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Crook County team is already looking at what they can do to be more compeititve next season

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County Mountain Men defensive back Damen Hanson makes a tackle on a Rogue Valley Trojan running back during the Mountain Men's 63-0 loss to the Trojans.The Crook County Mountain Men closed out their Pacific Northwest League football season last Saturday with a 63-0 loss to the Rogue Valley Trojans.

Although he was disappointed with the loss, Mountain Men head coach Travis Hale was quick to point out that as a startup team, he was much more concerned with the improvement the team made than with the score.

"The progress that we have made from the beginning of the year to now is huge," he said. "Every game you can measure success in wins and losses, but I think when you look at how we measure the success of our season, it is the progression and the improvement that was made game after game after game. These guys have come a long ways."

The Mountain Men, who were a startup team this year, struggled all season, finishing the year with a 0-7 record.

Defensive lineman Jerod Wright said that although it was disappointing to not win any games during the season, it was still a great experience.

"These guys gave me the opportunity to play again, and I thought I might as well try it one more time," he said. "I take this as a learning opportunity. It's been fun, and it has been a struggle. We are the definition of a family, and when one guy gets his head down, three other guys pick him back up."

Wright injured his ankle early in the game but returned to play in the second half over the objection of the athletic trainer because Crook County was running out of healthy bodies.

Although listed as a tight end and defensive lineman, Wright also played running back and middle linebacker during the course of the game as Crook County juggled people to different possessions as the game progressed.

The Mountain Men struggled to move the ball the entire game, failing to gain a first down until late in the third quarter.

Still, the team's defense kept them in the game early, holding the Trojans without a touchdown until there was just 4:56 remaining in the first quarter.

Rogue Valley scored just over a minute later to run the score to 13-0, then scored on an interception return one play later to make the score 20-0.

From that point on, it was all Rogue Valley as they moved the ball at will.

The Trojans led 27-0 at the end of one quarter and 34-0 at the half.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Hunter Bourland runs for short yardage during the Mountain Men's loss to Rogue Valley last Saturday.The second half, Rogue Valley used their entire bench, while the Mountain Men battled with injuries and struggled to keep 11 players on the field.

When the game finally ended, Rogue Valley and Crook County met in a circle at midfield, while the Trojans offered words of encouragement to the Mountain Men.

Rogue Valley, 5-2, hosts the Portland Nightmare this Saturday at Eagle Point High School in the first round of the league playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Crook County season is over, and the team is left planning for next year.

Mike McCloughlan, one of the oldest players in the league at 44, is already planning for next year.

"The motivation that keeps me going is having a young group of guys like this. We've all become a family, so that's what keeps me going is the chemistry between us and just making sure that everyone is OK."

McCloughlan added that there have been some struggles this year, but that the experience has been rewarding.

"There have been some bumps in the road for sure that are going to occur in a first season," he said. "Next year, we are going to come out in the off season. We are already planning on hitting the gym together as a family. I think that we will come out with a force to be reckoned with."

Hale said that in order to be competitive in the future, the team needs to recruit more players. Most teams in the league had 30-plus players on their roster. Meanwhile, after injuries decimated their roster, the Mountain Men finished the season with fewer than 20 players.

"We definitely need to recruit, and we plan on hitting that hard," Hale said. "We didn't get a lot of time at the beginning of this season, so the biggest thing that we have to work on is just getting these guys together out on the field. All 11 guys on both sides of the ball, teaching them their assignments and progressions."

Hale added that despite the shortage of players this season, he was pleased with the effort he saw.

"There's not 18 or 19 guys that I would want more on my team than those guys right there," he said. "Heart and desire they've shown over and over again. They never give up. They never quit. Strength can be measured in numbers or in heart and determination, and those guys show that every time they step on the field."

Wright agrees that the team can be more competitive next year with increased practice time and more players on the roster.

"The more playing time we get together, the better we get," he said. "We've gone miles and miles from the beginning of the season. I look forward to playing again next year. Hopefully, we see everyone back and get more players and some more fans out here."

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