Taking a look at the season the Big Sandy Pioneers have had to this point, it is nothing short of great. But with one game left to be played in all of Class C Six-Man football, the Pioneers have a shot at finishing the 2012 season in the best possible way, as state champions.
But a win on Saturday w
on’t be an easy task for the 10-1 Pioneers, as they face an 11-0 Hot Springs squad in Hot Springs. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
The Savage Heat have quickly become one of the top programs in all of Six-Man football since dropping out of a Class B co-op two years ago. They are currently undefeated, and are more than ready to host their first ever state title game against a very talented Pioneers squad.
"Big Sandy is a great football team," Hot Springs head coach Jim Lawson said. "They have a real strong tradition there. They are a big, strong team, and we haven't seen a team like that this season.
"Big Sandy has a really strong run game, with a couple of really big, physical running backs," he added. "So it's going to be very important for us to try and stop that. But then again, they also have a lot of really good athletes and a quarterback who can hurt you by throwing the ball. So we're going to have a big challenge ahead of us trying to stop them."
But when looking at what both teams have to offer this season, it looks like the Pioneers are in a similar boat.
They know exactly what they are up against this weekend, they know they have to make some big stops, and they know that is definitely easier said than done. The Savage Heat can crush a team if the opposition is not properly prepared, as the defense has pitched three shutouts this season, while the offense has racked up nearly 70 points per game. The offense has also put up at least 80 points on four separate occasions, while earning a grand total of 760 points this season.
“We knew Hot Springs would be a tough team this year,” Big Sandy head coach Greg King said. “And they were always in the back of our minds as we looked at the papers to see where other teams were at. We can’t have any turnovers. We have to play a clean game and force them to make the turnovers, whether it is throwing the ball away or putting the ball on the ground. This will come down to who has the cleanest game, and we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties.”
Hot Springs has found great success in their balanced offense, and King and the Pioneers know they have to make the Savage Heat one sided if at all possible.
And as scary as the Savage Heat running game is, Big Sandy likes their chances more if they can force Hot Springs to rely more on the ground game and less on the big plays through the air. The running attack is led by seniors Mike Gray (5-9, 165) and Wyatt Nagy (5-11, 165) both who have rushed for over 1,000 yards this season.
Sophomore quarterback Tanner Hoff (6-1, 185) has thrown for over 2,000 yards this season, and has 31 TD’s. But with his caliber of targets, it is easy to see where those numbers come from. Dave Cross is a monster target for Hoff at tight end, and catches a lot of balls with a 6-3, 210-pound frame. Lane Foster (5-11, 200) and wide receiver Nate Gray also add to the pass and catch arsenal.
“I would say they (Heat) are half and half,” King said. “They like to run the ball a lot, but they also go to the air and like to spread it out. Hopefully we can breakdown on defense and make some tackles. But we can hold our own if it turns into a run battle. We just want to pound the ball and keep going the way we know how. But the defense has to make sure to wrap kids up and bring them down. If you miss tackles it will be a quick six points for them, so we have to wrap up and hold on for dear life.”
Trevor Lackner (6-1, 165) and Zac Leader (6-2, 175) have grabbed several interceptions this season for the Pioneers, and their presence could be just what is needed to limit the Savage Heat passing game. But Kaden Beck (6-1, 265) will also be a defensive factor for the Pioneers. Beck is typically the lone pass rusher against teams attempting to thrive through the air, and he does his job well. Though he didn’t record a sack last weekend, he was relentless when it cam to hurrying and affecting the Valier passing attack last weekend.
But on offense for the Pioneers, senior running back Jessey Bailey (6-0, 200) is no stranger to the end zone. As the perfect example of a workhorse, he helped lead the Pioneers to a win last weekend over Valier by racking up 267 yards on 50 carries. Bailey also scored three rushing TD’s and one TD through the air, including the game-winner in overtime.
The Pioneers may also look to take to the air if they have to as well.
Lackner completed just seven passes for 59 yards last weekend, but threw the game winning TD in overtime. Bailey has been a reliable target, while Lane Martin and Leader also get looks in the passing attack. But however the Pioneer choose to play moving forward, they will be doing so against a defense that has allowed only four teams to score more than nine points this season. And with the size and speed of the Hot Springs’ defenders, Lackner may be scrambling more than he would like.
“We always have the passing game in our back pocket to bring out if we need to,” King said. “The passing attack is always an option for us. And it is always a goal of our to get Trevor a few more seconds when he drops back to pass. But it we can’t do that, we will look to capitalize on the short passes, and work the ball up the field that way.”
Big Sandy lives and dies through the ground game, but it has led to one of the best seasons in the programs recent history.
And the Pioneers’ schedule should have them as ready as they could be for this weekend’s matchup. The schedule presented the Pioneers with a very tough road, including playoff wins over teams like Lone Peak, Westby/Grenora and most recently, Valier.
“We have had some good games,” King said. “And this playoff run has been tough. We ended the season with a couple of tough games, but hopefully we can just keep building towards the next one, and get a win this weekend. The kids think this is a great thing and they think this is a great opportunity to have.”
The Pioneers will face the Savage Heat at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Hot Springs, both teams playing for the Class C 6-Man state title.
For all the marbles
Big Sandy at Hot Springs
Saturday, 1 p.m.
in Hot Springs
Live Coverage from Hot Springs with the Havre Daily News
Radio: 101.3. KRYK
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