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Undefeated Lost Rivers on the Hunt for 2019 Championship
With a potential bump to 2A coming in 2020, the co-op Pirates set their sights on a 2019 1A title
Published: 10/29/2019 1:44:09 PM

 The Lost Rivers football team made the most of a rare situation. 

Once bitter rivals, Mackay and Butte County combined in the offseason to form a co-op program. Mackay, a playoff team a year ago, was in danger of not fielding enough players for 2019. That’s when two rival head coaches put their heads together to find a solution. 

Mackay Head Coach Travis Drussel got together with long-time friend Sam Thorngren, head coach of Butte County, to give Mackay students a chance to get back out on the field for 2019.

“We tried this the year before and it didn’t happen,” Thorngren said. “This year, around May, Coach Drussel called me. He was to the point where he only had seven players who would for sure play.”

Both coaches had to move fast in order to make their idea a reality. The two schools rushed to get approved by the school boards, athletic directors and the communities. 

Once the necessary pieces fell into place, the newly-branded Lost Rivers Pirates had to work out the logistics of where to hold practices and host games.

Most of the players hailed from Butte County, so the two sides agreed on having practices in Arco on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with Thursday practices held at Mackay. The team also decided to play a few home games for the Mackay fans, with the rest being at Butte County. 

“Arco would’ve had five home games this year,” Drussel said. “We were able to get two of those in Mackay, so it worked out pretty well that way.”

The growing pains associated with bringing together two different programs extended just beyond logistics. Working out a playbook that could compromise the offensive and defensive styles of both teams proved to be a challenge, along with finding perfect roles for the more than 30 Lost Rivers athletes.

“The biggest reason this has worked is because of the kids,” Thorngren said. “They’re determined to make this work. It's been harder in a way for the assistant coaches on both sides that don’t have as many responsibilities as before.” 

Both coaches said it helped that most of the athletes on the team played together before their high school days. 

“I feel like this has been a blessing,” said senior running back JaCoda Whitworth. “I played with these guys when I was little, from about the fourth to sixth grade. It was actually really cool that we could play together for my last year.”

The Pirates burst onto the 2019 scene, winning eight games and earning top billing in the state playoffs. Their biggest win of the season came against Oakley, ranked first in the statewide media poll at the time. The Pirates defended their pseudo home turf, winning 20-14. 

“We just want to win,” said senior quarterback Bridger Hansen. “Really nothing matters other than winning.” 

And with 1ADI Snake River Conference locked up, Drussel said his team is primed for a deep run into the postseason.

“These kids are all business,” he said. “They don’t really get rattled. They just play the game and rely on one another.” 

But 2019’s domination could come at a cost next year. Should the co-op continue, major changes could be underway. 

According to both coaches, if the team were to stay together, they would be bumped up to the 2A classification, forcing the Pirates to field an 11-man team opposed to their current eight-man squad. Both said they worry if a classification change would occur, they still wouldn’t have enough players to put together a team. The Pirates petitioned the state to remain in 1A as a co-op team, but were denied.

“The state keeps telling us we (Butte County) have enough for a 1A team,” Thorngren said. “Well, we know that. The issue is the four to six Mackay kids. What are they supposed to do? So we’re kind of at a standstill there. But after the season, we’ll try to raise it up again.”

For Thorngren, the hope is the state will eventually accept their petition and allow the co-op to continue in 1A play. For Drussel, he doesn’t mind if the co-op continues, but would eventually like for Mackay to have their own team again. 

“Obviously you want to play for your school,” Drussel said. “But our numbers and the kids coming out just aren’t going to be there.”

Regardless of what lies ahead next year, the focus still remains on a 2019 state title. 

“The hope for anyone that’s in our position is the championship,” Whitworth said. “That’s what we strive for. That’s what our season is built on. It’s to go to that championship game and win it.”

Lost Rivers will face Challis Friday to end the regular season before hosting either Clearwater Valley or Kamiah in the first round of the state playoffs.




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