorns, and newer players like Hollinger and sophomore Jason Moody got involved as well, with seven players in total getting touches in the run game and six logging receptions.

Meeteetse entered the game with the No. 1 ranking in 6-man. Rankings aren’t something Hagen pays too much attention to, but always reinforces to his players the importance of proving the ranking isn’t a fluke.

“I don’t try to look into that too much,” Hagen said. “We try to take it one game at a time. If we’re going to be blessed with a ranking like that, we have to earn it.”

Meeteetse holds its home opener this weekend, welcoming the undefeated Dubois Rams (2-0) to town on Saturday. Kickoff is at 12 p.m.

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