POWDER SENIORS TAKE THEIR LAST SHOT
By Pierre LaBossire
Observer Staff Writer
NORTH POWDER The Powder Valley football seniors say they have dreams every night.
They have bad dreams of a blustery, bitterly cold day in Hillsboro last November.
But, they have good dreams, too. Of how it will feel if they go all the way to win the 1A state championship this year.
"I dream about it every night when I go to bed," said center Rick Stephens.
"I always think about it," said tight end Kaycee Shroyer.
Powder Valley, 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state, is a senior-heavy squad. These seniors have been to the "final four" of the 1A state playoffs three straight years. They've come tantalizingly close the past couple of years to the championship, and they know full well this season is their final shot.
The Badgers began their playoff run last week with a 68-16 dismantling of Mitchell, and today, they take on Prairie City.
Last year, the Badgers went to the final four ranked No. 1, but played St. Paul in a terrible windstorm. The wind and cold rain caused some Powder turnovers and St. Paul was able to build up a big lead. Powder Valley rallied in the second half, but could never catch the Buckaroos, who went on to win the state championship.
It was the second straight year St. Paul knocked Powder Valley out of the playoffs.
"I've thought about (that game) every night for the last nine months," said receiver Thomas Weems.
With all they've gone through the last three years, Stephens said it does make the playoff run this year more important for the seniors.
"I feel a lot more emotional about it," he said.
Weems said the Badgers are using the pitfalls of the last three playoffs as an important lesson to keep them motivated and focused. "We just reflect on our past seasons. We got a big head and ended up losing," he said.
Striving to not get a "big head" is actually one of the biggest challenges facing this team, because, good or bad, the Badgers are winning most of their games easily. The Badgers have literally scored at will all season. They can both pass and run and are averaging more than 60 points a game.
The players also know they are favored to go all the way. Their No. 1 ranking is not a joke. They haven't been seriously threatened by anyone they've played this year other than Perrydale. Rylie Wendt said the Powder Valley players know what their reputation is around the state.
"Everybody wants to beat us," he said.
The lofty expectations are out there, and they're hard to ignore.
"We try to talk about it (the state championship) as little as possible," joked quarterback Todd Baxter.
The players, with a lot of urging from their coaches, try to focus on each week's goals, and try not to look too far ahead. The championship game is still five weeks away, though the players admitted they can't help thinking about that game.
Wendt said head coach Alan Stanfield "is our inspiration," but the players said Stanfield is doing a good job of not letting his players get overconfident.
"He reminds us when we're being stupid," said Riley Whiteman.
"He lets us know when we're not perfect," said Baxter.
But, the players are also confident. They know if they play well, and to their abilities, they are exceptionally tough to beat. "I think our team is confident, but not cocky," said Stephens.
Coach Stanfield said this group is special to him because these players were all freshmen when he arrived, so it means a lot to him if these boys can finally win it all.
Stanfield said the heartbreaks of past playoffs have motivated the Powder Valley boys that much more. "They've done all the little things. The summer camps, the weights, the spring practices. If any bunch deserves it (a championship), it's this crew," Stanfield said.
It will not be a cakewalk for the Badgers. St. Paul graduated most of its players from last year, but there are still some pretty good 1A playoff teams out there such as Perrydale, Mohawk, McKenzie and Cove.