By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Big Sandy High School head football coach Scott Chauvet isn't pessimistic, he's realistic. With the weather on the Hi-Line more characteristic of January than November, and his starting quarterback suffering mononucleosis, Chauvet is preparing for the worst possible situation for Saturday's Class C quarterfinal playoff game against Sheridan - Gage Brumwell not playing.
"We're practicing like he won't be on the field in any way," Chauvet said. "If he is on the field, then it's just a bonus.
Brumwell, who's been the starting quarterback for the past two seasons, was diagnosed with mono about a week before last week's 36-6 first-round playoff win against Chester. He still played in the game, but was basically limited to handing the ball off and throwing an occasional pass.
However with the dramatic change to cold weather, Brumwell's status for Saturday is still very much in question.
"He looks a lot better this week," Chauvet said. "His folks are kind of hoping he doesn't play. And there is no gain in the world to risk a kid's health."
If Brumwell doesn't go, running back/wide receiver Adam Jesperson will slide into his spot. Jesperson took over the quarterbacking duties late in the third quarter after the game was in hand.
"We're very comfortable with Adam at quarterback," Chauvet said. "He gives us a little different look, but he brings us some different weapons since he's normally a running back."
Don't expect Jesperson to throw the ball 30 times again. Even with Brumwell at quarterback, the Pioneers didn't throw the ball that often.
"We threw just enough to keep Gage happy," Chauvet joked. "Even with Gage, we aren't a passing team, we do it enough to keep teams honest and open up our running game."
Because it's on the ground, not in the air, where Big Sandy wins football games.
"Our offensive line has to control the line of scrimmage like we did against Chester," Chauvet said. "And we need as big of a performance out of Skylar Pearson as last week."
Pearson rumbled for 258 yards against Chester as Chauvet leaned heavily on his senior running back. And he will do it again on Saturday.
"Skylar relishes challenges like this," Chauvet said. "He really thrives in these situations."
However, this situation may be a little different than last week. The expected forecast for Saturday's game is for around 28 degrees, which means the condition of the field is an unknown. That could definitely affect Pearson's running ability.
"Skylar is a big cutback runner, if the field is in bad shape, he won't be able to do that," Chauvet said. "We've been talking to him about the little things like holding on to the ball with two hands and taking the yards he can get without risking a turnover."
Because in playoff football, turnovers are the one thing a team must avoid to get a win.
"Turnovers can kill you," Chauvet said. "The weather can change things, and the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is going to win."
That's even truer in a game that will feature a limited number of possessions. Like Big Sandy, the Sheridan Panthers rely on a strong running game and a ball control offense.
"I've seen them play live twice and watched them plenty on tape," Chauvet said. "They are very vanilla in what they do. It isn't fancy or flashy, but they just execute it really well."
The Panthers are led by running backs Brian Allhands and Ty Bieruth, who have combined to rush for 1,234 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season.
Quarterback Louie Bartoletti has thrown for 928 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season, nine of those were to wide receiver Pete Rossiter, who has 415 yards receiving on just 14 catches.
"They have some weapons," Chauvet said. "We need a similar defensive effort to last week."
But Chauvet admitted that all the preparation, strategy and game plans could be useless if Mother Nature chooses to be a little chilly and snowy on Saturday.
"The weather is definitely going to be a factor," Chauvet said. "A lot of what we're going to try and do will be dictated by the weather. For the kids, it comes down to mental toughness to overcome the cold and the pain that comes with hitting and getting hit in when you're cold."
The Pioneers and Panthers will kick off at 1 p.m. in Big Sandy.