By Brandon Walker
BIG SKY – The Lone Peak Big Horns’ Homecoming game was spoiled Friday night by the visiting Park City Panthers. Park City scored first and never looked back en route to a 40-14 victory over Lone Peak.
Light rain and 41 degrees at kickoff didn’t deter a sizeable crowd from coming out to support the Big Horns, but both coaches knew the inclement weather would impact the game.
“We’re a pass first team unlike most teams in our division,” said Lone Peak Head Coach Adam Farr. “Near snowing conditions is not conducive to our offense especially.”
On the opposing sideline, Park City Head Coach Mark Rathbun was concerned about his players’ ability to grip the ball. “I was a little concerned that we wouldn’t be able to hold onto the ball very well, but it turned out alright,” Rathbun said. “The kids did a nice job fighting through the adversity.”
Lone Peak kicked off to begin the game and came out strong on defense forcing Park City into a punt situation on the opening drive. On the ensuing snap Lone Peak senior Nick Wade slipped through the defensive line and tackled the kicker before he could punt the ball away, giving the Big Horns possession and the momentum.
Immediately following the turnover on downs, Lone Peak was unable to generate much on offense. They could not convert on fourth down so the game remained scoreless. Both teams traded possession for the remainder of the quarter until Panthers’ senior quarterback Carson Baker found wideout and fellow senior Garrett McMillen in the end zone to make it a 6-0 game at the first intermission after the Panthers came up short on their 2-point conversion.
“We were in the game early on for sure,” Farr said. “We thought going in that we would match up pretty well with them. We just didn’t execute on deep passes and a couple key turnovers really were the difference in the game.”
The second quarter brought with it more rain and a flurry of points. The Big Horns started with the ball, but went three and out on their opening drive, resulting in a punt. Park City proceeded to drive down the field with a variety of pass plays by Baker.
With 8:37 remaining in the half Baker found McMillen for another touchdown to put the Panthers up 12-0. Once again Lone Peak stopped the Park City 2-point attempt. After a Big Horn fumble, Park City took control of the ball on the Big Horn 24-yard line. Baker connected with senior receiver Colton Knutson with 6:42 to play in the second quarter for the third Park City touchdown. The Panthers could not punch in the 2-point attempt leaving the score 18-0.
Lone Peak commanded the ball for the next five-plus minutes of play as they drove the length of the field. Senior quarterback Frankie Starz capped the drive with a 3-yard rushing touchdown then found senior receiver Austin Samuels for the 2-point conversion, bringing the score to 18-8 with 56 seconds left in the half. Park City responded quickly as Baker threw a touchdown pass to junior receiver Tucker Johnstone, as time expired in the quarter. After another failed 2-point attempt, the Panthers went into the half leading the Big Horns 24-8.
Lone Peak forced Park City into three turnovers in the third quarter, recovering two fumble and intercepting Park City’s Baker. One of the takeaways, however, resulted in the Big Horns possessing the ball on their own goal line. Park City stifled the Big Horn offense forcing a safety and bringing the score to 26-8.
The teams traded touchdowns to begin the final quarter. Baker found the end zone from 6 yards out for Park City then missed another 2-point conversion. Lone Peak took over and scored when Starz connected with Samuels with 4:47 remaining in the game. The Panthers stuffed the Big Horns’ 2-point attempt leaving the score 32-14. Just 40 seconds later, Baker found senior receiver James Wetmore for a touchdown. Baker rushed to convert the 2-point try and capped the scoring at 40-14.
Rathbun was pleased with his teams poise. “I’m just really proud of the boys for how they responded and stepped up after the loss that we had last week,” he said. “We needed to refocus and come back and they did a really nice job doing that. I’m proud of them.”
Farr was optimistic of the outcome and his teams’ performance. “I don’t think the score was indicative of how well we competed and how close we are, talent-wise, with that team.”
Lone Peak (1-3) is off this coming week. They will travel to face Absarokee at 7 p.m. on Oct. 4.