Mickle Ogden charges the Little Snake River quarterback. (Photo by Angie Erickson)

One game at a time. That’s been the No. 2 Meeteetse Longhorns football team mantra all season, and it was no different when they faced off against the defending state champions, No. 5 Little Snake River.

The Rattlers haven’t performed as well this season as they did on their title run, but the Longhorns were able to pull out a win, 38-22.

“We really talked about not overlooking (the Rattlers),” junior Kalvin Erickson said. “No matter what the year is, they’re going to be good.”

The Rattlers (3-3, 2-3 conference) tried to open the game with an onside kick that went out of bounds. Less than a minute later, the Longhorns (6-0, 5-0 conference) capitalized, driving the ball in on a power run from senior Dale McBride. The kick was good, and Meeteetse went up 8-0. They never trailed in the game.

With the ball back in hand, the Rattlers started driving down the field, but faced with fourth-and-medium, an errant pass was picked off by senior Tozai May. The Longhorns followed that up with a turnover of their own, a fumble lost by junior Dace Bennett on a run-pass option play. The young quarterback (8-for-16, 89 yards, TD, INT; 8 carries, 122 yards, 2 TD, 1 FUM lost) wove his way through tacklers, shaking off defenders at every turn, but the ball came out just before he hit the ground and the Rattlers were back in control.

A holding penalty pushed the Rattlers back and faced with a 4th-and-14, they decided to go for it, as they did every fourth down in the game. The Longhorns defense held and forced a three-and-out.

“Overall, I don’t think we played as well as we could, especially defensively,” coach Zeb Hagen said. “But we made plays when it counted.”

The ’Horns followed up the stout defensive play with a bullet to May in the end zone to go up 14-0 with 56 seconds left in the quarter. The Rattlers answered, orchestrating a touchdown drive as time ran out in the first quarter to bring the score to 14-8.

Bennett threw an interception on the next drive, but again the Longhorns stood tall on fourth down, thanks to a big hit from May to break up a pass.

“It was awesome to see him come out there and make so many plays on both sides of the ball,” Bennett said of May (4 catches, 65 yards, TD; 15 tackles, 3 passes defensed, INT). “That was the best play… Tozai ran out there and made it seem like he was the big guy and put that kid on his butt.”

The Rattlers went for it seven times on fourth down in the game but converted only once.

“That was probably a big difference-maker in the game,” Hagen said of his team’s stout fourth down defense. Forcing six turnovers on downs tilted a tight game in favor of the Longhorns.

The Meeteetse offense looked like it was stalling in the second quarter against a physical Rattlers defense, but Bennett was able to break open a big run to get the Longhorns in scoring position after being set up by strong runs up the middle from senior Hadley Abarr (14 carries, 118 yards, TD). Abarr carried it in from two yards out to put up six more, and Meeteetse went up 22-8.

Not a team to give up, the Rattlers pushed through the Longhorns defense with a well-balanced drive to get a touchdown with just 1 second to go in the first half.

Wrapping up was a bit of an issue in the first half for the Longhorns, but after halftime, there was a big improvement. The Rattlers didn’t convert once on fourth down in the second half and were held scoreless in the third. A push for a fourth-quarter comeback by the Rattlers failed after they fumbled and Bennett made sure to seal the victory with an interception with under a minute to play.

Being undefeated is always the goal for any team, but the Longhorns performance this season has exceeded even their own expectations.

“We were talking about it last week in one of our classes when we had some free time,” Erickson said. “We went from not knowing if we were going to have a team to being number two in the state and looking like one of those teams that are going to make an attempt at the championship.”

Meeteetse travels to Farson on Saturday to take on top-ranked and undefeated Farson-Eden. Bennett, for his part, isn’t too worried about the Pronghorns.

“We believe in our hearts that we are the number one team in the state,” Bennett said. “It will be a really good game to play and to watch.”

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. in Farson.

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