If he wanted to, Riverdale football coach Dan Wilson could complain every week about the perpetual uphill struggle that his team faces. Instead, Wilson would rather focus on what it will take for his team to win its final three regular-season games and make the playoffs.
But that too will be an uphill battle for a team that had just 22 players suit down for last Friday's 28-0 loss to Rainier. In some respects, it was a moral victory for the Mavericks (1-5 overall), who were outsized at just about every position. Even Rainier's ball carriers were bigger than most of Riverdale's linemen.
'It's tough,' Wilson said of the size discrepancy. 'Our middle linebacker is probably only a 175-pound kid, and he's out-weighed by (Rainier's) running backs.
'It makes it tough, physically, to compete. So, we've got to be right on all of the time.'
Unfortunately, the Mavericks weren't 'right on' very often against Rainier. But the played with enough energy and desire to keep the game close for approximately three quarters. With a break or two, this game could have gone down to the wire.
But the Mavs hurt their chances by committing six penalties and turning the ball over four times. Two of those turnovers led directly to touchdowns by the visiting Columbians. Without that help from the host team, Rainier wouldn't have been able to relax until the end, if at all.
For a while, it looked like Riverdale might score first. Late in the first quarter, the Mavericks put together an impressive drive, thanks largely to some strong runs by Curtis Brooks and Marshall Fettig and then Evan Peterson's 38-yard run that took Riverdale deep into Rainier territory. Then, on third down, Peterson barely missed making a great diving catch in the end zone on a pass from Kane Henderson.
Wilson then decided to go for it on fourth down, but Rainier immediately got the ball back when Henderson was sacked for a four-yard loss.
And Rainier responded by scoring the game's first touchdown - on an 11-yard run by Austin McGlone - six plays later.
The Mavericks then added to their heartbreak by fumbling the ball away on their next offensive play. Fortunately for Riverdale, that miscue didn't lead to another Rainier score. But it did put the Mavericks in a difficult situation in the battle for field position.
It didn't help Riverdale's cause much when the Mavs fumbled away a punt two series later. This time, though, the Columbians didn't squander the opportunity as quarterback Bobby Harding negotiated the final three yards to give Rainier a 12-0 lead just before halftime.
'Except for two mistakes, it's probably 0-0 at half,' Wilson said.
In the third quarter, Riverdale appeared to be winning the battle for field position, at least for a while. The highlight in that regard came midway through the third quarter when John Ratto uncorked a 35-yard punt that rolled dead at the Rainier 7.
Supposedly, the Mavericks' defense had Rainier right where they wanted them - with their backs pinned to their own goal line. But it didn't turn out to be much of an advantage as McGlone rambled for a 93-yard touchdown on the next play. That made the score 20-0.
Any chance the Mavericks had of turning the game around seemed to disappear on the following series, which ended with an interception by the Columbians. Five plays later, Rainier was in the end zone again, this time on a five-yard run by Harding.
On the surface, it appeared to be a humbling loss that Rainier handed the Mavericks. But some Riverdale faithful were worried that the outcome would be even more lopsided.
'(Rainier) is a good team,' Wilson said. 'Frankly, we were a little worried that it might be worse.'
Because of a lack of depth, the Mavericks are at a distinct disadvantage almost every time this step on the field. Ironically, the 22 players who suited down last Friday represented the team's biggest turnout of the season, Wilson said.
So, the Mavericks can ill-afford to lose anybody, which is something that started happening even before the team had played a game.
'We've had a couple of injuries and a few defections,' the coach said. 'And some of them were before the season even started. We had some that we planned on starting and they didn't even come back to school here.'
With an enrollment of approximately 225 students, Riverdale should be playing at the 2A level, but the Mavericks were allowed to play at the 3A level because of the school's plan to add about 100 students over the next two years. In the interim, the team might have to take its lumps on occasion.
'It's tough,' Wilson said of the situation. 'It's a disadvantage for sure.'
Even with the lack of size and the sparse numbers, Wilson figured Riverdale would have a good chance of making it to the post-season this fall.
'Honestly, we thought we would make it to the playoffs this season,' the coach said. 'We still have a chance, but we have to go 3-0 from this point.'
That won't be easy because Riverdale's next opponent is Clatskanie, a team that is comparable to Rainier.
'Clatskanie is going to be a lot bigger than we are. Probably relative to (Rainier),' Wilson noted. 'And they were a powerful team last year. They just ran right over us.'
But Wilson isn't about to give up on his team, especially after seeing how hard they played against Rainier.
'We can definitely beat these other teams that we're going to play. But we've got to show up,' the coach said.