The Stanfield Tigers’ football season came to a close Saturday when the team lost to the Regis Rams, 61-0, in the first round of the 2A state playoffs.

The Tigers finished the season with a record of 6-4.

Stanfield won the coin toss and elected to defer the ball to the Rams. The Tigers were able to hold the Rams on the first possession but couldn’t muster a score of their own.

The Rams then scored two quick touchdowns while Tiger senior Bryce Linker suffered a leg injury and was unable to return to the game.

Stanfield head coach Steve Sheller said Linker’s injury greatly impacted his club.

“When you have your best player go down, it really takes a lot out of your football team,” he said. “With Bryce out, it changed the whole game offensively. It’s tough to see that happen to such a great kid in the last game of his Tigers’ career.”

Sheller said his team had a strong start to the game.

“We had a great first quarter,” he said. “We stopped the Rams on a couple of possessions and were able to move the ball a little bit on offense. The injury to Linker, combined with giving up a couple of quick scores in the second quarter, disheartened our guys.”

Sheller said he was disappointed his team didn’t play its best football after the first quarter.

“When you’re playing a good team, a state championship- caliber team, you need to play your best for four quarters,” he said. “We weren’t able to do that, and the score reflects that. It’s a tough way to finish the season.”

Sheller went on to say he would not let his team view the year solely through the lens of Saturday’s loss.

“We are not going to let that loss define our season,” he said. “I love this group of guys. We had a great year, and that should be celebrated.”

The Rams, of the Tri-River Conference, are currently the second-ranked team in the state in the 2A division.

“They were just a better football team. There’s no shame in that,” Sheller said. “For us, success is measured by effort. Our guys gave tremendous effort all year. I’m really proud of that.”

Sheller said the Tigers have a tradition of excusing the seniors from the huddle for the last time once the season is over.

“This year was tough,” he said. “Those guys gave their hearts and souls to the program for four years. I’ve been extremely fortunate to coach some great young men. It’s sad to see them go.”

Stanfield started five freshmen Saturday. Sheller spoke directly to them after the game.

“I told our freshmen that, starting right now, this is their team,” Sheller said. “They won’t be able to rely on the seniors anymore. It’s their turn to step up.”

Sheller praised the senior leadership that has molded his young players.

“The seniors made a tremendous impact on our younger players,” he said. “They did an outstanding job of welcoming all of the guys into the program and helping them learn and progress throughout the year. They were the big brothers of this program. It’s great to be a part of a culture like the one we have here at Stanfield.”

That culture enabled the younger players to play a major role on the team all season, Sheller said.

“Having the young guys contribute the way they did was unbelievable,” Sheller said. “We will use this as we head into the seasons to come. This experience is going to greatly help our team in the future. The young guys today will become the leaders of the team tomorrow.”

Sheller said Stanfield lost many players from last year’s team, with only three returning starters coming back.

He said he didn’t know what type of team he was going to have at the start of the year.

“We had a lot of unknowns heading into this season,” he said. “We hardly had any offensive players coming back. We had a ton of guys with very little experience. Our team really learned how to play football this year.”

Sheller said he thought this team improved from start to finish, more so than most other squads he’s coached.

“We really progressed each week,” he said. “We got a lot better, and our confidence dramatically improved. I think at the beginning of the year we had some guys who weren’t sure if we could compete with the best in our league, but we showed what we are capable of when we work hard.”

The Tigers are losing six seniors from this season’s team including a Blue Mountain Conference first-team running back in Linker. Linker was also named a first-team linebacker on the defensive side of the football.

Senior Vladimir Caldera was named a second-team linebacker to round out the individual defense awards for the Tigers. Caldera also received honorable mention for place kicking.

The BMC All Conference offensive teams are littered with Tiger players.

Senior Elvis Lockwood was named a first-team offensive lineman.

Dylan Ostrom took home second-team offense line honors, while seniors Lane Numerick and Dylan Wilkinson were both honorable mention offensive linemen.

Tiger freshman Thyler Monkus earned second-team running back honors. Fellow freshman Ryan Bailey received an honorable mention for punting.

Sheller said his team is loaded with young talent and should be even better next season.

“We’ll be in great shape,” he said. “They are talented, but the best thing about our young guys is that they want to work. They aren’t satisfied yet, and they only want to get better individually and go farther as a team. The future is pretty bright for us.”

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