BIG PINEY – After struggling during its own Homecoming, Pinedale showed up to play for Big Piney's. The Wranglers kept the score close in the first half and rallied late, but came up short against Big Piney, 23-13.
Pinedale made some big plays in the game, but it also got off to a rough start. After three-and-out on its first possession, Big Piney blocked Pinedale's punt out of the back of the end zone to score a safety.
Pinedale's defense stepped up and forced Big Piney to punt on the ensuing possession. Pinedale's offense then moved the ball. Pinedale got four first downs on a 14-play drive, but stalled in Puncher territory and eventually turned the ball over on downs. The Punchers then scored a touchdown, aided by runs of 18 and 28 yards, to take a 9-0 lead into the second quarter.
The Wranglers, however, capitalized on a Big Piney mistake to get on the scoreboard in the second. Pinedale punted from its own 19-yard line, but Big Piney fumbled the kick and Pinedale recovered the ball at Piney's 37. Wyatt Phelps rushed for six yards to convert on fourth-and-one, VanEtten ran for five yards on a third-and-four and then Phelps scored from the 1-yard line on fourth-and-inches. Senddey Gutierrez kicked the extra point through the uprights and Pinedale cut Piney's lead to 9-7.
"After allowing a safety and a touchdown, we managed to keep the game a 2-point game going into halftime," Pinedale head coach Mitchell Espeland said. "We took advantage of some big piney turnovers and controlled the clock going into halftime."
After each team turned the ball over on downs, the first half ended when Mathias Berghammer picked off a pass for Pinedale.
The Punchers, however, used some big runs to score he next two touchdowns. Chancy Hunt scored on a 35-yard run and a 5-yard run to put Big Piney up, 23-7 in the third. After a Pinedale fumble, Big Piney found the end zone again, but a holding penalty negated the touchdown and kept Pinedale alive.
With their backs against the wall, the Wranglers put together a 75-yard drive in the fourth. Phelps completed a 22-yard pass to Jacob Harber on fourth-and-nine. Big Piney was also called for roughing the passer on the play, which moved Pinedale all the way down to Big Piney's 24-yard line. Phelps connected with Raven Que in the end zone, but the touchdown was called off because of holding. On the next play, Gutierrez made a diving catch at the 1-yard-line. Three plays later, Phelps connected with Que in the end zone again on an 8-yard touchdown with 59 seconds left in the game.
A successful 2-point conversion would have made it a one-score game, but Big Piney deflected the attempted pass at the line of scrimmage.
With nothing to lose, Pinedale tried an onside kick. Big Piney, however, recovered the ball and ran out the clock with a couple runs.
"Big Piney had some big plays on sweeps that gave them the edge and we couldn't get into the end zone," Espeland said. "Our boys didn't quit, scoring a touchdown with one minute left, but the game was too far away for us to make a full comeback."
VanEtten led Pinedale with 117 rushing yards on 33 carries. Sam White carried the ball 15 times for 39 yards. Josef McCulloch, who was on the sideline with ice on his hand for part of the game, rushed for 12 yards on three carries.
"We ran the ball well between the tackles and our backs powered for a few yards at a time," Espeland said.
VanEtten led the team with nine tackles while McCulloch had five. Berghammer, Kadar Criddle, Phelps and Isaac Loftus all had multiple tackles in the game, as well, for Pinedale.
Phelps also completed 3-of-6 passes for 40 yards.
Jake Pape and Hunt led Big Piney's offense with 106 and 103 rushing yards, respectively. Pinedale also limited quarterback Tristan Barney to one completion for 12 yards on 12 attempts.
The Homecoming win punched Big Piney's ticket to the playoffs, and gave Pinedale some work to do in its final two regular season games to qualify for state.
Big Piney improved to 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the 2A West Conference.
Pinedale slipped to 2-4, 2-3 and is currently just outside of the playoff bubble, sitting in fifth in the conference. The top-four teams will make the playoffs.
At 7 p.m. tonight, Pinedale will play its final conference game at Lovell (2-4, 1-3). The Punchers are also on the road today, taking on Big Horn (5-1), at noon.