BIG SANDY - In the game of football a lot depends on how a team starts, and in state playoff action, the Big Sandy Pioneers saw that first hand.
Saturday in Big Sandy, the Northern C Pioneers hosted the Eastern C Savage Warriors in a Class C Six-Man state semifinal matchup. But suffering a 41-38 loss, the Pioneers' impressive season came to an end.
The postseason loss was only the second loss of the season for the young Pioneers. And competing in the state semifinal game was big accomplishment for the Pioneers team that head coach Greg King said nobody was expecting anything from.
“After losing all the guys that we lost last year,” King said. “The expectations people had for this team weren’t very high. But we had high expectations for them, and the kids knew what they wanted to do. We were one game away from what our goals were.”
Big Sandy played another good game overall, but it was a slow start that ultimately resulted in the season-ending loss.
To start the game the Pioneers turned the ball over on downs, while the Warriors scored a touchdown on their ensuing drive to go up 6-0. The Pioneers then turned the ball over via interception on their next drive that resulted in a 30-yard return and score. In the first quarter the Warriors went up 14-0 with over six minutes still on the clock.
“In that first quarter we had trouble passing the ball,” King said. “And then the defense didn’t step up and play the way they should have. Giving them a big cushion right off the bat is a big no-no.
“It was really big for us to get on the board early and keep our foot on the gas,” Savage head coach Bart Haflich added. “But we made some mistakes that we haven’t made all year long. We haven’t turned the ball over since the first game of the season, and we did here twice. But not taking anything away from Big Sandy, they are a solid team. But it was huge to get that little cushion early.”
After trailing 14-0, the Warriors kept up their offensive production. They scored another touchdown in the opening frame and took a 20-6 lead heading into the second quarter. The Pioneers first-quarter score came from Dallas Briese on a 36-yard pass from Trevor Lackner. The rest of the game the Pioneers chipped away at the Warriors lead, and in the remaining minutes, the Pioneers even had a chance at claiming the win.
In the second quarter the Pioneers outscored the Warriors 14-13 and trailed 33-20 at the half. And in the third quarter the Pioneers outscored the Warriors 6-0 to lower the gap to 33-26.
In the fourth quarter, the Pioneers had their opportunities.
Savage began the final frame with a 16-yard touchdown pass and catch, their final score of the game. But trailing 41-26, the Pioneers still had a lot of fight in them. With 5:32 left in the game Lackner scored on a 14-yard scramble to cut the deficit to 41-32. On the ensuing kickoff, the Pioneers recovered the onside kick, but failed to convert the opportunity into a score. With 3:10 left to play the Pioneers also got a turnover, as Justin Stevens recovered a Savage fumble, but yet again the Pioneers failed to convert. Instead, the Pioneers were forced into a turnover of their own with another interception.
“We don’t see much man-to-man up here,” King said. “Our guys were open for a couple steps but we couldn’t get the ball to them. There was some pressure that forced the turnovers, but there were also just some bad passes. A turnover is a turnover, it doesn’t matter how it happens.”
The Pioneers put themselves in good situations to win, but just couldn’t convert. They fought all game long, and even put up another score late in the game with a 51-yard Ryan Miller TD catch.
“That shows a lot about this team.” King said. “We had one other loss to Valier and our guys played a whole game there. We finished the year with some tough games, but we stepped up and we played. We have a lot of young kids and it’s good for them to have these kind of games.”
Lackner and Miller led the Pioneers’ offense.
Lackner finished 13-of-24 passing for 291 yards and four touchdowns. But on the flip side, he also threw three interceptions. Miller scored twice for the Pioneers and rushed for 139 yards on 24 carries.
While Big Sandy's dream season ended in the semifinals, and with a 9-2 overall record, the Warriors will play for the Six-Man state championship at home this Saturday against top-ranked Denton. The Trojans (11-0), the defending Six-Man champions beat Hysham 47-26 in Saturday's other semifinal. The Warriors will host Denton Saturday at 1 p.m. in Savage.