Eagles prepare for eight-man style

The Eagles get used to the lights and the offense-favored eight-man game Monday evening at the Joseph High School field. Photo by Michael Lane

The Eagles football squad visited Grant County for the Prairie City Jamboree on Friday to get a taste of the season to come.

The jamboree featured just three teams; Prairie City, Pine Eagle and Joseph. Rather than play a full game, or even a half, the teams were limited to 12 plays in each contest in order to stay in line with OSAA regulations and avoid having the event count as a non-league game for the season. The event organizers had initially wanted to limit the contestants to nine plays, but Head Coach Rusty Eschler wheedled them into going 12. "I told them - we're probably not going to score in nine plays," he mused. Even with the additional three plays, the team traveled for four hours one way just to run 24 offensive and 24 defensive plays. With the OSAA rules limiting play time, Eschler admitted that it doesn't really make a lot of sense to attend jamborees.

Eschler bemoaned the format good-naturedly, chiefly because the limited drives made it difficult to determine anything about his team's strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, there were some lessons learned, and field time is valuable for any player.

Score-wise, Pine Eagle and Joseph scored on each other, and Prairie City, which scored once on the Eagles, stopped Joseph with the help of a 10-yard holding penalty that ran the Eagles out of plays. Joseph did show off a little defensively versus Prairie City, with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

The event gave the Eagles a peek at play in the realm of 1A, and Eschler was impressed with Pine Eagle, which effectively took a year of non-league schedule to practice in the eight-man format. "They're going to be contending," he said. Joseph, he added, will be able to compete with anyone in the league this year.

Mike Marks, Joseph's star senior lineman, summed up the team's feelings to assistant coach Randy Garnett, when asked how he thought the Eagles had done.

"I think we didn't do badly, but we've got lots of room for improvement," Marks replied. Eschler said he is happy to have a team that is playing well, and which also believes it can improve.

Marks was, unsurprisingly, the target of double-teaming tactics throughout Friday, and Eschler said he flinched more than once as Marks suffered a series of chop-blocks. Clay Hayward, another big man on the line, also took his share of low shots and ankle hits as smaller defenders tried to stop him. "I was pretty nervous," admitted Eschler. "Thankfully, no one got hurt."

Since it wasn't a "real" game, that let Eschler do some things he wouldn't normally get a chance to do.

"I never called an offensive play. I let (quarterback) Kyle Hook call the plays," Eschler said. Hook was obviously impressed with the responsibilities and white-knuckle stress of running the offense, and informed Eschler that the jamboree was the first and last time we were doing that, recalled Eschler with a laugh. "He didn't like that." Still, Eschler thought it was important to get Hook some experience in calling plays, reading the defense and polishing the skills a good quarterback needs.

A limit of 12 plays obviously works against Joseph's strengths - clock control, size and a bulldozing running game. Still, after some initial resistance from Prairie City, the jamboree allowed the junior varsity players to take the field and get some valuable turf time.

"That was a big bonus," Eschler said. "They (the JV) practice just as much as everybody else."

How did they fare?

"They were real tentative to begin with," Eschler said, "but once they realized that it wasn't the varsity kids they were playing in practice, they started playing a lot better. And they were good. It was a lot of fun to watch them. That was the best part of the whole trip, letting the younger guys play."

What did Eschler think of the jamboree format?

"Well, my wife kind of summed it up the best. She said it was like a tee-ball game where everybody wins."

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