BIG HORN — Eagles freshman Will Kearns looked destined to find the pylon in the waning seconds Friday in Big Horn.
While the score wouldn’t have mattered toward the final result — the a game was decided before halftime with the playoff-bound Rams defeating the 2-6 Eagles 46- 0— both sidelines were as animated as they’d been all game.
But Kerns was dragged out by Ram defenders inches from the goal and time expired on the Thunder Bowl.
The game marked the last time the two cross-county teams will play as 2A rivals for at least the next few years, as the game ended in a blowout, something that was not unexpected from two schools still at different points in their football cultures.
“We just got out athleted, and it showed,” Tongue River head coach John Scott said. “Sometimes it looked like we were going against a (Divison) 1 college team. They just froze us in our tracks. They play with such great confidence and great preparation.”
“We just didn’t get out of the chutes, didn’t run the ball well out of the one-back set like I thought we maybe could have, and we didn’t get on track throwing some of the simple stuff.”
Connor McCafferty threw with his usual effectiveness, 6-7 for three scores while running for another. Seth Kite had two first-half interceptions of Eagles quarterback Matt Yellowtail, and Christian Mayer had another. Mayer scampered into the end zone with his pick, and after the play was called back for a penalty, McCafferty found him on a 39-yard fly route and the Rams went into half up 32-0. The Rams for the second week in a row won by a large margin after defeating Moorcroft 55-20 last Friday and securing the 2A East No. 2 seed in the process.
“Our focus this week was to try and improve in some areas maybe we were kind of sub-par in and we improved in some ways in those and there’s other we still have work to do,” McGuire said. “We’ve got some pre-snap penalties and you can’t have those in the playoffs. Those are killers. Our kids did a good job of cleaning up some of our mistakes today though. I feel like it was a productive day for us.” The Eagles struggled to get things going offensively, and only breached the 100-yard mark in total offense on Kearns final gutsy effort toward the end zone.
Tongue River did manage two fourth down stops in the second quarter, stalling the Rams on drives deep in Eagle territory.
“Defensively, it was exciting to get some stops, it was feast or famine and a lot of famine at times,” Scott said. “We had a few things that gave us a chance to feel good.”
Big Horn ran with a bevy of running backs. Colter Carzoli’s senior day was quick and effective, nine carries for 107 yards, and Corey Sturza, Phillip McCalister and Christian Iberlin carried the load from there. Sturza scored twice in the first half and Iberlin added a second-half score.
“It was nice, our running backs we were able to get five to six guys carries, just some guys experience in case we do suffer some injuries and stuff in the playoffs. We got some of our guys healed up and rested up, it’s been a good two weeks for us. Now we just have to be ready to crank it back up on Monday.”
Big Horn capped scoring as McCafferty found Mayer to begin play in the fourth, and the running clock took the game from there.
With the nature of the rivalry itself, players on each side will still see plenty of each other as they are in the same school district. Students will still see who can chant louder across the gym at each other during volleyball and basketball games.
On the gridiron though, the Rams host a playoff game next week, as they’ll draw Lyman. Tongue River moves to 1A next fall, and Scott knows it takes more than just that to find success. Even with a good amount of underclassmen playing significant time this year, he said that same group still needs to learn what it takes to win — even looking across the sidelines at Big Horn and taking a page out of their book.
“We need to build on the leadership qualities of these seniors, and then improve on our athleticism as we go forward,” Scott said. “Playing a team like that, it shows us what it looks like, what we’re trying to get to. We’ve seen good teams, when you play the good teams you’ve got to take something from it, and see how they played.
The Rams season goes on, as they’ll again be among 2A favorites entering the playoffs, trying to better a semifinal finish from a year ago.
“It’s one week at a time, if you don’t take care of the first week, you don’t get a chance at the second week,” McGuire said in regard to what he told his team after the game. “It’s do or die every time we step out onto the field for the rest of the season. We have a lot of kids who’ve played big playoff games and I think they understand that. This week we’ll prepare well.”
“We’re going to take it one week at a time.”
Big Horn’s first-round playoff game time will be announced next week.
McCafferty to Carzoli 29 yard pass 6-0
Sturza 4-yard run after Kite INT 12-0
Sturza 5-yard run after Mayer punt return
McCafferty to Mayer 39 yards 25-0 after Mayer INT return called back on penalty
McCafferty 17-yard run 32-0
Iberlin 2-yard run 39-0
McCafferty to Mayer 46-0
First downs 17-11
Yards per carry 6.5-2.5
Passing yards 114-9
Total plays 53-51
Total offense 414-107
Passing: BH McCafferty 6-7-114 yds-3TDs TR Matt Yellowtail 1-6-3 yds-3INTs TR Will Kearns 0-5
Rushing: Richard Stanley 2-19, Colter Carzoli 9-106, McCafferty 2-21-1TD, Christian Iberlin 9-23-1TD, Christian Mayer 1-29, Corey Sturza 15-74-2 tds, Philip McCalister 8-28
Receiving: Mayer 2-56-2TD, Colter Carzoli 1-28-1TD, Ryan Kobielusz 2-17, Deven Ibach 1-13