Both frustration and determination radiated from the St. Dominic high school visiting locker room as the Tolton football players left the field disappointed once again.
A grueling week of practice had just given way to yet another blowout loss for the struggling team, now 0-4 on the season.
But while the 50-28 final score might tell one story, the minutes played tell another to the Tolton coaches and players.
“I’ve got to commend all of the guys in the locker room,” Trailblazers’ coach Michael Egnew said. “I really thought that this was the first game that they really, really played hard all four quarters and gave me a whole game. The score doesn’t show how well the guys played.”
Friday’s explosive second half was a major improvement compared to last week’s sluggish late-game performance.
Quarterback Gabe Pfenenger recorded a touchdown in the third quarter and wide receiver C.J. Campbell made two trips to the end zone in a fourth-quarter rally.
“Our coach always tells us to have a ‘dog mentality,’ and that just sticks with me,” Campbell said. “To me, it means never stopping, always being on the ball ready to play for your brothers, always competing.”
The game’s first half was not short on excitement, either.
On offense, running back Connor Fogue burst through the Crusader defense to score the first touchdown of the night and give Tolton its first, and only, lead of the game.
Defensively, the Trailblazers struggled to contain St. Dominic running back Tyler Mersnick and wide receiver Jackson Dearing, who had three and two of the seven Crusader touchdowns, respectively.
Nearly back-to-back interceptions by Tolton defensive back Dylan Block served as the silver lining for the Trailblazer’s defensive performance.
“Dylan did an excellent job on defense,” Egnew said. “I just wish we could’ve capitalized offensively on those plays.”
Combating injuries and the continuing struggle of having players assuming both offensive and defensive roles, the team will once again have its work cut out for it in preparing for next week’s game.
Practice will be spent focusing on the red-zone run game and bringing a “fire” to the defensive line, Egnew said, as well as developing what “went right” against St. Dominic.
However, the most important priority going into next Friday will be maintaining the same level of intensity.
“I told them, ‘Don’t look at the scoreboard; look at the effort you guys gave,’” Egnew said. “‘Understand that you gave good effort, and that’s how you play football.’ I saw some things happen that I was extremely proud of and I want them to understand that the way they played was a lot better than the score shows.”
Egnew’s advice has seemed to stick with the players, and regardless of the game’s final outcome, Tolton’s mentality remains unscathed.
The confidence and positivity of the players and coaches in spite of what could be a disheartening series of losses continue to be driving forces for the Trailblazers.
“I feel like the team is just improving every week,” Block said. “We played a whole four-quarter game today, and you can tell we’re on the verge of breaking things open.”
The Trailblazers return to the field at 7 p.m. on Friday when they travel to St. Louis to battle the Cardinal Ritter Lions.