PINEDALE – The Wranglers took on their cross-country rivals from Big Piney last Friday at the Sublette Shootout. The game was another nail-biting fight and remained tied until the Punchers pulled out a second touchdown with a little over two minutes left in the game.
Pinedale was unable score in the remaining few minutes with two drives from deep in their territory. The Punchers went home with the Sublette County trophy and a win, 12-6.
Head Coach Mitch Espeland credited his defense with keeping the game close against a strong opponent.
“Big Piney was tough,” he said, “Our defense did not take care of the ball, and we put too much pressure on our defense.”
Both teams took awhile to warm up and drop the ball into the end zone until Big Piney scored on its second drive halfway into the first quarter. Pinedale managed a series of fumbles and really only got moving with their third drive in the quarter.
Wrangler defense stepped in and delivered. Senior Porter Potts took down Puncher running back Tate Hughes, resulting in a 4-yard loss for Big Piney and a series of incomplete passes and penalties.
The second quarter opened with the Wranglers in possession of the ball. Pinedale offense continued their yard-by-yard drive toward the goal line with a long series of handoffs from quarterback Sam Lopeman to fullback Josef McCulloch and running back Tyler Van Etten. Wrangler offense continued to drive up the middle until Lopeman completed a pass to Radin Keating. Unfortunately, Keating was tackled by Puncher defenseman Teagan Elliott and the Wranglers lost possession with a turnover on downs.
Neither team advanced into the end zone in the second quarter. But the defenses put up a fight. Kadar Criddle moved in fast to tackle Puncher quarterback Kaden Raza during Big Piney’s second drive. A penalty flag was thrown to the Punchers for false start. Raza attempted to pass to Hughes but Thomas Harnack intercepted the ball for the Wranglers.
At halftime, the score stood at 6-0 in favor of Big Piney. Harnack received the kickoff in the third quarter and moved the ball to the 27-yard line. Wrangler offense downshifted into a long drive up the middle that ate up more than seven minutes of the quarter.
Lopeman executed a series of handoffs to McCulloch, then shook things up with fakes to McCulloch and counters to White and Van Etten. The strategy worked and the Wranglers scored their first touchdown with a final drive into the end zone by McCulloch. Pinedale failed to achieve a two-point conversion, and the score was tied at 6-6.
The third quarter ended with a punt from Pinedale’s Dylan Shaw. Big Piney was also forced to punt in its first drive of the final quarter after successful tackles from Van Etten and Phelps.
The game remained tied until Big Piney slipped in another touchdown with 2:12 remaining in the game. Raza faked a handoff to Taylor and completed a deep pass to Teagan Elliott in the end zone. The Punchers were unable to make the extra two points, and the score moved out of stalemate to stand at 12-6 in favor of Big Piney.
With about two minutes left to go in the game, the Wranglers were faced with the prospect of driving the ball forward 73 yards. Lopeman attempted several passes to get the ball closer to the end zone. Unfortunately, Puncher Brady Johnson intercepted the second pass and the Wranglers lost possession.
With a minute to go, Big Piney attempted a third drive to score again but was unable to drop the ball in the end zone. Pinedale gained possession with 40 seconds left and 60 yards to move the ball. After a successful tackle by the Punchers behind the line of scrimmage, Big Piney gained possession with 20 seconds left. Puncher offense took a knee and counted the clock down. The Sublette County Shootout trophy went to Big Piney with a win and a final score of 12-6.
The Wranglers travel to Lovell today to play the Bulldogs. Pinedale’s conference standing moved down to 2-3 with the loss to Big Piney and the team is aiming for a victory against Lovell, currently standing at 1-5 in conference.
“We are looking forward to Lovell so that we can rebound and finally play a complete game on both sides of the ball,” Espeland said. n