GREAT FALLS — The Big Sandy football team push its record to 4-0 this week with a big win over Sunburst, and that win is a big deal for the Pioneers as they look to right the wrongs of last season.
Big Sandy’s dominance last season gave the team high hopes for its first football state championship, but it ended on a sour note with a semifinal loss to Jordan. That ending didn’t sit well with players like running back Kade Strutz, who cut down on his 40-yard dash time and added 35 pounds over the summer to bring himself to 230.
"I was in the gym for a majority of the summer, putting in work. I was doing speed workouts with my dad and weights every morning," said Strutz, now a senior. "So yes, I had that last season in my mind, motivating me, pushing me to go harder."
For head coach Larry Jappe, the results have been obvious.
"He was already the best running back in the state. Now, he's a beast, you know?" he said. "He was a beast last year. Now he's a super beast."
Strutz had 237 yards and five rushing touchdowns in the 74-34 win over Sunburst, but it took a team effort to overcome the Refiners, who posed Big Sandy’s toughest challenge so far this year. The Pioneers led by just seven points at halftime, but they hope the rough second quarter was a result of being rusty.
"I think we got complacent with our lead and thought we didn't have to try as hard anymore," Strutz said. "(We) gave up a couple big plays and it came back and bid us hard."
"It was really hard starting out. I mean, we've been out two weeks. We had a bye and then we had a game canceled with the whole coronavirus and we just came out a little rusty," said fellow senior Parker Proulx.
The coronavirus pandemic's dramatic effect on athletic schedules has made Big Sandy’s revenge season less than typical. What was already going to be a short season has become even shorter as teams at all levels are forced to cancel games due to close proximity to the virus.
"It really sucks. I mean, especially as a senior, I love the sport and want to play every weekend, obviously," Proulx said. "But there's just a bunch of games that, you know, it's coming down and can play, can we not? It really sucks."
The Pioneers will have one more week of the regular season to fine-tune things before the playoffs. Sunburst's Stanley Jarvis put up big numbers against them: 12 receptions for 180 yards and three touchdowns, plus another touchdown and 194 yards on kick returns. If the Sunburst game is any indication, Big Sandy knows it has plenty to work on, particularly on defense.
"Definitely our pass rush and we're letting some guys get behind us," Jappe said. "Our safeties, they usually don't do that. I guess we just haven't seen the speedy receiver like that yet."
"We need to improve on our defense. It was it was lacking (Friday)," Strutz said. "Work on containing the passing and they've got a quick kid, so we need to work on containing faster kids."
The only thing standing in the way of another 6-Man North title for Big Sandy is a home matchup with 3-0 Power-Dutton-Brady next week.