Pioneers face always tough Longhorns for chance at title game
Big Sandy head football coach Scott Chauvet has probably used the two-word phrase 1,278 times this week as his undefeated team (10-0) prepared to travel east to take on the 10-1 Longhorns in Class C semifinal playoff action on Saturday.
Plain and simple, there's not much more explanation needed because people who follow Class C football know that from preseason to postseason the Wibaux Longhorns are always considered title contenders. They've played in the Class C title game the last three seasons and won five Class C state championships (1991-93, 2000-01).
"The Class C state championship runs through the east," Chauvet said. "In order to get the championship, you have to beat teams like Wibaux and Scobey."
Chauvet thinks so highly of the Longhorn program that when he first took over at Big Sandy five years ago, his goal was to achieve Wibaux's prolonged success.
"When I started here, I wanted a team that played Eastern Montana style of football," Chauvet said. "And nobody represents Eastern Montana football better than Wibaux"
That style of football isn't fancy. There won't be any spread formations and double reverses. Nope, it's simple and to the point: Line up, run your opponent over. Line up, do it again, and again, and again until your opponent doesn't want to, or can't, line up again.
"They've been running over everybody for 25 years," Chauvet said. "They take pride in playing their style of football. It's not pretty, but it's effective."
However, it's a style of football that Big Sandy is very familiar with, because they play that way too.
The Pioneers have been running over teams for the last two seasons. They don't just like to play physical football, they relish it.
"This one's going to be a war," Chauvet said. "We're almost mirror images of each other in terms of style. We both play aggressive attacking defense and have run-first offenses."
Actually Wibaux's offense, is run first, run second and run third. Longhorn quarterback Joe Bakken has attempted just 72 passes the entire season, which averages out to about seven pass attempts per game. Bakken completed 51 of the attempts for 786 yards and 11 touchdowns, but it's his rushing ability that has Chauvet more worried. Bakken rushed for 770 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season.
"Where their quarterback goes, they go," Chauvet said. "They like to run sweeps with him and run a lot of quarterback draws. He worries me a little bit. Even though they don't throw a lot, they have to have thrown some to make it here. And anytime you have a 6-5 kid going over the middle it's a threat."
The 6-5 kid Chauvet referred to is tight end/defensive end Matt LaBar. At 6-5, 240 pounds LaBar is very similar in size to Big Sandy's hulking tight end Mason Ophus, who also comes in around 6-4, 240 pounds. Both players will match up against each other on offense and defense.
"It's not very often where Mason isn't the biggest kid on the field," Chauvet said. "It's going to be a great matchup to watch. Mason is really excited about it."
The battle of running backs should also be close. Longhorn running back Lance Hanson has carried the ball 139 times for 1,238 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season, while Big Sandy's Skylar Pearson has rushed for 1,398 yards on 193 carries.
Pearson's success will also be aided by the improving health of quarterback Gage Brumwell, who has been battling mononucleosis.
Brumwell isn't 100 percent, but he's getting better with each day which allows Big Sandy to use its option a little more effectively. Besides being a solid passing threat, Brumwell is most effective running the option where he has amassed 1,002 yards rushing on 75 carries.
"Gage is finally getting some color back to him," Chauvet said. "We're still being very careful and only let him outside to practice once this week. But he's such a smart kid and knows the option so well that we can show him the adjustments on paper and he understands them."
The winter weather, which hit the Hi-Line over a week ago, has caused some problems practice-wise for Chauvet.
"We practiced outside three times this week, but it was never longer than an hour," Chauvet said. "It gets pretty cold around 4 o'clock and its hard to be out there for very long."
While Mother Nature hasn't been kind during the week, she may be a little friendlier on Saturday with temperatures expected to be in the mid-30s.
The warmer weather could definitely make the field conditions sloppy since Wibaux got some snow early in the week.
"There will be a home-field advantage for them because they know where the good spots are on the field for traction," Chauvet said. "The middle of the field will definitely be muddy and slippery. We need our offensive and defensive lines to play their best games of the season. The games are won on that part of the field in November."
With both teams running the ball, the game clock will be running throughout the game. Chauvet noticed it last week in the win over Sheridan, saying "it felt like the game flew by." This week's game could go by even faster, which places a premium on possessions.
"The team that makes the least amount of mistakes is going to win," Chauvet said. "We have to make the most of each possession and we can't turn the ball over."
With all of the Longhorn tradition and playoff experience, one would expect opponents to be a little intimidated going in. But not the Pioneers.
"Our kids are jacked up," Chauvet said. "They're as loose and excited as they've ever been. And why not? It's not often you get a chance to play for a chance to get to the state title game. All season long they have wanted to make it to the semifinals and defeat a team like Wibaux. To make it to the title game, you have to beat the best.
"It's Wibaux," Chauvet added. "And I wouldn't have it any other way."