A season-opening 60-38 loss to the Soroco Rams Aug. 24 has kicked the 2018 South Park High School football campaign off on a 0-1 overall record.

“We scheduled some tough non-conference games to help with our Ratings Percentage Index and knew that they would be a tough team. Despite what the score read at the end, our boys really hung in there and made a strong comeback in the second half of the game,” head coach Jim Carpenter said.

“It was our first game and did a lot of good things, but also got a preview on the stuff that needs work.”

While the away non-conference contest was a first for both teams this season, the battle looked to be fierce as the Burros have been left with a squadron of 14 players to take to the gridiron after the loss of seven seniors from last year.

“We definitely have a different dynamic from last year,” Carpenter said. “We had a lot of senior leadership, and this year has been narrowed to only two returning seniors, so I think that everyone is trying to find their role on which kind of leader they want to be.

“We are a younger team, so it will be important for everyone to step up and create the team we want to see this season.”

Having only six returning players (sophomores Hector Almeida and Braden Keogh, juniors Michael Kelley and Matthew Ryszkowski, and seniors Daigen Springer and Camren Rullan), the Burros have welcomed three freshmen (Lincoln Mills, Drake Hermansen and Crue Bogert), three juniors (Preston Haley, Jacob Robineau and John O’Donnell), and two seniors (TJ Peter and Seth Hermansen) to the lineup.

“We held a scrimmage with Custer County the week prior, and the improvement level that we saw in a few short days was huge. We are seeing a lot of good stuff from our new crowd, and we’re just hoping to see that continue throughout the entire season,” Carpenter said.

Still slightly green, the Burros moved up from the A-6 (six-man) bracket to playing in an eight-man conference two seasons ago. Despite the recent loss, the Burros have made uphill strides since finding their new home in the A-8 Central.

They had held high hopes of positioning in the playoffs last season with an RPI ranking of 13th in the state prior to their final contest (the top 16 teams of eight-man football qualify for the playoff bracket), but an upsetting turn of events left South Park empty-handed as they were bumped to 17th in the final week of conference play as Springfield and Caliche came from behind to seed 14th and 16th, respectively.

“This team has a history of getting better with each season. However, we do have the added weight with so many newcomers, which is not a bad thing,” Carpenter said.

“We have changed our scheduling and will face three really tough non-conference competitors (including Soroco). I think that if we can get through those games, our experience level will set us for league play.”

Although the Burros edged the 2017 divisional playoffs with a 6-3 overall and a 4-1 A-8 Central record, the Rams pushed hard to conclude the previous season holding an 8-4 overall record, a 3-2 A-8 Northwest record and finished out the 2017 Colorado High School Activities Association State Football Playoffs in the semifinal round after a 38-28 loss to West Grand.

“Soroco is definitely a playoff contender team. They have a tough schedule, and their running back is an incredible player; he has good vision and is patient, which means when he sees the play, he’s like a lightning bolt and is gone,” Carpenter said.

The Rams struck the first blow of the game, but in the face of decreased numbers, the Burros were ready for battle and answered back with a 44-yard touchdown pass from senior Camren Rullan to junior Michael Kelley on the receiving end.

A successful two-point conversion from Rullan put the Burros at eight points on the boards. The Rams continued their assault and pushed for 30 points in the first quarter, but their visiting opponents held their own as Rullan found senior TJ Peter in the end zone on a 57-yard pass, and a three-yard rushing conversion from senior Daigen Springer brought the Burros to 16 points by the end of the period.

Rullan headed the team with 135 yards in 11 of 14 completions with two touchdown passes. On the receiving end, Kelley closed the game with six receptions for 71 yards, and Peter finished with three receptions for a total of 59 yards.

While the Ram offensive continued its pressure with 24 points in the second quarter, the Burros rivaled their attackers with 47 total tackles, but added only six points to the boards as Rullan scored a 35-yard rushing touchdown.

Leading his team with eight total tackles (seven solo, one assisted), Rullan was followed by seniors Peter and Springer with seven solos apiece, along with Kelley with a tally of seven by game end (four solo, three assisted).

Running a 32-point deficit at the top of the second half, the Burros defensive strategies soon began to have its toll on their opponent and South Park halted Ram progress to a low six points after halftime.

“Our guys came out of the locker room with a lot of want and were able to contain number 44 in the third quarter. They had no defeat in their eyes and really tried to win the game. They did a great job,” Carpenter said.

Although unable to score in the third quarter and down 60-22, the Burros closed the 38-point margin as they added 16 points in the final period.

A four-yard rushing touchdown from Springer and a successful conversion from Rullan rocked the scales in Burro favor, and the power balance then found Kelley scooping up a fumble recovery that resulted in a 48-yard touchdown return. The Burros then wrapped up with Springer tallying his second conversion of the game and closing the scoring gap to 22.

“It was absolutely perfect. We had forced their team to get frustrated, and then Michael captured the fumble recovery in the very last play of the game. It ended awesome for us,” Carpenter said.

Using a diversified offense, the Burros recorded 227 rushing yards in 41 carries. Springer led his team with 118 yards in 23 carries, followed by Rullan with 91 yards in 12 carries.

“It was primarily a running game on each end. We were able to move the ball on them, which is huge in an opening game against a playoff team,” Carpenter said.

With the first game jitters out of the way, the Burros will look to face the Del Norte Tigers in a home non-conference game Aug. 31.

“They finished last year in pretty good standing at 6-3 overall. This will be their very first outing on the season and didn’t even hold a preseason scrimmage. While we hope to use that to our advantage, we’ll have to see how things line out, but I do believe that it should be a good contest,” Carpenter said.

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