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Friday Night Lights: Back in Black

Sugabeeters working hard to rebuild a proud football program


August 31, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Chinook's Trajun Hannum runs with the ball during a Northern C football game last Saturday night in Chinook. The Sugarbeeters have been a stalwart in the Northern C for years now, but, have fallen on tougher times recently.

Just a couple of years ago, the Chinook football team was dominant in Class C 8-Man football, playing in back-to-back state championship games and winning the state title back in 2015, a title which capped an undefeated season.

Since then, times have been tough for the Sugarbeeters. After losing a ton of seniors following the 2015 state championship, the Beeters struggled to a 2-7 finish in 2016 and followed that up with a 4-4 mark a season ago.

Part of the issue with the Beeters has been some turnover at head coach. Scott Friede, who led the Beeters to the 8-Man crown, stepped away after the 2016 season, and Christian Lehnert spent just one season as the head coach in 2017, before giving way to Mike Jones.

Jones, who is from Power, said that after coaching for three years out-of-state in Nevada, said he was excited to get back to Montana and the chance to coach at Chinook offered the perfect opportunity.

"I am originally from Power, and my wife is from Denton," Jones said. "So I got into coaching under Scott Sparks, then we moved down to Reno. I coached football, basketball and softball there. Then, we decided it was time to get back to small-town Montana and Chinook opened up and I was able to get a football job and social studies job."

Of course, in the Northern C, things are always tough, and after playing high-school football for Power, Jones knows that as well as anyone. However, he also thinks with more kids out this year, his program will soon be on the rise, and either way, he is looking forward to competing in the Northern C again.

"There is a lot of history and tradition in the North," Jones said. "There are a lot of great coaches and a lot of great teams in general. With Shelby and Choteau dropping down, that brings more power. The North in general has been a really good conference for football, so it's exciting to be part of that."

While Jones inherited a team that was just one win away from getting into a play-in game for a playoff spot last season, anything can happen in a division that also features Centerville, Cascade, Choteau, Fort Benton, Rocky Boy and now Shelby, which defeated the Beeters 48-6 last week in the season opener.

The loss to the Coyotes was tough, but Shelby is dropping down from playing 11-Man football, and last year in Class B, they were the runner-up, so it's tough to judge the Beeters on just one game.

"We took the loss pretty hard," Chinook starting quarterback Trajan Hannum said. "But we watched the film and we learned from it. We are still learning this new system. We are running more of a spread system than we have before, so we will have a lot of confidence. We are really excited about playing this next game."

The next game for Chinook is tonight, on the road against Cascade. It's also the start of a critical three-game stretch for the Beeters, one that will likely decide whether the team has any shot of making the playoffs or not. That's because after playing the Badgers, Chinook will host Fort Benton and Centerville on consecutive Friday nights. Those three teams all finished ahead of Chinook in the B division standings last season, with Cascade beating out Chinook for the last spot in a play-in game by a single game.

"We have a great group of guys," Hannum said. "We all kind of have that look that we know we are still learning and coming together. We are really focused and we have learned a lot from that first game that hopefully we have improved on."

One game definitely doesn't make a season, but already the Beeters are facing a game that could almost be viewed as a must-win. At the very least, a win would have Chinook in a much better playoff position, yet either way, the Beeters are just focused on getting in the win column.

"If we get a big win," Hannum said. "It will be a big push for us."

If the Beeters can win, Hannum, Jones and the rest of the Chinook football team certainly hope it can propel them to the playoffs, a place they haven't been in three years.

"That would be really great," Hannum said. "We have a lot of young talent and I think these younger guys are going to be really good, so it would be great to get back to the playoffs and get them a feel for what it's like. It would be a great way to go out and help give them that confidence for the future."


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