WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — The Hot Springs Savage Heat are back after a year-long hiatus.
In 2016, Hot Springs dominated the rest of 6-Man football on its way to its second 6-Man title in school history. Due to enrollment numbers, Hot Springs was set to go up to the 8-Man level. However, record-setting tailback Trevor Paro and his classmates graduated in the spring, leaving a massive void in the Savage Heat roster.
Hot Springs ultimately forfeited its entire 8-Man varsity schedule in 2017, opting to play a junior varsity schedule in the 8-Man ranks due to a lack of numbers. The Savage Heat have returned to the 6-Man classification this fall where they feel right at home.
“Obviously, we want to play football. We played some JV games in 8-Man and got what we could out of it, but ultimately this is where we want to be playing,” Hot Springs head coach Jim Lawson said.
The program appears to have not skipped a beat in the year off from 6-Man. Hot Springs traveled to White Sulphur Springs last weekend where they took on a talented and experienced Hornets team. White Sulphur Springs returns five starters from last year’s team that lost in the semifinals of the playoffs.
Although Hot Springs fell just short in the final seconds, losing 20-18 after a missed two-point kick attempt, the Savage Heat sent a subtle reminder that they’re to be considered among 6-Man’s best teams.
“I think, being as we played them so closely and I feel like the game could have went either way, it puts us right up there with them,” Lawson said. “I know we take the loss and I give (White Sulphur Springs) a lot of credit, but I think we’re right up there with them. And they’re going to be up there with the tops teams in the state.”
“They were looking forward to this game,” Lawson said of the Hot Springs players. “Just having a big game like this early in the season and get tested and see what they can do and where they’re going to be at, they’ve been excited.”
Hot Springs is still thin in numbers — just nine players suited up against White Sulphur Springs – so injuries could derail things quickly. But four of those nine had substantial playing time on Hot Springs’ 2016 title team.
That core group has continued the culture of success in Hot Springs, even during the year away from varsity competition. Lawson said the commitment of the kids training on the field and in the weight room never wavered.
Even in a tough 6-Man West division, Lawson is confident his Hot Springs squad can find its way to the playoffs. While Lawson admitted the West is wide open and should be more competitive than people realize, he expects the Savage Heat to be playing in November.
“We want to be competitive and we expect to be. The kids expect it, everybody does,” Lawson said.
Hot Springs (1-1 overall, 0-1 conference) faces another stiff test Friday, hosting West Yellowstone (2-0, 2-0)