HOT SPRINGS — The competition and talent level in the state football playoffs is a huge step up compared to the regular season. But the competition and talent level in the state championship game, that's as good as it gets.
And the Class C Six-Man title game, the Big Sandy Pioneers found that out the hard way .
The Pioneers earned their way into the state chipper for the first time since the 2003 season, but fell hard to a very talented Hot Springs Savage Heat team Saturday in Hot Springs. The Savage Heat defeated the Pioneers 77-0, the most lopsided championship win in the 31 years of Six-Man football in Montana. The Savage Heat finished the season 12-0, while the Pioneers finished the season with an overall record of 10-2, and as the No. 2 team in the state.
“The last two years we were stopped a week earlier,” Big Sandy head coach Greg King said. “So yeah, being here was an accomplishment, it took a lot to get to this week. I think if we could have gotten points on the board, maybe they would have gotten down somewhat, and we could have gotten more excited. You would like to think things could have turned out a little bit different, but you never know.
“This was amazing to get this chance,” senior running back Jessey Bailey added. “It beat ending the season in the semifinals. This was a very successful season, you don’t always come out with exactly what you want, but we were still in the championship game.”
And football is known for being a game of momentum and big plays.
The Savage Heat dominated both of those categories, but the Pioneers didn’t help their own cause with seven turnovers on the afternoon. And the first play of the game happened to also be the big play that gave the Savage Heat all of the momentum moving forward. To start the game, the Pioneers kicked off, but failed to cover the field as Hot Springs’ Wyatt Nagy returned the opening kick 70 yards for the score. The Pioneers quickly found themselves in a 7-0 hole, and never recovered.
“That deflated the boys pretty bad,” King said. “Then we went out there on our first drive and got some yards, but had to punt. At that point it seemed to just snowball and we couldn’t get anything started. Whatever it was, we just couldn’t get it started.
“They were everything and more that we expected them to be,” senior quarterback Trevor Lackner added. “They were able to slide off blocks like nobody else we faced, and they proved that they are a great team on both sides. I was scrambling to get outside and maybe be able to find a receiver, but their pass coverage was just as good as their rush.”
Big Sandy’s offense was up against the best defense they saw all season, and clearly one of the best defenses in the state. The Savage Heat defense allowed an average of just six points per game this year, and earned their fifth shutout of the season with the win over Big Sandy.
Normally the Pioneers house a very effective running game, accented by a passing game that can also find success. But on Saturday, nothing the Pioneers attempted to run found much wiggle room. Big Sandy had 12 possessions on the afternoon, but earned just 173 total yards. On their 12 possessions, the Pioneers were forced to punt four times, while Lackner was tackled for a safety on another. Big Sandy also had seven
turnovers, including one turnover on downs, four fumbles, and two interceptions.
The result was limited success across the board for the Pioneers. They rushed for a team total of 52 yards on 17 carries, while Bailey led the way with 11 carries for just 29 yards. Lackner also rushed four times for 14 yards, while also completing 8-of-15 passes for 71 more yards. Bailey also had four catches for 39 yards, while Zac Leader caught two passes for 19 yards, and Lane Martin caught one pass for a pickup of 10. Tanner Works also had one catch for three-yards.
“They play hard and shoot the gaps,” King said. “We countered a number of times and would get things fixed, but every time we made adjustments, they came back with their own adjustments and made the necessary stops. They brought different kids from different directions, but our mistakes also played a huge part in their success. That just kills everything and makes it to where you can’t get anything started. And it happened whenever we would get something going or get something started. One way or the other, a penalty or a turnover would end our drive, and I think they scored off of every turnover.”
The Pioneer defense is also typically more stout than it showed on Saturday. But with the offense giving up seven turnovers, plus giving up points and losing the ball after a safety, the defense had its work cutout for it all afternoon long.
And it wasn’t completely a bad showing by the Pioneers defense, as they allowed just 306 total yards by the Savage Heat. The problem was keeping the Savage Heat out of the end zone, as they took full advantage of the turnovers and short yardage situations. Mike Gray led the Hot Springs' efforts with 94 rushing yards and 16 receiving yards, while Dave Cross added 27 rushing yards and 43 receiving yards. Cross also had five touchdowns, including three on the ground and two in the air. Gray had a passing and receiving score as well. Quarterback Tanner Hoff also completed 11-of-16 passes for 164 yards; tossing four TD passes in the meantime.
The Savage Heat also took over in Pioneer territory six out of their 13 drives.
“They have so many weapons,” King Said. “And that makes them tough to defend. We got a taste of that a couple weeks ago against Westby/Grenora. But there were times where we had kids in the right place, but just couldn’t come up with the big stops when we needed them.
“They can spread you out and basically just run around you,” Lackner added. “They have some big guys that can block, but they beat you with their speed too.”
It was a hard loss for the Pioneers, but heads were held high, and it was clear that the Pioneers were proud of their second place finish, and were happy to be there compared to the rest of the teams in the state sitting at home.
Big Sandy 0 0 0 0 – 0
Hot Springs 17 32 20 8 – 77
HS – Wyatt Nagy 70 kickoff return (Dave Cross pass from Tanner Hoff)
HS – Dave Cross 9 run (Martin Kvam kick)
HS – Safety (Dave Cross sacks Trevor Lackner in end zone)
HS – Dave Cross 24 pass from Tanner Hoff (Martin Kvam kick)
HS – Dave Cross 1 run (Martin Kvam kick)
HS – Mike Gray 16 pass from Tanner Hoff (Martin Kvam kick)
HS – Jim Holland 8 pass from Tanner Hoff (Martin Kvam kick)
HS – Dave Cross 1 run (Martin Kvam kick)
HS – Martin Kvam 41 field goal
HS – Mike Gray 24 run (Martin Kvam kick)
HS – Dave Cross 11 pass from Tanner Hoff (Martin Kvam kick)
Passing — Trevor Lackner 8-15-2–71
Rushing (17-52) — Jessey Bailey 11-29, Trevor Lackner 4-14, Lane Martin 2-9
Receiving — Jesey Bailey 4-39, Zac Leader 2-19, Lane Martin 1-10, Tanner Works 1-3
Passing — Tanner Hoff 11-16-0–164.
Rushing (29-142) — Mike Gray 15-94, Dave Cross 8-27, Wyatt Nagy 5-22, Tanner Hoff 1-(-1)
Receiving — Wyatt Nagy 4-77, Dave Cross 3-43, Jim Holland 3-28, Mike Gray 1-16.