Way back in August the School of the Osage football coaches knew they were in for a tough year with a roster that had twice as many freshman and sophomores than upper-classmen and only four returning starters.
Along the way, they've battled unprecedented illness and injury, a hurricane, and a road-game funk that just cannot be shaken culminating in the 28-23 upset by Hallsville last week to make it a perfect 0-4 record for away games.
You never want to count a win until the game is in the books, but sometimes the writing is on the wall and the game is yours to lose. That was the case of the Hallsville game as far as most of the Osage fans were concerned.
Although new to the conference this year, Hallsville is a school in flux with a new coach of a fledgling program in its fifth year of existence. They are competitive, but young and inexperienced and while fully capable of winning over Osage, it wasn't expected just yet. But sometimes, a team just gets outplayed.
The first crack in the Osage game showed up in the form of quarterback Bo Dean hitting the field wearing a different jersey. The familiar No. 5 Dean has worn in every sport since grade school was inadvertently left back in the locker room and he was forced to don No. 15 for the game.
"I don't know what happened here, we had a real good week in practice and for once the injuries weren't killing us," said head coach Dan Henderson. "We just made some big mistakes that we couldn't make up for and Hallsville was ready to play."
Hallsville took the first possession and was forced to punt after being held to just six yards in three tries. Osage fumbled the return and after the dust settled Hallsville got it back on their own 48-yard line. The purple Indians of Hallsville took an early 6-0 lead on a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Levi Howard to Homer Cochran at just under seven minutes into the game.
Jake Ulmer returned the kickoff to the 42-yard line to start off first possession of the game at 6:56 in the first quarter, but after moving the ball to the Hallsville 38, Osage turned over on downs.
"It just took us too long to get things going in this game, "said Henderson. "I think we've just been struggling so much all season it just all caught up to all of us."
Hallsville ran the clock carefully during their next possession taking over four minutes before turning the ball over on downs with seconds left in the first quarter when Osage's offense took the field for the second time in the game at the :14 mark in the first quarter. Less than a minute ticked off before Hallsville had the ball back, snatching an interception at the Osage 27-yard line.
It took the purple Indians only six plays until Logan Lindsay was in position to score on a nine-yard touchdown run. The successful conversion gave Hallsville a 14-0 lead they would take into the half despite Osage making it to the red zone three times without being able to close the deal.The halftime locker chat must have been stirring, because Osage came out more like themselves.
Dean put the Indians on the board ending a 71-yard drive in six plays and taking it in the final three yards to score. Dean connected with Ulmer for a conversion pass and Osage was in the game 14-8 at the 10-minute mark of the third quarter.
Hallsville answered with a nine-yard Howard touchdown run and a conversion of their own to extend their lead, but Osage responded with a 46-yard touchdown pass from Dean to Colin Samuelson. Dean punched in another two points on a conversion run and Osage ended the third quarter down only six points to Hallsville's 22.
Osage took the lead for the first time in the game just four minutes into the final quarter on a 33-yard Dean scoring run. His extra kick was successful for a 23-22 Osage lead.
Hallsville wasn't done just yet though, and Howard connected on a 63-yard pass to Cochran that would put the purple Indians in front for the final time, closing the door on Osage's road-struggles and giving them a .500 record for the Week 9 contest against Warsaw.
"Once we got it started, we just couldn't keep it going," said Henderson. "I gotta give them (Hallsville) credit, they were prepared and they just didn't stop coming. They did their homework."
Turnovers were a big problem for Osage in this game. The team had two fumbles, three interceptions and failed to convert fourth down three times.
Osage was still solid on offense, finishing with 452 total yards for the game compared to Hallsville's 387.
Dean carried 19 times for 125 yards, two touchdowns and an extra point kick and two-point run. In the air, he was 19/35 for 276 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a two-point conversion pass.
Dylan Jeffries was the favorite receiver with 162 yards from nine catches, but didn't score. Samuelson was 5-for-83 yards and a touchdown, and Ulmer had one catch for 14 yards.
On defense, Ulmer led with 13 tackles followed by Jace Marcolla, Dylan Kennedy and Tyler Winn. Despite the numbers, the defenders had trouble wrapping up Hallsville's offense and stopping the big runs.
"We've got to be able to execute those plays if we want to advance from here on out," said Henderson. "We're gonna have to make some tough decisions this week, but we just gotta play better if we want to win."
It's homecoming this week, a week any football coach will tell you is a dangerous time for a team.
"There's so much going on and so many demands on these kids, it's even tougher for them to stay focused. This is our senior night too, and the last game of the regular season," Henderson said. "There's a lot riding on this game and we've got to stay focused on the game; it's tough."
The homecoming parade is on Bagnell Dam Strip, or Business 54, starting at 4:30 p.m., and kickoff is at 7 p.m. Senior Night recognition will take place prior to the game, and the homecoming crowning will take place at halftime.