Big Horns overcome late turnovers to win over West Yellowstone, 26-19

Story by Taylor Anderson, Assistant Editor explorebigsky.com Video by Chris Davis, Videographer

Tucker Shea stood at the 15-yard line awaiting a kickoff with three minutes left in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against West Yellowstone after losing two fumbles.

The Wolverines picked up one fumble and scored to pull ahead 19-11 in what was dubbed the first annual ‘Battle of 191,’ leaving the Big Horns three minutes to comeback.

Shea caught the kick, spun and zigzagged through much of the West defense before being tackled at the Wolverine 31.

After that, it was all Shea.

Well, not entirely.

Lone Peak sophomore linebacker Gunner Freeman continued to prove himself a heavy-hitter for the Big Horns, laying down big hits as West drove the field late in the game. Junior Tommy Tosic made a crucial tackle on a Wolverine fourth down attempt with 6:29 left in the game, causing the Big Sky crowd to erupt into cheers.

The Big Horns defense proved itself clutch throughout the game despite the occasional big play by West Yellowstone’s Asael Vazquez. The team’s junior running back went down with a leg injury after a big runback in the fourth quarter after having been a key asset to West’s offensive gameplay.

Standing on the 31-yard line, Shea and the Big Horns lost four yards on first down. The team, despite throwing an interception earlier in the matchup, opted for a passing play on second down.

Tucker Shea caught the pass from freshman quarterback Justin McKillop for an 11-yard gain. On third and eight, McKillop pitched the ball to Shea, who ran for a first down. After a West pass interference penalty, Shea took a handoff to the end zone, pulling the team within two points with 1:25 left in the game.

Next Shea, also the team’s kicker, booted a perfect snap through the uprights (worth two points), to tie the game at 19 apiece.

West scrambled on first down of its next possession under pressure from senior Matt Becker. The Wolverine quarterback tried a lateral pass to Vazquez. Becker got a hand on the ball and jumped on top of it, securing a Lone Peak ball with 0:39 remaining.

The Big Horns missed a long field goal attempt, and gave West a shot at a Hail Mary attempt, which was dropped.

Carried with the strong gusts of wind were murmurs along the sidelines wondering what happens in the event of a tie. Montana six-man overtime rules spot the ball on a team’s 15-yard line, and each team gets a chance to score (the same rules that apply in an NCAA overtime).

The Big Horns won a coin toss and tried first.

It took just two plays and solid Big Horns blockers to send Shea into the end zone for a go-ahead score. A bad snap on the kick attempt left Shea scrambling on the right sideline and into the end zone for an extra point, putting Lone Peak up 26-19.

The Wolverines, a team that has been playing in both six- and eight-man leagues since at least 2004, has a short roster this season, and has only 11 members on the team.

The team stood on the Big Horn 15-yard line as the northbound gusts muffled Big Sky cheers.

The ensuing snap sailed over the West quarterback’s head, spun and tumbled away for a loss of 20 yards. A second down pass was incomplete, bringing up third and 35 in the must-score situation.

On third down, West launched another Hail Mary, which was caught near the 10-yard line before the field became littered with penalty flags.

Both teams committed fouls on the play and replayed third down from the 35. Gunner Freeman grabbed a West receiver early on the next passing play, giving the Wolverines a first down from the 20.

Two running plays later and West threatened on third down from the 5-yard line. Fans, many of them had moved to the sideline to migrate up and down the field with the teams’ progression late in the game, stood and cheered through the wind. West snapped the ball.

Fumble. Lone Peak recovered. Game over.

Coach Beardsley said after the game the team had worked on its run blocking, running plays, and a no-huddle style offense aimed at speeding and controlling the game.

“We threw the ball a bit more today, but what won the game was our defense,” he said.

The Big Horns now sit third in the conference tied with Lima headed barreling toward late season and a potential playoff race. The team is ranked No. 50 in the state and seems set for a season-defining matchup at home against Lima in two weeks.

“This was a big win to keep us in the playoff race,” Beardsley said. “We’re in the hunt now, we’re 2–1 in conference…The Lima game could decide the playoff team.”