Back in the 18th century, before architects had the means to build bridges and tunnels and other modern ways to traverse mountains, they had to use brute force. They had to go right through them — with an axe.
Problem was, they never knew how long it might take. Three days? Three months? Those people had no way of knowing how close they were, no way of knowing the measurements of the mountain, so they plunged right in. They had no other option.
“That’s been our mantra for the past year,” Bonneville football coach Kevin Kempf said. “Like, ‘Listen. I don’t know if we’re 300 feet away from daylight or if we’re three feet. All I know to do is keep swinging that freakin’ axe.’ So that’s what we’re doing.”
Kempf may not be a historian, but as the head coach of a Bees team that just followed five straight losses to open the season with their first win last week, he sure knows how to use an analogy.
For Bonneville, which will host Hillcrest at 7 p.m. Friday in the annual “Civil War” — named that way because the teams share a venue, Thunder Stadium — the metaphor fits perfectly. The Bees’ win over Shelley last week was their first in nearly two calendar years. The following year, in 2020, Bonneville trudged through a winless season. Kempf has prioritized a culture change, getting more kids out for the team, but it hasn’t led to a winning season, not yet at least.
But Kempf can see things slowly beginning to change. Bonneville may come into this rivalry game at 1-5, but for the most part, the Bees have stayed competitive in losses. Bonneville’s loss to Century was a 15-13 decision. One score separated the Bees in a loss to Preston. Then, just last week, Bonneville took down Shelley, which was unbeaten and ranked second in Class 4A.
“We have known that we’re a much better football team than our record shows,” Kempf said. “I’ve said this a thousand times, but losing is contagious. And so is winning. I think we were on a 16-game losing streak, and I’m telling you, it has been a grind to get that first win. Our kids have just been working their butts off.”
On that front, Kempf has taken some initiative. When he took over last year, he noticed something startling: The team didn’t really lift weights. The Bees were losing to teams who did. “We’re just getting outmatched by kids who are bigger, stronger, faster than us,” Kempf said. So he got his team in the gym. Now, he sees somewhere between 70-80 players in there daily.
“We’re not slowing down just because we’re in season,” Kempf said. “Our kids are lifting hard all through the season, and will continue to in the offseason.”
Meanwhile, Hillcrest doesn’t know what to prepare for, not exactly. When the team has sat down to watch film, head coach Brennon Mossholder said, the Bees have shown lots of different looks. Some weeks, they’ve run a spread attack. Against Shelley, they ran most things under center. Even the Bees’ defense, Mossholder said, has morphed to match each opponent.
“And it being a rivalry game, you never know what tricks they have up their sleeve,” Mossholder said. “We are preparing for the unexpected, I guess you could say.”
The Knights have had better seasons. In the first year of the Mossholder era, Hillcrest has gotten off to an 0-6 start, including two shutouts on offense. The schedule hasn’t exactly been kind to Hillcrest — three of its first four games came against 5A powers — but the club hasn’t fared much better against conference foes. Actually, in terms of score, the best game the Knights have played was against Shelley, a 21-19 loss.
Mossholder credits a lot of his team’s rough season to inexperience. Hillcrest rosters just 10 seniors. The rest of the team features enough sophomores to populate a small village — one quarterback, four linemen, two receivers, a tight end, all starters.
“It’s no wonder we’re struggling to move the ball on offense,” Mossholer said. “But it’s not for a lack of effort or for a lack of motivation. I think this week is just a little extra special.”
In truth, that’s what brings these two struggling clubs together. In the middle of two disappointing seasons, this is each team’s Super Bowl, a way to find solace where little exists. Maybe a better metaphor would be an oasis in a desert. Well, no — let’s let Kempf fill in.
“It was a breakthrough on that mountain. We see some daylight now,” Kempf said, referring to his team’s win last week. “We’ve got to keep swinging that axe and make that hole a little bigger, get a little better, and see where this thing goes.”