CHESTER — The Chester-Joplin-Inverness football team claimed a 6-Man North title on Saturday — knocking off defending champion Big Sandy 54-16 and bringing the Pioneers’ 23-game winning streak to an end.
“Oh, it feels great. We've been looking forward to this game all year, and it feels good to finally see it come all together,” said junior running back Nate Nelson. “It just shows what hard work can do the whole year.”
The title is a long time coming for 18th-year head coach Jim Vinson and his team. After years of playing 8-Man football despite 6-Man enrollment levels, the Hawks made the difficult decision to move down last year. But the move paid off with the team’s first league title in over a decade.
“These kids ... they play every sport. They play basketball, they run track, they wrestle,” Vinson said. "They work super hard in the summer. Our weight program was full all summer long with open fields, camps. They dedicated themselves to being a good football team. And that's that's what we're proving to be.”
After dropping their season opener to Harlowton-Ryegate-Judith Gap 51-28, the Hawks flew under the radar entering the postseason.
“I feel like we've been doubted most of the year. It just shows that we've really put in the work for all this,” said senior linebacker Adam Grammer. “We did not play a very good game (against Harlowton), but I think we needed that because it shows that we're not unbeatable. And I think we needed that.”
CJI has averaged 57 points per game during their current seven-game win streak. And it’s safe to say they have the state’s attention now.
"There's just 12 kids, but each kid on this team puts in a lot of effort and not one person is more important than the next,” Vinson said. “We got 12 guys that suit up on Friday nights, and each one is just as important as the next.”
The Hawks open the postseason Saturday at 1 p.m. in Chester against Denton-Geyser-Stanford-Geraldine.