After bye, Pirates hope to come out sharper against Otter Tail Central

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
The Crookston football team is hoping to rebound from a 24-6 loss to West Central Area after having a bye week last week.

To find the last time the Crookston football team had a bye week, you have to go back to 2014.

The Pirates hosted Providence Academy in a "zero week" game on Aug. 23 that year, and took the next week off before taking on Barnesville on Sept. 5. That bye week, in turn, was their first in at least a decade, and likely much longer.

The Minnesota high school football season is a sprint, with games every week for eight weeks (six this year) plus playoffs in a rush to crown a champion before snow blankets the ground and turns fields to mush. That doesn't ordinarily leave time for blank dates on a team's schedule.

But for Crookston, 2014 repeated itself this season. The Pirates once again played a zero week game — beating Roseau 14-10 on Oct. 3 — necessitated by the odd number of teams in their district. That left them with a free weekend last week.

Coach Scott Butt says it came at just the right time.

"It's enabled some guys to get healthy, it's enabled us to slow down and start over and really concentrate on basic stuff," Butt said. "I think that's been a huge deal. We're able to pick up a lot of stuff that we were making mistakes on early."

Crookston's last game was a tough loss at West Central Area/Ashby on Oct. 9. The Knights ran for 232 yards and wore down the Pirates with their smashmouth play that game. In this regard, the longer rest period afterwards wasn't just a bonus, but a necessity.

"With how big and physical they were, it's nice to get a little extra time to recuperate and recover our bodies a little bit," said senior defensive back/wide receiver Zach Brown.

But it wasn't as if the Pirates simply forgot about football while they relaxed over the weekend. Quite the opposite, actually.

To senior linebacker/fullback Jaxon Wang, the physical rest wasn't as important as the opportunity to refocus mentally. Wang thought Crookston came into the West Central game after a lackadaisical series of practices, which contributed to the defeat just as much as being outmuscled.

"We just needed to prepare — mentally prepare," Wang said. "We didn't prepare that week at all. ... We just weren't thinking that they were a good team."

The way Wang and other players describe practice since that game, there's been less joking around. More seriousness. More purpose. More paying attention to the little things.

Wang and junior lineman Brooks Butt both spent a good chunk of their bye weeks watching film from Roseau and West Central Area. Butt noticed plenty of areas for improvement: his hand placement, his footwork, blocking too high. Wang realized he wasn't coming down from the linebacker position as hard as he could.

For senior quarterback Easton Tangquist, the bye meant a chance to polish up a few aspects of Crookston's newly-installed veer offense — "technical parts," mostly. The Knights overwhelmed the Pirates though the middle, so Tangquist was forced to start reading "in to out" instead of "out to in."

Essentially, Tangquist's job running the veer is to read "out," towards the defensive end, and decide what to do with the ball based on the end's actions. But West Central's penetration meant he had to pay attention to the middle first, slowing him down.

"We're just focusing on me just concentrating on my guy, reading the D-end, committing to getting to that spot and just depending on my lineman to make the block," Tangquist said. "It makes a big difference, because when you're reading in-to-out, you're not looking at where you're going, you're looking at where you are. If you're reading out-to-in, you're looking at what you're trying to get to, and once you see that, you can make your move to get up the field."

Butt, who says his offense is still "getting there," thought he didn't make his team didn't do enough hitting in practice to get them ready for West Central. Over the last two weeks, he's tried to correct that.

"You can only hit each other so long in practice, but we spent a lot of time moving the five-man sled and working on keeping our feet moving when we make contact," Butt said. "I think that was a big deal for us to get that done instead of doing walk-thru reps. It was better for us to go hit that sled, move our feet, move our bodies and be used to hitting something."

Even though an event as unusual as a bye week in a season more unusual than any, Butt tried to keep the bye week as normal as possible. He broke down practice more into position groups more often, which he said got a bit more accomplished, but he didn't want to interfere with his players' normal routine.

There's no way to simulate an actual game. But Butt wanted to ensure the Pirates put enough work in and were a bit tired after Friday's practice, knowing that they would have plenty of time to recover and wanting to keep the cycle of work and recovery going smoothly.

Because really, Crookston's season is just two games old. And while no team turns down an opportunity for rest whenever they get it, the Pirates' main desire during their week off was — and still is — for improvement.

"When we came back on Monday after the game, we were positive," Tangquist said. "We knew we did some things wrong, but we also knew that ... with a few easy fixes, we probably could have been right in there. I think we had a really positive mindset, and we're pumped for what we can be."

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