On the road—with the Miners and the Horns
As the Karst Stage pulled into Park City, Mont. on Sept. 1, Terry Westerfield shuffled down the sidewalk, returning from the corner store to his little green home next to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Behind the church, the town’s football complex spreads out for the rest of the block, just down the street from Park City Schools.
On game days, Westerfield said, “I can sit out the backdoor and watch the whole thing.”
This year, Westerfield thought maybe the team had some size, but he shrugged when asked if the Panthers were headed into a winning season.
The Panthers’ home openers against Ophir Middle School and Lone Peak High School were set to begin at noon under a blazing high desert sun. Rim rocks and corn fields surround this unincorporated place 162 miles from Big Sky.
Park City calls itself “The Garden Spot.” It occupies a scenic stretch of mesa country on the way to Billings, by the Yellowstone River. Unlike nearby Columbus, Park City doesn’t have direct park access to the water, but there is an irrigation ditch with a wave big enough to surf.
Downtown Park City includes some interesting sandstone buildings. One shares the block with the Pop’s Inn tavern, where staff expected a crowd after the games. A calendar on the wall reminds patrons of upcoming Montana Off Road Extreme events, like the Rock Crawl and Mud Racing.
At the football stadium entrance gate by the Lutheran Church, Michelle Gauthier collected admission and handed out programs. Her older son, Rylan Gauthier, was an all-state player last year. He’s now playing basketball at Miles City Community College (LPHS alum KP Hoffman will play on the Miles City women’s team this year).
“Last year, we (Park City High) came up short making it to the playoffs. The year before that we made it, first round. They’ve had a pretty good tradition,” said Gauthier, noting her younger son Jacob is one of 31 players on the varsity team.
“My husband grew up here and played here. My father-in-law played here,” continued Gauthier, who teaches elementary language arts in the school district. “It’s a family tradition to be part of Park City athletics.”
Around noon, just as the Park City middle school team took the field against the Ophir Miners, organ music began playing on outdoor speakers at the Lutheran church. This gave the start of the day’s first game a ceremonial feel.
“Park City is a disciplined team. Always comes out and plays hard,” said Miner Coach Ben Holst, describing the scene before kickoff. “And so I just wanted to make sure our guys were not going to be psyched out mentally. We were prepared fundamentally, but will we be prepared mentally? Are our guys going to show up and give their all against a tough team? And yes, they showed up.”
The Miners came out strong, swarming to tackles and shutting down the Panther offense.
“Isaiah Holst, Hunter Strauss, Pierce Farr and George Helms: They are the core of our defense and did exactly what they were supposed to do,” said Coach Holst, adding, “And the surprise of the day was our sixth-grade defensive tackle, who’s not even a starter, Dominic Holst, he’s my son.”
Coach Holst didn’t plan to play Dominic, but he was shorted-handed on the D line.
“I put him in and he made several tackles in the backfield,” continued the coach and proud father.
The defense continued to smother any Panther with the ball, while the Miner offense heated up. No. 7 Hunter Strauss ran for two touchdowns and Pierce Farr carried in a reverse for six.
Farr also nearly scored on a long pass. Here’s how he described the play: “I was running a wheel route. I was at the slot receiver position and there was a receiver on that side who was running a post, with the cornerback to the middle. So the wheel is supposed to sneak around and be a deep ball.”
Farr tried to jet into the end zone, but was pursued and had to fight off the Panther defender with a stiff arm. It almost worked, but Farr was tackled a yard short of the goal line. After the play, Assistant Coach Chris Samuels gave Farr some advice.
“He said that I should keep running as fast as I can and not really look back and stiff arm the guy and I probably could have scored,” recalled Farr.
The Miner defense continued to bottle up the Panthers, with Hammond at safety snagging an interception late in the game. Ophir went on to win it 20-6.
After the game, Holst chatted with players and parents, who praised the Ophir coach for his focus on developing good character traits through football.
“I’m calling it ‘Miner character counts.’ A lot of teams give out helmet stickers for stat lines. We’re recognizing players for sportsmanship and for being a good teammate,” explained Holst. “So we’re going to fill helmet stickers for stats, but also for lifting another guy up and supporting their team. I’ve encouraged the parents to watch and their teammates to watch, so I’ve got my players saying, ‘Hey, he did a great job with this… He’s taking care of this.’ Really trying to do more than just football. I’m really excited for that.”
Soon after the middle school game wrapped up, two sounds signaled the start of the high school match up. First came the click-clack of cleats on pavement as the teams marched toward the field from the locker rooms, which sat a block away down a shady residential street.
The next sound signaling the countdown to kickoff had begun came from speakers mounted on the observation deck and coaches’ booth looming over the field. It was the ominous rock song “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider.
This was Park City’s first game of the season. The Panther coaching staff attended LPHS’s season opener vs. Box Elder in order to scout the Big Horns. After the Box Elder game, Big Horn players joined their classmates for the annual Expedition outdoor adventures. The Lone Peak seniors hiked 24 miles through the Lee Metcalf Wilderness before heading to Park City.
“Going into the season, a lot of the coaches ranked Park City, is going to be the top team in the division. Or top two,” said Head Coach Adam.
The Panthers wore red and black. The Lone Peak Big Horns ran onto the field in all white. It didn’t go well for the Big Horns, and one sign of trouble was an early injury.
“Lost one key player part way through the game,” said Farr, describing how freshman Bennett Miller suffered a knee injury. “We’re so thin. As soon as we lost one skilled player, and with the offense, it was tough. They kept hitting, they just got out-manned.”
The Park City High School band played “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey and the Big Horns never gave up, losing in a stunner 55-0.
Next up for LPHS: Joliet, another strong team, which travels to Big Sky on Sept. 8 (kickoff 1 p.m.) The Ophir Miners’ also face Joliet, earlier that day at 10 a.m.
It’s a busy week for the Miners, who are scheduled to play in a triangular vs. West Yellowstone and Gardiner on Thurs. Sept. 6 starting at 4 p.m.