The Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County football team dropped out of the Big Sky League this year, opting instead to play an independent schedule.
"I know that we won't be able to go to the playoffs if we were a good team and had wins this year," Rattler head coach Jerry Anderson said. "But you know what, I would rather have the kids be competitive and play against teams that are competitive than playing in a league where we are getting our butts whipped so bad that it just wasn't fun for the kids."
The new strategy worked for the Rattlers in their first game as they overcame early jitters to take a 22-0 win over a co-op team from Prairie City and Burnt River.
"We have a lot of foreign exchange students," Anderson said. "So last week in our first game, our wide receivers wouldn't line up on the line of scrimmage. They were in the backfield. So little things like that we try to teach them the best we can, but there are nuances like that that we need to take care of and we try to do that in our first game."
After making adjustments in their first game, the Rattlers looked more organized on Saturday when they took on the North Lake Cowboys in Mitchell.
The Rattlers looked good for a quarter against the Cowboys before struggling with North Lake's speed in the second quarter.
North Lake scored 32 second quarter points, breaking open a close game as they ran away with an easy 64-14 win.
It didn't take North Lake long to score to open the game as North Lake took possession on their own 43-yard line to open play.
Quarterback Damon Ward immediately swept around left end for a 57-yard touchdown just one minute into the game. Ward carried the ball again, this time up the middle for the 2-point conversion as the Cowboys took an 8-0 lead.
However, the Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County offense responded going on a drive of their own in their first possession.
On the 14th play of the drive, Myles McCormick pounded the ball up the middle, going 18 yards for a Rattler touchdown.
Jacob Hoover pounded the ball up the middle for the 2-point conversion as the Rattlers tied the game 8-8.
That's the way that the game stayed through the end of the first period.
However, the Cowboys turned on their jets in the second quarter.
After the Rattlers forced a punt, they moved the ball to the 50-yard line before turning the ball over on downs.
North Lake capitalized, as Ward threw a 36-yard touchdown strike to Dalton Puckett. Ward's 2-point conversion attempt failed, but the Cowboys still held a 14-8 lead.
Mitchell recovered the North Lake onside kick on the Cowboy 45-yard line, but were pushed back by an illegal procedure penalty.
Following the penalty, Hoover dropped back to pass and was intercepted by Colby Haigh, who returned the ball to the Mitchell 40-yard line.
Four plays later, Ward scored on an 18-yard run. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, but the Cowboys still led 20-8 with 5:16 remaining in the first half.
Mitchell recovered the ensuing onside kick and moved the ball down to the 40-yard line before turning the ball over on downs.
North Lake quickly capitalized as Ward scampered 43 yards for his third touchdown run of the game. Ward carried the ball again for the 2-point conversion, and the Cowboys led 28-8 with just 1:14 remaining in the half.
That's when disaster struck for the Rattlers.
The North Lake kickoff stopped on the Cowboy 15-yard line, and one of the foreign exchange students, thinking it was a punt, failed to cover the ball.
North Lake recovered, and Ward quickly scored again, this time from 10 yards out as the Cowboys extended their lead to 34-6.
After the Rattlers' Victor Ulian Garcia returned the kick to the 47-yard line, Hoover dropped back to pass with just seconds remaining in the first half.
Once again, the ball was intercepted, and Ward scored again from 10 yards out as time ran out to end the second quarter.
Once again, the 2-point conversion attempt failed, but the Cowboys still led 48-8 at the half.
The Rattlers tried to come back in the second half as they took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and drove down the field, finally scoring on a 13-yard run by McCormick.
Hoover's quarterback sneak came up short, but the Rattlers had cut the Cowboy lead to just 48-14.
However, that was as close as Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County could get.
Ward scored on another 10-yard run late in the third quarter and also scored on the 2-point conversion as North Lake extended their lead to 54-14.
The Cowboys scored twice more in the fourth period on runs by Levi Waldron and Haigh as they pulled away for the easy win.
Ward finished with 198 rushing yards, six touchdown runs and a touchdown pass for the Cowboys.
Mitchell was led by McCormick, who carried the ball 15 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
"McCormick has played three years for me now, and he's a tough kid," Anderson said of his running back. "But people start keying on him, and it's hard to keep giving him the ball. We have to work on our linemen to turn the shoulders of the guy that they are blocking, and we will be better off."
Although he was disappointed with the loss, Anderson was pleased with the team's effort.
"This team will never quit," he said. "The team we played today, they are really fast. They are faster than our kids probably thought they were, so they got around the edge a few times, so we have a lot to work on, but we never quit."
Anderson went on to point out that Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County has several problems associated with having a co-op team that make it difficult to develop a competitive program.
Not only is much of the team foreign exchange students each year, in addition, kids from two of the three schools must spend two hours on a bus each day to get to and from practice.
"We have players from Mongolia, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, and we usually have more Asian kids too," Anderson said. "We get kids together and teach them football and they have fun. That's what it's all about for us. They are fun on the bench. They are fun in class, and they are fun on the bus."
Mitchell/Spray/Mitchell has a bye this week before playing at Monument/Dayville on Friday, Sept. 22. The game, which is scheduled to be played in Dayville, is set to kick off at 1 p.m.
Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County 8 0 6 0 — 14
NL 8 32 8 16 — 64
NL — Damon Ward 57-yard td run, Ward run.
M/S/W — Myles McCormick 18-yard run. Jacob Hoover, run.
NL — Ward 36-yard pass to Dalton Puckett, Craig Puckett run.
NL — Ward 18-yard run. Puckett run failed.
NL — Ward 43-yard run, Ward run
NL — Ward 10-yard run, Puckett run failed.
NL — Ward 10-yard run, Puckett run failed.
NL — Ward 18-yard run, Puckett run failed.
M/S/W — McCormick 13-yard run, Hoover run failed.
NL — Levi Waldron nine yard run, Colby Haigh, run.
NL — Haigh 25-yard run, Haigh run.