The Big Sandy Pioneers are hoping a change of venue, and the third time will be a charm.
On Saturday afternoon, the No. 3 Pioneers (9-1) travel to Savage to take on the second-ranked Savage Warriors (9-1) in a Class C Six-Man semifinal football game. The winner of Saturday’s game will meet either Denton on Geraldine-Highwood for the Six-Man state title next weekend.
Saturday is a rematch of last year’s Six-Man semifinal and it’s the third game in what's become a historic trilogy between the Pioneers and warriors over the last year.
Big Sandy quarterback Trevor Lackner rolls out during a Class C Six-Man playoff game last month in Big Sandy.
Last November, Savage outlasted Big Sandy 41-38 in the semifinals on Big Sandy’s home field. The two teams met again in Big Sandy back in September with the Warriors again coming out on top, 58-21 in the second week of the regular season.
But though Big Sandy has yet to solve the riddle against one of Montana’s highest-scoring football teams, Pioneers head coach Greg King likes his chances on Saturday.
“We were without two key players the first time we played them this year,” King said of Big Sandy’s loss to the Warriors in September. “So now we’re at full strength and hopefully that can make a difference for us.
“They (Warriors) are a good team and we know that,” he added. “But I’m happy with the way we’re playing right now too.”
As in the two previous meetings, defense will likely win the day. Both Big Sandy and Savage house powerful offense with versatile quarterbacks and stout running attacks. Both also come into the semifinals rolling offensively. Big Sandy crushed Hysham 47-6 in the first round of the playoffs, then steamrolled Fromberg-Roberts 56-7 in last week’s quarterfinal in Big Sandy. The warriors belted Valier 92-8 in the first round two weeks ago, then dispatched Hot Springs 75-30 last Saturday.
The Pioneers are led on offense by quarterback Trevor Lackner, who’s equally adept at running and passing. Lackner likes to throw to the running backs too. Jessey Bailey and Justin Stevens both get ample carries out of the backfield but both players are quality receiving targets. Linemen Kaden Beck and Colter Darlington are more good targets catching the ball for the Pioneers.
And while Big Sandy’s offense has proven explosive in their current eight-game winning streak, the Warriors are down-right scary. Despite losing three key players to graduation a season ago, Savage averages 58 points per game, which is second only to two-time defending state champion Denton. The Pioneers are the third-highest scoring Six-Man team at 45 points per game.
But it’s Big Sandy’s defense which can vault the Pioneers into the state title game Saturday. Big Sandy must stop Savage running back Chris Reynolds first. Reynolds is having a record-setting season, rushing for nearly 1,500 yards. But, as they’ve done to the Pioneer twice before, the warriors can throw it with veteran quarterback Shad Stanford. Reynolds is Stanford’s favorite target, but lineman Braden Lar is a big target in the passing game.
In order for the Pioneers to be successful, they must find a way to slow down the warriors, and it’s certainly possible. Stevens, Bailey, Beck and Lane Martin have all been defensive stalwarts this season, as has Darlington Dallas Briese. Lackner anchors the Pioneer secondary. Aside from their loss to the Warriors, the Pioneers have only allowed one team to score 20 points all season long – and that was against Heart Butte when Big Sandy played backups for much of the second half. In wins over Terry, Stanford-Geyser, Augusta, Valier, Geraldine-Highwood and their two playoff games, the Pioneer defense is yielding just nine points per game, which is unheard of in Six-Man football.
The ability to play that kind of defense could be what finally gets the Pioneers over the hump and into the Six-Man state championship game.
“It’s going to be a great game again,” King said. “It’s a big challenge for our defense. But I really like the way we’re playing defensively the last two weeks.
“It’s exciting to be in this position again,” he added. “It’s going to be a really good game.”
Saturday’s Six-man semifinal between the Pioneers and Warriors will kick off at 1 p.m. in Savage. The winner advances to the state title game next Saturday.