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Final Point: When the Friday night lights stay dark
September 22, 2011 Terry Gaston   

Read more by Terry Gaston
Mitchell football coach Chris Bailey and the Tigers knew last Friday night was coming. So did Bayard coach Philep Willey, and other area coaches know of similar gaps in their schedules every year.
It’s called the open week. And teams can deal with it in one of usually three ways.

First is by not utilizing the “Zero Week” the Nebraska School Activities Association allows football teams to begin their schedules. Schools like Banner County and Minatare did not open their seasons until Sept. 2.

Second is by scheduling games for all nine weeks, including the zero week, an option that Gering and Scottsbluff have chosen to give their teams a ninth game.

Third, and still popular among the smaller schools, is to schedule a game during the zero week and then have an open week sometime during the course of the season. For Morrill, that open week came the week after its season opener — a 64-26 loss to Mitchell.

After winning that opening game, Mitchell was on the short end of a 49-7 count to Scottsbluff. Then the Tigers rebounded with a 41-14 thrashing of Bridgeport.

Then came the off week on the schedule, which could be seen as good in the light of how Mitchell’s season has been kind of inconsistent so far, or bad considering that the Tigers might have just begun to find their groove.

“We did a lot more individual time and also started to get ready for Kimball. We actually worked a whole lot harder than if we had a game.”

And hard work offered its rewards to the Tigers.
“We told them if we had four good days of practice then we would give them Friday off,” Bailey said. “Some of them went to Bridgeport, some of them went to Gering.”

Bailey, in his first year at the Mitchell helm, felt more confident that the off week in the Tigers’ case last week had more benefits than setbacks.

“I think it helped the kids stay focused and do what we need to do to get better,” Bailey said. “The kids have grown a ton each week, and last week we recharged our batteries and got refreshed. And I think it was refreshing and good for the coaches, especially right before we begin district play.”

While the lights were dark in Mitchell on Friday night, the Tigers and their coaches frolicked to other illuminated fields for business and/or pleasure. Bailey said some of his staff went to Gothenburg to scout the Tigers’ Friday opponent in Kimball, while Bridgeport was the destination for others to scout the Tigers’ season-ending opponent in Gordon-Rushville.

So far, the Tigers have established themselves as a solid and well-balanced rushing team. Senior Alberto Alvizar has 52 carries for 394 yards and six touchdowns, while junior Tyler Golden has Mitchell’s carry average lead among starters (9.4 yards) with 300 yards on 32 carries with three touchdowns. Senior Bryce Wiedeman has even a higher carry average (9.6 yards) while making 164 yards and four TDs on 17 rushes.

Junior quarterback Brendan Swanson has more rushes (11, for 40 yards with two TDs) than he has pass completions (9-for-20, for 127 yards with one TD and no interceptions). Golden has five receptions for 89 yards and one TD.

Defensively, sophomore Issac Holbrook has a team-high 15 solo tackles, with three for 17 lost yards and one quarterback sack, and sophomore Colton Snyder has 12 solo stops
Bailey is an Alliance native who has made his way back to the Panhandle. The past four years, he was the strength and conditioning coach at Yuma, Colo., where he also coached the offensive line and linebackers. The year before he went to Yuma, Bailey was in Morrill, where he was the Lions’ defensive coordinator.
Bailey’s coaching career started at Kiowa, Colo., where he spent one year as head coach. Kiowa played 11-man football then but has since dropped to eight-man, he said. Bailey is a graduate of Midland Lutheran College (now University, where he played the strong-side “Sam” outside linebacker.

And for Bailey’s time in Mitchell, it’s so far, so good.
Lights out on Bearcats, too

Football isn’t the only fall sport that can provide teams with open time in their schedules. Perhaps the most unusual other case this fall is that of the Scottsbluff volleyball team, which after playing at Gering last Tuesday found itself with an idle schedule until Thursday — leaving the Bearcats with eight full days of rest between matches.

Scottsbluff coach Megan Burda said the time off has been good for the Bearcats, who fell to 2-8 after losing a hard-fought, four-game match at Gering. They play Chadron and Bridgeport in a triangular Thursday.

“It might have been a couple days too long, but our bodies and minds needed a break,” said Burda, whose team had its first 10 matches within a 13-day stretch. “We are still working on some basic things and getting some conditioning in there.”

The schedule break also allowed Burda and the Bearcats to break down some video in order to clean up errors and also to work on individual hitting, blocking and passing skills – “Just getting individual reps for everybody,” she added.

For one person who saw the Bearcats in their opener – a tough, five-game loss to Alliance – and then not again until their heart-filled, four-game loss at Gering, much improvement in effort and tenacity was seen in the feisty Scottsbluff squad in the 12 days and nine matches that had passed.

All I have to add is that the next time Alliance faces the Bearcats – which could be Oct. 18 at Alliance or in a tournament beforehand – the Bulldogs better be ready.

“We’ll just keep plugging away,” Burda said in the meantime, with Thursday’s action more so on her mind. “We know we can play, we just need to finish. Chadron and Bridgeport are both off to good starts, so we will see if we can put it together.”
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