By George Ferguson
I had a surprisingly fun night last Friday in Big Sandy of all places. Not to say that Big Sandy isn't a fun town because it is. I've spent some time there in the past and always had a good time.
The surprise was the football game that I made the 35 mile trip to cover between the Big Sandy Pioneers and Chester Coyotes.
As I drove towards down Highway 87 towards Big Sandy, I wondered if I would see some good football.
Any doubts I might have had, were erased quickly.
During pregame warmups, I could see that both teams had very capable athletes. That is not uncommon in rural Montana towns. Some very fine athletes have come out of these small Class C schools.
However, what did surprise me was the quality of football that was played that night, and the exciting outcome of the game.
To be honest, this was the first eight-man game that I have watched in person. And lately all you read about are games with monstrous scores where teams rack up massive amounts of yards, and do not seem to play much defense. The scores from Friday and Saturday action in both the Class C and Six-man leagues have been more lopsided than the Bobcat-Grizzly football rivalry.
In the first quarter, Chester went on a methodical 60-yard, four minute scoring drive. However, during that drive Big Sandy gave up nothing easy and the hitting was every bit as ferocious as a Class A game. As I stood on the sideline, I could feel the hitting from where I was standing.
During the course of the contest, I also became very impressed with several players on both teams. Both Big Sandy's Gage Brumwell and Chester's Adam Stubbs are very solid quarterbacks. I was led to believe that all anybody does in this league is pound the ball on the ground. I couldn't have been more wrong. These guys can sling it. I have seen a lot of Class AA and Class A football, and I would take either of those two commanding my troops at any level.
Passing wasn't the only thing I was impressed with, though. Chester has a phenomenal rushing attack. Mitch Violett isn't very big, but he pounds the ball at you. His legs never quit moving. Not to be outdone, Skylar Pearson of Big Sandy is just one of those kids that is gifted. He is big, strong, fast and smart. He takes plenty of hits, but dishes out plenty as well.
Besides the fact that there are three less players for each team on the field, eight man football is also different in that each player on the end of the line scrimmage is eligible to catch a pass. So to see Mason Ophus of Big Sandy, probably the biggest player on the field that night or any night, making very athletic catches from his offensive tackle position is a sight to behold.
As far as defense or as I believed lack there of that may occur in other places but not that night. Both teams physically beat on each other for four grueling quarters. In the end, Chester's defense held on a crucial fourth down and nine play that preserved a close 18-12 win. Not the most common score in eight man football
The majority of kids on both teams played both offense and defense for the entire game. And as much I like watching points being scored, the quality of these two teams on defense was admirable. They both hit hard, make fundamentally sound tackles, and create key turnovers.
I also have to give a lot of kudos to both coaches. They both knew there was a lot riding on this game. The winner is almost assured a playoff berth, and it showed during the game. There was playoff-type of intensity on the field.
I have now met both coaches (Jim Graham of Chester, Scott Chauvet of Big Sandy) and they are both outstanding football coaches, who seem to really get the most out of their players by seeing how hard their kids play.
And the fan support? Well, it appeared to me that the entire town of Big Sandy and maybe half of Chester was in attendance on Friday night. Despite the fact the Pioneers lost the game, their fans were very gracious in defeat.
To some of you, what I'm saying may not be a shock. You've probably known how great eight-man football can be. I'll admit I was skeptical of this eight-man stuff. Just seeing so many blowout scores every weekend will do that to a sports writer.
But to the folks in Chester and Big Sandy, you guys have something special. Both teams are well-coached and loaded with talented athletes. I wouldn't be shocked if some of the kids that I watched play on Friday are on college rosters around the state of Montana next fall, or in the years to come.
Perhaps the worst part the night was that there had to be a loser. I have been converted. I am officially a believer in the essence of eight man football. I am a true football fan and good football is good football. It doesn't matter if there are six, eight or 11 people playing.