BIG SANDY — The Big Sandy Pioneers were not going to let another shot at a state title slip through their grasp. They had their hearts broken the last three years in the Six-Man semifinals, but finally cleared the hurdle that has ended their season prematurely too many times before.
Saturday in Big Sandy, the Pioneers hosted the Valier Panthers in the Class C Six-Man semifinals. And while it took one period of overtime to settle the score, the Pioneers escaped with the 38-32 victory. The Pioneers improved to 10-1 on the season, while the win also avenged the one regular season loss by Big Sandy. This weekend’s trip to the state title game in Hot Springs will also be their first championship berth since 2003.
“They have worked hard for the last four years,” Big Sandy head coach Greg King said. “The kids were finally able to break through.
“It was only a two-point game last time,” Big Sandy’s Trevor Lackner added. “So we knew it would be close again.”
With six minutes left in regulation, everybody in attendance had to be thinking the same thing, not again, not another semifinal loss.
After three quarters were in the books, the Pioneers held a slim, 26-24 lead. But Cody Berg earned his second score of the afternoon and put the Panthers ahead 32-26 after getting into the endzone on a 29-yard pass from Clint Christiaens.
But the Pioneers quickly answered with a score of their own. On the ensuing kickoff, Lackner finally got his chance in the return game, and tied the score at 32-32 with a 74-yard return for a TD with 5:57 still left in the game.
For the remainder of the fourth quarter the Pioneers played outstanding defense. Valier had two more drives, but turned the ball over on downs and was forced to punt. The Pioneers didn’t fare much better as they had the same results on their two final drives of regulation.
Once in overtime, the Pioneer defense came through again. The Panthers failed to score on four straight passing plays and turned the ball over to Big Sandy. The Pioneers, typically not a passing team, didn’t make that mistake with their opportunity. On first down the Pioneers had
an incomplete pass. On second down, Jessey Bailey rushed for two yards. And on third down, another incomplete pass left the Pioneers’ drive looking less than promising. But on fourth down, needing 13-yards and a score to seal the win, the Pioneers looked as poised as ever on a drop back pass. Lackner did have to dodge two Panther blitzers, but on the run, he was able to connect with Bailey in the corner of the end zone for the score and the win.
“I was scared,” Bailey said. “And I didn’t know what was going to happen. I honestly didn’t know Trevor threw it to me until I turned around and saw it. I just grabbed it and hoped I could hold on. I was really scared, it was probably the scariest moment I have ever had.
“Trevor just told us ‘block for me, block for me, block for me.’” Kaden Beck said. “If we didn’t, that pass would not have happened, but it was a nail biter for us all. We had to focus, and talking was the big thing. We had to let each other know who was blocking who.”
But while Bailey was nervous, Lackner was confident his offense had what it takes to execute a risky play call. After leaning on the running game all afternoon, late in the game the Pioneers used the pass instead. Seven of the last eight plays by the Pioneers were passing plays.
“They (Panthers) send a lot of blitzers,” Lackner said. “So that typically leaves man-to-man coverage. But we are quick enough that we can beat them in man-to-man, and my receivers are smart enough to spread out and find the open space.”
Big Sandy got off to a hot start, leading 13-0 after the first quarter. But being outscored 16-6, the Pioneers’ lead was narrowed to 19-16 at the half. The Panthers added eight more points in the third quarter, while the Pioneers scored seven in the same frame.
Bailey paced the Pioneers with four touchdowns, as well as rushing for 260 yards on 48 carries. Bailey scored on a two-yard run, a nine-yard run, a 46-yard run, and on the game winning 11-yard reception in overtime. Zac Leader also scored on a 52-yard interception, while Lackner’s kick return also got the Pioneers on the scoreboard.
A very busy Beck also led the Big Sandy defense in the pass rush. He was typically the only Pioneer to blitz Christiaens, but was key in making sure he was rarely set before passing the ball.
“We were trying to give up the short pass and take away the deep,” King said. “Kaden Beck had a great game and kept getting back there. He may not have recorded a sack, but he was half a step away one time, a quarter of a step away the next time, and would get finger tips on the quarterback the next time. But that pressure made Christiaens move all the time, and Kaded really did what we needed him to do.”
The Pioneers proved they deserved the hype they have received all season long. With the win, they will now face Hot Springs on the road with the state title on the line. They will kick off at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Hot Springs.
On to State!
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Big Sandy 38, Valier 32, OT
Valier 0 16 8 8 0 – 32
Big Sandy 13 6 7 6 6 – 38
BS — Jessey Bailey 2 run (run failed)
BS — Zac Leader 52 interception return (Jessey Bailey run)
VAL — Justin Sullivan 25 pass from Clint Christiaens (Chase Durnell kick)
VAL — Cody Berg 5 run (Chase Durnell kick)
BS — Jessey Bailey 9 run (pat failed)
VAL — Justin Sullivan 1 run (Chase Drunell kick);
BS — Jessey Bailey 46 run (Jessey Bailey pass from Trevor Lackner)
VAL — Cody Berg 29 pass from Clint Christiaens (Chase Durnell kick)
BS — Trevor Lackner 74 kickoff return (pat failed)
BS — Jessey Bailey 11 pass from Trevor Lackner.