By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The one thing you don't want to do against the J-I High School football team is fall behind. Behind a punishing ground attack, the Rams ate up yardage and time of possession in a 54-30 win over the Box Elder Bears on Wednesday afternoon in Box Elder.
With the win, the Rams improved to 5-3 on the season and moved a step closer to clinching a Northern six-man playoff spot. Box Elder fell to 4-4 and will need some teams to get knocked off to get a precious playoff spot.
"We still have to beat Brady next weekend," said J-I head coach Bruce Beaudry. "But this is definitely the right step toward it."
Make no mistake, the J-I offense isn't ground-bound. The Rams scored two of their eight touchdowns through the air. But after taking a 22-point lead, J-I was more than happy to grind out yards on the ground while keeping Box Elder's big-play offense off the field.
"It was huge for us to control the ball," Beaudry said. "We wanted to win the physical part of the game early on. They can score so quickly, it was important to run some clock. It forces them to make big plays in less time."
J-I wasn't without its fair share of big plays. The Rams opened the game with a 16-yard touchdown run from John Wolery to grab a 7-0 lead.
Box Elder answered in the second quarter with a 1-yard plunge from James Burns. The point after was blocked, leaving the Bears trailing 7-6.
Wolery and the Rams answered in a big way. The junior running back hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Zach Ramberg and broke off a 24-yard TD run to build the lead to 21-6. J-I added another score on its ensuing possession as Craig Miller hooked up with Ramberg for a 5-yard scoring strike.
Box Elder finally broke a big play as Burns took a short pass from Tyler Henry and weaved through the J-I defense for a 53-yard score.
But any momentum from the score was lost as J-I and Wolery scored again, this time from 13 yards out, with a minute remaining in the half.
Trailing 35-12 going into halftime wasn't exactly how Box Elder head coach Dave Nelson had wanted the game to begin. But he wasn't giving up on his team.
"We've been behind before and we've come back," Nelson said. "We weren't playing very well and we knew we could do some things against them."
Just four days earlier, Box Elder was trailing 34-22 at the half against a tough Augusta squad and rallied to win 42-40. And it appeared the Bears had a little more magic left.
Box Elder opened the second half with back-to-back scores as Neal Rosette connected with J.R. Rosette and Tyler Henry on 24- and 38-yard scoring passes, trimming the lead to 35-24.
It appeared that Box Elder would get a chance for a third consecutive score and gain even more momentum as Ramberg lost the ball on the Bear 3-yard line. The Bears recovered the loose ball, but officials ruled that Ramberg was down before the fumble.
"That was a tough break," Nelson said. "Momentum-wise it would have been huge."
Instead, Ramberg plunged across on the next play, to add some insurance points.
Down three scores, Box Elder was forced to try and score quickly. However, J-I's defense made enough plays to get the ball back and J-I grounded out the clock behind Wolery, who scored two more times to run his total to six touchdowns on the day.
"John had a big day for us," Beaudry said. "We lost our other running back Matt Tempel in the first half and John stepped up for us."
Said Nelson: "They really burned up a lot of time running the football. We didn't have our offense on the field a lot."
Nelson was obviously disappointed following the game. Box Elder, whose program is relatively new, might have missed out on its first opportunity at postseason play.
"I'm disappointed because we didn't play as well as we usually do," he said. "In a big game like this, you hope your team plays its best football. We didn't do that. We missed five extra points which cost us 10 points alone."
While J-I can cement its playoff spot with a win, Box Elder must beat a struggling Brockton squad and then get a little help.
"It just depends on what happens next weekend," Nelson said. "There is a logjam for that last playoff spot. We'll have to wait and see how everything unfolds."
Big Sandy 56, Valier 12
The Big Sandy Pioneers continued to dominate the Northern C with a 56-12 waxing of Valier in Big Sandy.
Skylar Pearson scored five rushing touchdowns, including four in the first quarter, to keep the Pioneers undefeated on the season.
Pearson rushed for 230 yards on 25 carries while teammate Gage Brumwell rushed for 114 yards on just six carries and scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Adam Jesperson led Big Sandy defensively with 10 tackles and three interceptions.
Big Sandy 8-0 on the season is tied with Belt atop the Northern C. However, since both teams don't play each other this year, a coin flip decided the seeding for the playoffs.
The Pioneers won the coin toss and will host Chester in first-round playoff action on Oct. 24.
Chester 76, Heart Butte 0
The Chester Coyotes barely broke a sweat in a 76-0 trouncing of Heart Butte in Heart Butte.
Chester scored 11 touchdowns in the game including a pair of punt returns for touchdowns by Patrick Walstad.
Quarterback Kevin May threw three touchdown passes - two to Patrick Wicks - while Jeff Thompson rushed for a pair of scores.
Blue Sky/KG 45, Sunburst 20
The Blue Sky/KG Eagles capped off the 2003 season with a 45-20 win at Sunburst.
Kaare Engebretson ran for two touchdowns and caught a 40-yard scoring pass from Jeremiah Moog to lead Blue Sky/KG.
The Eagles also got rushing touchdowns from Marshall Warren, Levi Wendland and Moog in the game.
Engebretson scored all three of his touchdowns in the first half as the Eagles jumped out to a 24-6 halftime lead and never looked back.
The win gave the Eagles a 4-4 record on the season.
Brady 65, Rocky Boy 18
The Brady Bulldogs scored a whopping 45 points in the first quarter to cruised to a 65-18 win in Rocky Boy.
Aaron Sparks caught four touchdowns passed from Matt Tranmer, and Chad Stevenson caught two more in the decisive first quarter.
Tranmer threw four eight touchdowns on the day and returned an interception for another.
Rocky Boy got scoring runs from Kyle Windy Boy and Bill Watson. Watson also connected with Garret DeMontiney on a 23-yard scoring pass.
Malta 33, Chinook 8
The Chinook Sugarbeeters ended their season on a sour note with a 33-8 loss to the Malta Mustangs in Chinook.
Mustang quarterback Kenneth Reichelt threw three touchdown passes - two to Bo Stiles - in the win.
Malta cruised to a 33-0 lead before Chinook finally got on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter as Kelan Broadhead scored from one yard out.
Chinook finished the season with a 2-6 record.