Fighting Cougars learning from past to improve football programRyan Evans and the McCook Central/Montrose football team have endured some heart-breaking losses in their short time together.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
Ryan Evans and the McCook Central/Montrose football team have endured some heart-breaking losses in their short time together.
In 2009, Evans took over as head coach of a newly formed cooperative, the McCook Central/Montrose Fighting Cougars.
The former assistant coach of the Salem-based, 11-man McCook Central football team held the task of molding a new squad with Montrose, a town that’s located about 10 miles to the east and played 9-man football.
After two years of sub-.500 records, numerous nail-biting losses and first-round playoff exits, the coach and towns are improving the program. At 6 p.m. on Saturday, McCook Central/Montrose travels to Winner for a state 11B semifinal game. The victorious team Saturday gets a spot in next week’s state championship at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
“We have a great group of kids to work with,” Evans said when asked where the credit should be given for the turnaround. “When they’re willing to get after it and they believe in what we do, it makes it a lot easier.”
In Evans’ first year as a head coach, the Fighting Cougars lost three games by less than seven points and fell to defending state champion Tri-Valley in the playoffs.
Against Tri-Valley, McCook Central/Montrose led 13-7 with 8 minutes remaining before, as Evans recalls, “it blew up it our face.”
Tri-Valley went on to win 28-13 and advanced to the state championship game where it finished runner-up on a game-winning play by Winner as time expired.
After finishing 4-5 in the first year as the co-op, McCook Central/Montrose had an identical record last year with many of the same close-game losses it had the season before. For the second straight year, Evans’ team lost close ballgames to Platte-Geddes/Dakota Christian, Garretson and Wagner and was knocked out of the playoffs by Tri-Valley again.
Tri-Valley’s playoff win over the Fighting Cougars last year could be more painful than in 2009, as the Mustangs won 8-6 and got their only touchdown late in the third quarter.
“These kids have had more than their share of close defeats in the waning moments of the game,” Evans said.
This season, Evans and the Fighting Cougars have only played one game within seven points, a 10-7 loss to Flandreau on Sept. 2 in the second week of the regular season. But after rattling off six wins before the playoffs, McCook Central/Montrose was set up for a first-round playoff match against Flandreau.
The third-year co-op picked up its first playoff win, beating Flandreau 28-7 in Salem. On Monday night, the team picked up its second playoff victory, handing Groton a 29-6 stomping on the road.
“It’s a great feeling and we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far,” said senior running back and middle linebacker Dominic Blindert, a Salem native. “The last couple of years were very tough, very frustrating. But we’ve regrouped and have come together. We really trust each other. I think those losses the past two years have really helped us grow.”
Blindert said he knows the team’s toughest test will be this weekend’s game against Winner.
The Fighting Cougars (9-1) travel to unbeaten Winner, which shut out five of its eight regular-season opponents and is 10-0.
With a win, coupled with a Tri-Valley semifinal win over St. Thomas More, the Fighting Cougars will get a playoff re-match against the Mustangs with the state title on the line.
“Winner is dynamite and our kids won’t think past this game,” Evans said. “Our kids are excited about that, and it should be a great one on Saturday.”