Rim Country Middle School seventh-grade football coach Jimmy Oestmann's postgame quip "we stepped it up" might be an understatement in light of the rally his underdog team staged.
Playing Thursday afternoon on Payson High field against the Snowflake Lobos, the Mavericks rallied from an 8-0 halftime deficit to win 26-8. Staging a comeback under the conditions the team played in is almost unheard of in sports.
On the Maverick roster was the bare minimum of 11 players. Injuries and academics ineligibility depleted the Mav lineup that once had about 20 athletes.
In the game, if a single RCMS player went down, the team might have had to forfeit.
Looking over at a bench that had no players, coach Jon Gunzel deadpanned, "At least we don't have to worry about a substitution rotation."
Adding even further to the team's troubles was that during the week, many of the players were forced to learn new positions to fill vacancies.
Undersized Chance Sylvester moved from strong side linebacker to free safety. On offense, he moved to guard from wide receiver and back to guard.
While there was not a single Maverick substitute to spell the tired or injured, Snowflake brought a squad of 44 players and used an 11-in and 11-out scheme in which the young Lobos had to master a single position on one side of the ball.
Considering the obstacles the Mavericks were trying to overcome, Oestmann's characterization of the victory as "we stepped in up" should be "miracle on the gridiron."
The Maverick rally began midway through the third quarter after David Weaver returned a punt for a touchdown. The two-point conversion to tie failed but RCMS pulled to within 8-6.
Minutes later, Weaver scored again on an option play out of the team's four-wide-receiver set. Fullback Dutch Wallace plunged to pay dirt on the conversion to give RCMS a 14-8 lead.
After the RCMS defense stiffened and Kyle Stone blocked a Lobo punt, tailback Ben Sandoval capped a short drive with a TD scamper off an isolation play. Leading 20-8, the Mavericks tacked on a late insurance TD on an quarterback keeper by Weaver.
Following the game, the Mavericks received the ultimate compliment from the Lobo coach.
"We were shaking hands and he told me ‘that's the toughest 11 kids I've ever seen'," Oestmann said.
The Mavericks, who are now 5-0, wrap up the White Mountain League season Oct. 7 at Canyon Day Whiteriver. Kick off is 3:30 p.m.