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Sunday, March 18, 2018

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Separated by decades, playoff teams share ties (slideshow 2)

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

In the 22 years since the Dawson County High School football team last won a playoff game, a lot of things have changed. Back in 1995, hardly anyone had ever seen a cell phone, much less have one, the internet was hardly a thing yet, social media didn’t exist and if you had told someone you were going to take a “selfie,” they would have looked at you like you were nuts. As much as things have changed, however, there are ironies and coincidences aplenty tying that last Red Devils team to win in the playoffs to the 2017 DCHS squad, who are fresh off a first round playoff upset.

If you’re looking for ties between the two squads separated by over two decades, you need look no further than the Red  Devils’ current head coach, Ryan Buckley. He was a senior and the starting quarterback for that 1995 team, which ultimately lost the championship game in a 13-12 slugfest with bitter rival Custer County.

“It was a tough one,” Buckley recalled of that 1995 championship game. “Miles City had a pretty good team and we had battled those guys for a couple of years. It was fun.”

In his sixth year as head coach of the Red Devils, Buckley has finally brought the Red Devils not only back into the playoffs, but beyond the first round for the first time since he stepped off the field for the last time back in 1995. While he is currently trying to stay focused on preparing for the present — a  long, tough trip to top-ranked Hamilton this Saturday — Buckley said he hasn’t been able to fully escape pondering the serendipity of the moment.

“It means a lot. I’ve kind of thought about that,” Buckley said of the fact he was playing for the Red Devils the last time they won a playoff game. “I’ve kind of tried to stay focused in the now, I guess, but it means a lot.”

It also means a lot to Robbie Dockter, father of current DCHS quarterback Cade Dockter and former teammate of Buckley’s on that 1995 squad. Robbie further noted the coincidental connections between the two teams, adding that Cade’s mother is Buckley’s sister, Amber McPherson.

“It’s very gratifying,” Robbie, who now lives in Conrad, said of seeing his son help lead the Red Devils to their first playoff win since the 1995 season, and their first playoff appearance at all since 1996. “It’s pretty coolbeing back in the playoffs, and, being an alumni, you’re always rooting for them. That never really goes away. DCHS will always be where my heart is when it comes to high school sports.”

Cade recovered Laurel’s last-gasp onside kick attempt at the end of Saturday’s game and then got to take the victory formation kneel-down to close it out, and Robbie said when that happened, he could not have been prouder, not just of his son, but of his alma mater.

“It was a proud moment,” Robbie said. “It was very proud for me because I’ve been there done that, so I know how it felt and now I get to see him do it, and now I know how my parents felt when they were watching me.”

Asked if he sees any similarities between that 1995 team and the 2017 squad, Robbie said he does see some. For one, adding that “I might be biased,” he said the Red Devils have had a solid signal caller running the offense, noting that Buckley was a very good quarterback leading that 1995 team. Cade did have a very efficient night in Laurel, completing 9 out of 11 for 93 yards and a touchdown and adding another 97 yards and a TD on the ground.

Robbie also said the 2017 team’s defense reminds him a lot of the 1995 squad.

“You know, we had a good defense, and the defense (of this team) kind of reminds me of ours,” he said.

Ryan Staiger, another teammate from that 1995 team, also pointed to the interior line play on both sides of the ball as something he sees as similar from this team to that one. And like his other former teammates — he and Robbie even sat together at DCHS’ last home game against Fergus County — he’s ecstatic to see the Red Devils finally break through after their long playoff drought.

“I’m happy as I can be for them, that’s all I know,” Staiger said.

Staiger will be even happier if the Red Devils can travel to Hamilton and knock off the Broncs. That’s not just because he wants to see DCHS keep winning, but because he hopes this Red Devils team can serve the Broncs up a piping cold plate of sweet revenge.

Staiger and Robbie Dockter were both juniors on the 1995 team, so they were seniors on the 1996 team that lost in the first round of the playoffs. That 13-12 loss, in which the Red Devils were the heavily favored team and led 12-0 at halftime, has stuck with them all these years, and they’re hoping the current generation can deliver a little overdue payback.

“I personally don’t like Hamilton,” Staiger said. “They ended a state championship run in baseball for us and they ended probably a football championship run. Hopefully (the current team’s) resolve is a little bit better than ours was and they can get a little payback.”

Robbie has so loathed Hamilton since that 1996 playoff loss that he has refused to ever go back to the town — at least until this weekend.

“I haven’t been back since. Saturday will be my first time back since 1996,” he said.

Beyond hoping they get to relish some sweet revenge, the former players from those 95-96 squads said they are hopeful that this year’s playoff run is just the beginning of something that will be sustained in the years to follow.

“Hopefully maybe the young kids now will want to play football now because they see the team winning, and it’d be nice to have a home playoff game finally,” Staiger said.

Former DCHS Principal Bruce Clausen, who had just started as principal when Buckley and his group were playing – which included Clausen’s son Kevin – and then didn’t get to see the school make another football playoff game for the rest of his career before retiring a couple of years ago, said he is happy to finally see Buckley’s efforts to rebuild the program paying off, further praising this year’s team for lifting themselves beyond so many of their predecessors.

“(Buckley) finally got some kids who stuck their chest out and put their heads up and were ready to go, and that makes a difference,” Clausen said. “I think it’s great. I think it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s about time, we’ve been due for a long time.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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