The final score of Elgin’s home loss to Adrian/Jordan Valley — 84-42 — indicates the game was a blowout.
What it doesn’t show, however, was the Huskies’ ability to trade punches with the Antelopes — even after losing starting quarterback Tristan Simpson late in the first quarter to an arm injury — before Adrian/Jordan Valley pulled away in the latter stages of the third quarter.
“I’m proud of the guys,” head coach Jeff Rysdam said. “Gage (McKay) stepped up when we needed him. Our young running backs stepped up. We never quit. We were going to keep fighting.”
Rysdam said the team’s ability to not quit was something it hadn’t had in the past.
“That’s one thing I told the team (after the game) — 2018, they would have rolled over and died,” he said.
The first seven minutes set the stage for what the game should have been on paper — a shootout between the top two offenses in 8-man football, as both entered averaging more than 60 points per game.
Elgin showed it belonged next to the team ranked No. 1 in the 8-man coaches poll, too. The Huskies took an 8-6 first-quarter lead on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Simpson to McKay on fourth and 17, recovered an onside kick, and went up 14-6 immediately after on a 2-yard run by Simpson.
Simpson, who finished with 76 yards rushing and 53 yards passing in a little less than a quarter, went down on the next defensive series. After that, Elgin’s offense struggled to find a rhythm for nearly a quarter, during which time the Antelopes went on a 42-0 run to pull ahead 48-14 on a 24-yard touchdown run by quarterback Conley Martin with 1:35 to play in the first half.
That’s when Elgin showed its never-say-die mentality. McKay, who took over at quarterback, broke loose for a 26-yard touchdown run just before the half. The Huskies opened the third quarter with a 7-yard McKay touchdown on fourth and goal — one set up by a 62-yard run by the junior — to get within 48-28.
“They showed pretty good heart,” McKay said of his team. “At first I knew I just had to get the team back up. It was fun after that. We couldn’t really stop their offense, but our offense stayed right in there with theirs.”
Martin found Wade Bond for a 22-yard touchdown for the Antelopes on their next possession, but Elgin struck back through the air. McKay hooked up with Cody Harvey for a 45-yard completion, and the duo connected again two plays later for a 20-yard score to stay within 54-34. The touchdown put Elgin within a stop and a score of making the game interesting.
“We’re used to just grinding out. We have that never quit, (never) give up attitude. That’s how we were taught,” Huskies’ receiver Jordon Palmer said.
Adrian/Jordan Valley, though, pulled away as it scored the next 30 points. Martin scored from a yard out to start the run and push the margin to 28, and Bond returned a punt 82 yards for a score early in the fourth to make it 84-34.
Joe Lathrop added a late touchdown for Elgin for the final margin.
Martin finished with 239 yards passing, 139 rushing and 10 touchdowns — four passing and six rushing — for the Antelopes.
McKay, in what he said was his first action ever at quarterback, finished with 126 yards passing. He also rushed for 115 yards and had 29 yards receiving, and he scored a touchdown passing, rushing and receiving.
Harvey had 127 yards receiving and also grabbed an interception on defense. Palmer added 23 yards receiving and also had an impact on defense, grabbing two second-quarter interceptions to keep Elgin around before it regained some rhythm on offense.
“I was just going out in coverage, seeing the ball and got it,” he said of the picks. “I was hoping to kickstart the defense and offense for us.”
Rysdam said he is hopeful Simpson will be back in time for the Huskies’ regular season finale at Crane on Oct. 25.
“It’s football. We gotta keep fighting. I told the guys, they’re all from hardworking families, we got a lot of work to do now,” he said.
The team did show, though, that it can play even without its headline-making quarterback.
“It’s going to be a big loss if he can’t come back, but we’ll be just fine,” McKay said.
The Huskies (4-1 overall, 3-1 Special District 3-East) are off until Oct. 18 when they host Pine Eagle.