Punchers advance to semifinals
Robert Galbreath photo Junior Caden Clifford, No. 11, advances the ball forward during the Punchers’ quarterfinal victory against Pine Bluffs on Oct. 27. Also pictured are members of the O-line sophomore Zeferino Zuniga, No. 55, and senior quarterback Champ Snively, No. 9. Sadie Snively photo The Puncher defense closes in on Pine Bluffs’ running back on Oct. 27. Pictured are senior Dylon Woodward, No. 12, sophomore Zeferino Zuniga, No. 55 and senior Zack Murphy, No. 78.
Knock out Pine Bluffs, 28-14
BIG PINEY – The Big Piney High School Punchers defended the home stadium and overcame a major hurdle on the road to State in the quarterfinal game at Puncher Stadium on Friday, Oct. 27, eliminating the Pine Bluffs Hornets in a decisive 28-7 victory.
Big Piney advances to the semifinals for the first time as a 1A-9-man squad and the first time as a team since 2017. The Punchers play Lingle-Fort Laramie at Lingle on Saturday, Nov. 4. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
The Punchers’ triumph marked a moment of redemption for Big Piney following the Hornets’ big win at the quarterfinals in 2022.
“Last year, Pine Bluffs really beat on us – they disrespected us,” said senior Reuben Stoutenburg. “We marked this game on our calendar all year. We wanted to take them down all year and we got them and beat them.”
The win set the momentum for “big things ahead of us” in the semifinals, said senior quarterback Champ Snively.
“It feels great to get around that first-round curse and send Pine Bluffs home this year – it’s a long bus ride back to Pine Bluffs,” Snively remarked.
Big Piney prepared for Pine Bluffs’ blitz scheme on offense, Snively added
“We knew they were going to blitz a lot – we had to get outside and abuse that whenever we needed to and set up our big passing plays down the field.”
Taking control of the scoreboard in the first quarter, Big Piney outmaneuvered Pine Bluffs, 7-0. The Hornets managed to score in the second quarter, tying the game, 7-7.
Big Piney junior Caden Clifford responded in the second quarter, rushing the ball 77 yards into the end zone for the Punchers to recapture the initiative, 14-7.
“It was a dogfight throughout the entire game,” said Stoutenburg. “After Caden got that pass breakup on fourth down and scored the second touchdown, I knew that we had it.”
A coordinated Big Piney offense dominated the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns to cement the Punchers’ win.
Snively pitched the ball to senior Karsyn Gurr, who sprinted 56 yards into the end zone.
“That pitch that I caught and got to the outside and took off was a highlight,” said Gurr. “It was something that we repped all year. Champ got me that ball and I was ready to show my ability.”
Gurr’s coordination and speed was a wild card for Pine Bluffs.
“I didn’t play (Pine Bluffs) last year because I was hurt,” Gurr said. “I knew coming into this game that they didn’t know me and I was ready to get to work.”
Snively completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Gurr late in the third quarter.
“That touchdown pass to Karsyn was not the prettiest ball, but it got there and it really got the momentum going for our team,” said Snively.
A powerful Big Piney defense wreaked havoc on Pine Bluffs throughout the first three quarters and shut out the Hornets in the fourth quarter.
“Defensively, we eliminated their running game, holding Pine Bluffs to under 35 yards on 28 carries,” said Head Coach Jeromy Moffat. “Nine-man pass defense is a challenge, especially against an athletic quarterback like Pine Bluffs had. The Hornets moved the ball through the air, but we made big-time plays on the deep shots they took and did not break our mentality on defense.”
The Puncher D-line once again proved its grit as the No. 1-ranked defense in the state, Moffat added.
“It was a battle against Pine Bluffs and I am extremely proud of our kids and how they played on both sides of the ball,” Moffat stated.
Pine Bluffs opened the first quarter in possession, but found itself going nowhere due to an ironclad Big Piney defense. Seniors Preston Bennett, Zack Murphy and Roger Young each made tackles for no gain.
Taking possession, Stoutenburg and Clifford relentlessly drove the ball forward. Clifford grabbed a handoff from Snively and charged the remaining 4 yards into the end zone to score Big Piney’s first touchdown.
A good kick by Young brought the score to 7-0 in Big Piney’s favor.
The Puncher defense hammered away at Pine Bluffs on the Hornets’ ensuing possession. Clifford and senior Dylon Woodward sacked Pine Bluff’s quarterback in the backfield.
Pine Bluffs regained possession as the second quarter began. Gurr took down the Hornets’ runner for no gain. Stoutenburg made a sack in the backfield and Young broke up a pass.
The Hornets managed to score a touchdown on its subsequent drive in the second quarter, tying the game, 7-7.
Big Piney returned Pine Bluff’s kickoff to its own 20-yard line. Snively handed the ball off to Clifford. Shifting into high gear, Clifford churned up 77 yards to score Puncher touchdown no. 2.
A field goal from Young widened Big Piney’s lead to 14-7.
The Puncher defense stopped Pine Bluffs on the Hornets’ last two drives of the first half, including tackles by Woodward, Gurr, Young and Clifford.
The halftime score favored Big Piney, 14-7.
The Big Piney defense held firm on Pine Bluff’s opening drive in the third quarter. Clifford and senior Jerrett Fear both broke up pass attempts by the Hornets.
Big Piney took possession and Snively pitched the ball to Gurr. Leaving the Pine Bluffs defenders in the dust, Gurr raced 56 yards into the end zone.
The Hornets scored on their following possession, reducing Big Piney’s lead, 20-14.
The Puncher defense closed ranks on Pine Bluff’s subsequent possession, with tackles from Young, Murphy and junior Ben Ferguson.
Regaining possession, Stoutenburg moved the ball up for a first down. Snively completed a pass to Gurr. Taking the ball, Gurr sprinted 27 yards into the end zone.
Clifford drove the ball over the goal line to convert 2 points after touchdown, expanding Big Piney’s lead, 28-14.
The Puncher defense controlled the gridiron in the fourth quarter, including tackles by Young, Clifford, Gurr, Bennett, Woodward, Snively, Stoutenburg and Murphy. Murphy and Bennett swept in to make a sack late in the fourth quarter. Clifford also pulled out a sack, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The Punchers spent the week preparing for the semifinal game against Lingle-Fort Laramie.
“We cannot wait to get to Lingle on Saturday for the chance to play for a State Championship in Laramie at War Memorial Stadium,” said Coach Moffat. “This has been our goal all season. I’m so incredibly proud of these young men.”
Gurr thanked fans for braving the cold on Friday to cheer the Punchers on in the quarterfinals.
“The crowd was absolutely amazing – just hearing them cheering,” he said. “They packed the stands and it was truly something special.”
Snively gave a shoutout to the BPHS coaching staff for leading the team to success.
“The community really showed up today and it made an impact,” said Stoutenburg.