By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Until last week, Big Sandy High School head football coach Scott Chauvet was pretty sure that the last time the school had played in a state title game was in 1978. He was wrong. That year the Pioneers only made it is as far as the semifinals.
The history lesson aside, Chauvet and his squad decided to write their own chapter of school history by defeating Wibaux 28-20 Saturday in the Class C semifinals in Wibaux to advance to the Class C state championship game. The Pioneers will face Drummond, which defeated Harlowton 42-0, to advance to the title game.
"I guess I was wrong about the last time Big Sandy made it this far," Chauvet said. "The last time was like in 1931, but they didn't have a state championship game, they just finished undefeated. So I guess this is the first football championship Big Sandy has ever been in."
It wasn't an easy task to get to the title game. The Pioneers had to outwork, outhustle and outhit perhaps one of the most physical teams in Class C in the Longhorns. And they had to do it without one of their most physical players for much of the second half.
All-state tight end/defensive end Mason Ophus was ejected in the second half after picking up his second personal foul penalty of the game.
Ophus got his first personal foul in the first half after making a spectacular interception and rumbling 40 yards for a score. On the play, Ophus was flagged for taunting because he held the ball out in a show of emotion as he ran toward the end zone.
"He pulled the ball away from his chest for about half a second," Chauvet said. "I understand the rules and believe that we need them, but that play did not follow the spirit of the rules."
Ophus' touchdown was disallowed and Big Sandy was given the ball at the 10-yard line where the foul occurred.
Big Sandy still scored, as Gage Brumwell plunged across from 1 yard out to give the Pioneers an early lead. But Chauvet would have liked to avoid the negative commotion.
"Mason made one of the best defensive plays I've ever seen since I've been coaching," Chauvet said. "He was just really excited about making a great play in a big game. He isn't the type of kid to taunt people."
Ophus was flagged for his second personal foul early in the second half after a pushing match between him and Wibaux's all-state big man Matt LaBar resulted in double personal foul penalties. According to MHSA rules, a player receiving two personal foul penalties in a game is automatically ejected from the game and suspended for the next game, which is a whole other problem for Chauvet.
"Mason got a little frustrated there," Chauvet said. "He and LaBar were going at it all game and he took quite of few hits right at the whistle. It's not like he punched or kicked someone. The heat of the game got the best of him."
With his biggest player on the sidelines, Chauvet called to timeout to rally his troops.
"We kept using the words 'Band of Brothers,'" he said. "We told them to band together and just do their part."
It would take more than just words to beat a veteran Wibaux team that came into the game winning 43 of its last 45 games. The Longhorns answered Big Sandy's opening score, as quarterback Joe Bakken found Matt LaBar from 6 yards out to tie the game at six.
Big Sandy answered, as running back Skylar Pearson plunged across from 1 yard out and added the two-point conversion run to give Big Sandy a 14-6 halftime lead.
Wibaux came out after halftime and answered with a 1-yard score from Lance Hanson. Wibaux tied the game at 14, as Bakken found LaBar for the two-point conversion.
Big Sandy retook the lead, as Brumwell found Skylar Pearson out of the backfield for a 9-yard touchdown pass. But Wibaux answered immediately. LaBar hauled in a second touchdown pass from Bakken, this time from three yards out with 7:44 remaining in the game. The Longhorns' attempt at a two-point conversion failed, leaving the score tied at 20.
But the Pioneers still had one last drive that culminated with Brumwell scrambling out of a broken option pass play and finding Devin Genereux open in the end zone for the game winning score with 2:48 remaining in the game.
"Gage was a man on a mission," Chauvet said. "He John Elway'd that ball to Devin. There was only like a three-foot space and he threw right it in there. I've never seen him throw a ball so hard. He made some big plays for us. He just played with so much confidence and composure."
Brumwell also stepped in defensively, replacing Ophus at defensive end.
"When Mason went out, Gage stepped in on defense," Chauvet said. "He said he wasn't going to stand around and wait for things to happen."
It was the Big Sandy defense that won the game in the end, stopping a last-minute Wibaux scoring drive.
"Our defense played outstanding," Chauvet said. "They pushed around us a little, but we blitzed a lot and Paul Reishus did a good job of forcing them to run outside to our tacklers. He forced them into doing things they weren't comfortable with."
The outside tacklers responded as Genereux and Alex Thornton each registered over 20 tackles, while Ross Beaudette made several key stops as well.
"Devin makes 22 tackles and I don't think he weighs 140 pounds," Chauvet said. "Alex was running down people from behind and Ross made two or three huge defensive plays at crucial times."
Pearson had 75 hard-earned yards rushing on 23 carries.
Despite the jubilation of the win, there was still a dark cloud overhanging the win. Chauvet is going to appeal Ophus' one-game suspension and hopes he will be available. But the possibility that he won't play is very real.
"It's bittersweet," Chauvet said. "It's the biggest win we've ever had and we're going to the state finals, but we could also be going without one of the main cogs in the wheel of our success."
Big Sandy 6 8 0 14 -28
Wibaux 0 6 8 6 - 20
Big Sandy - Gage Brumwell 1 run (run failed)
Wibaux - Matt LaBar 6 pass from Joe Bakken (run failed)
Big Sandy - Skylar Pearson 1 run (Pearson run)
Wibaux - Lance Hanson 1 run (LaBar pass from Bakken)
Big Sandy - Pearson 9 pass from Brumwell (pass failed)
Wibaux - LaBar 3 pass from Bakken (pass failed)
Big Sandy - Devin Genereux 7 pass from Brumwell (Paul Reishus run)