By Al Malinowski EBS CONTRIBUTOR
BIG SKY – During a night of firsts at the new Lone Peak High School Big Horn field, the LPHS Big Horn football team couldn’t capture the first they cherished the most, their first win of the season. The Park City Panthers’ (3-1) experienced roster, which boasts 14 juniors and seniors, took early control of the game and handed the host Bighorns (0-3) a 52-14 defeat.
Lone Peak established initial momentum with a miscue. Freshman Big Horn punter Bridger Flores bobbled a snap just enough on the first possession of the game that he decided to abandon the punt and run the ball. The miscue became good fortune as Flores wasn’t tackled until he had advanced the football deep into Panther territory to the Park City 16-yard line. However, Lone Peak was unable to convert that momentum into points and turned the ball over on downs.
On the ensuing drive, Park City methodically marched the ball down the field. The Big Horn defense forced multiple third downs but were unable to stop the Panther offense. The Panther possession resulted in senior Jacob Gauthier punching the ball across the goal line on a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line on third down. Gauthier then found junior Wyatt Hamilton on a short pass for a successful two-point conversion to give the Panthers an 8-0 lead.
Over the next several minutes Park City would capitalize on several Big Horn mistakes to add to their lead. On the first play after receiving the kickoff, Big Horn sophomore quarterback George Helms was unable to corral a wayward snap, turning the ball back over to Park City. Six plays later, Gauthier hit senior Taetin Kindsfather on a third down, play-action rollout pass (PAT Failed) to increase the lead to 14-0.
Park City employs a “squib kick” strategy on kickoffs, choosing to concede better starting field position to their opponent rather than kicking it deep and allowing their best returner to handle the ball. On the subsequent kickoff, their strategy continued the Panther’s momentum, as the Big Horns failed to fall on the kickoff along the sideline. Park City recovered and three plays later capitalized as junior running back Stockton Zimdars scored on a 12-yard inside run that he broke out to the left sideline. The Panthers led 20-0 after a failed PAT.
Park City scored two additional touchdowns in the second quarter on a Zimdars run and a pass from Gauthier to sophomore Jed Hoffman to take a 36-0 lead into halftime. Lone Peak also lost its top running back, sophomore Pierce Farr, near the end of the second quarter, due to an injury.
Park City showed no letdown in the second half, with Zimdars running the kickoff back for a 70-yard score, and later junior Holder Stepper scoring on a 4-yard run.
Lone Peak found some success in the fourth quarter, with Helms finding Flores on a post route for a 20-yard touchdown for the Big Horn’s first score on their new field. On their next possession, Helms scored from the 2-yard line with a quarterback sneak on fourth down. Flores ran for the 2-point conversion to end the scoring at 52-14.
After the game, Big Horn first-year head coach James Miranda praised the efforts of his short-handed squad, with three starters who missed all or significant portions of the game. Miranda mentioned the efforts of Flores, who “has the ability to impact the game at this level.” Miranda also recognized Helms, who played quarterback in middle school, but had to quickly learn the offense due to injury. Helms is the fourth quarterback to play for Lone Peak in their first three games this season.
Next week the Big Horns will prepare to travel for a Friday night game against the Sheridan Panthers at 7 p.m. This game was originally scheduled to be played last week but was postponed while Sheridan experienced a temporary school closure due to COVID-19.
Last season, Lone Peak lost a close contest with Sheridan 21-16. This season, the Big Horns will face a much improved 3-0 Panther squad that is currently listed at No. 9 in the Montana 8-man football rankings.
The Ophir Miner middle school football team (1-1) will also visit the Sheridan Panthers next Friday at 4 p.m. The Miners are looking forward to getting back to action after their scheduled games the last two weeks were postponed.