HOBSON – On Saturday, the Circle Wildcats defeated Tri-City, the Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap co-op, 52-12 to advance to the second round of the 8-Man playoffs.
That’s the result that will go in the books, but it’s a seemingly routine 35-yard gain in the fourth quarter that is on the minds of all the players, coaches and fans who were in attendance. It’s a moment they will remember forever.
Entering the game, Tri-City running back Jordan Nees was 46 yards away from breaking Chase Reynolds’ all-time 8-Man rushing record of 5,216 yards. Nees was averaging more than 255 yards rushing per game, so it seemed like a formality entering the week.
Reynolds, the former Drummond, University of Montana and NFL running back, even gave Nees a call on Friday to wish him luck and offer encouragement.
But during Friday night’s practice, Nees tripped during a drill and suffered a serious knee injury less than 24 hours before kickoff.
“We didn’t know what to expect out of him after it happened, and it was obviously too late to game plan without him,” Titans coach Jake Stevenson told MTN Sports. “We did the best we could on the fly, but Circle was too tough of a team to overcome such a dynamic loss. Jordan did everything he could to try and play the game through the pain, but his knee couldn’t take the punishment.”
In the first quarter of Saturday’s game, after struggling to just 18 yards on 8 carries, Nees’ knee gave out again. His high school career and his shot at the record appeared to end in disappointment.
“His passion for team success showed even after we pulled him in Saturday’s contest,” Stevenson said. “He was still more concerned about the team and how we were playing the game rather than the lost opportunity at a record. It was too much to bear watching him struggle to run the ball and try to cover up how much pain he was in.”
But the Titans weren’t lined up against just any team on Saturday. Three months prior, the Circle football team was in Hobson for an overnight camp. Players on both teams bonded, and so did the coaches.
“That camp was the first place that our teams had an opportunity to get to know one another off of the field, and a lot of them became good friends,” Stevenson said. “Coach (Taw) Eissinger from Circle and I got to know one another at the Bob Cleverley 8-Man All-Star Game in June and thought it would be great to get together to help each other out this offseason.”
And in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, the bond between teams provided an incredible moment.
With Circle leading 52-0, Nees entered the game for one last carry. The Wildcats’ players immediately realized what was happening and let Nees rush for 35 yards untouched before he went out of bounds. The yards gave Nees 5,223 career yards and a new unofficial Montana state record.
To top it off, every Circle player went to the Tri-City sideline and gave a tearful Nees a hug following his final high school play.
“It’s moments like that that remind me as a coach, and everyone in attendance at the game that day, of how high school football and the life lessons it teaches is far bigger than the wins and losses,” Stevenson said. “Coach Eissinger and the community of Circle have a lot of class and should be commended on raising such competitive and respectful young men.”
(Editor’s Note: The Montana High School Association records are incomplete, but Stevenson plans to submit Nees’ stats, which, once verified, will be included here.)