Westminster Christian's inaugural eight-on-eight football game didn't have a favorable outcome if measured by the 44-16 final score.
If measured by the goal of keeping football a part of the small school's culture despite waning participation, Saturday's loss to Wisconsin Heights in Elgin was a smashing success.
The eight-man version is competed with three fewer players on a field 40 yards wide instead of the standard 53, but the basic tenets of football remain the same.
"You still have to tackle and block, same premise," Westminster Christian quarterback Sam Huguley said after completing 22 of 33 passes for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns. "It was fun. It was a little bit different but not a whole lot."
Eleven Warriors dressed for the season opener, which put them at a disadvantage against Wisconsin Heights, located west of Madison in Mozomanie, Wis. The Vanguards dressed 24 of the 28 players listed on their roster. The program had only 16 varsity players two years ago when the decision was made to switch to the eight-man game. Numbers have since swelled.
On the other hand, the Warriors had to do some in-school recruiting just to field an eight-man team. Huguley helped talk two of his friends from other sports into joining: baseball player Matt Schulenburg and cross-country/track standout Jason Yaccino. Both were needed against Wisconsin Heights. Schulenburg caught 8 passes for 102 yards, including 2 late touchdown receptions. Yaccino played wide receiver, defensive end, kicker and punt returner.
"It was so fun," said Yaccino, who finished fourth in the 800-meter run at the Class 1A track meet last spring in 1:56.56. "I was having a blast out there."
Another basic tenet of the game remained unchanged: protect the football. Westminster fumbled the ball away three times in the first half and the Vanguards capitalized with touchdowns after each in taking a 28-0 halftime lead.
"The three turnovers in the first half really hurt us because we were moving the ball," first-year Westminster Christian coach Mike Gross said.
In fact, the Warriors gained 282 total yards, 227 via the pass. However, the Vanguards gained 352 total yards, all but 82 via a shotgun triple-option ground attack. Quarterback Tom Muschitz rushed for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns and threw for 2 more scores. Junior running back Camden Brown rushed for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns on 9 carries.
But the final details mattered less to the Warriors than the big picture.
"I'm really proud of these guys," Gross said. "Two weeks ago we were wondering if we were actually going to have enough guys to play."
Yet, play they did.
"I had a blast out there," Yaccino said. "I'm excited for the rest of the season."