Playoff berth depends on Saturday’s game against Lockwood
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
BIG SKY—As the temperature dropped with the sun on Thursday, the Big Horns struggled to find any heat on either side of the ball. The Park High School Rangers advanced to a 4-0 victory, forcing the Big Horns into a do-or-die game at Lockwood on Saturday.
Head coach Tony Coppola saw a “pretty flat first half,” as Park dominated possession and penetrated the Big Horn defense with the streaky speed of midfielders John Hasbrook and Ryan Brown. Big Horn junior Cash Beattie had a few close efforts on net and stood his ground around midfield, but the Park defense stacked the box and didn’t allow any close chances on net. Beattie and senior Alex Rager were forced to shoot from long range throughout the game, resulting in a few near-misses but nothing to show for it.
Beattie called his collection of close shots “heart-wrenching,” and said the Big Horns were forced to take shots whenever they had the opportunity as they were unable to penetrate Park’s conservative defense. Late in the first half, Beattie launched a free kick off the crossbar.
“We could have left it 4-4, but we didn’t put away our chances,” he said. “Back to the training field in the morning. We’ll fix it.”
Seven minutes into the game, Rangers’ junior Alec Dalby used footwork and speed to beat the Big Horn defenders and score an easy goal. With 10 minutes remaining, senior Calvin Caplis capitalized on a rebound by Big Horn freshman keeper Oliver McGuire, launching a close range shot into the top corner.
A 6-foot-2 freshman, McGuire has been gaining playing time in a platoon with junior Sawyer Wolfe. On Thursday, coach Coppola decided to give McGuire his first start as a varsity keeper.
“We tried something new tonight, just to see how it went,” said Coppola, who has focused on getting McGuire exposure to a relatively new position. “We wanted to see how he would do. I was pretty happy with his performance. I think of the four goals, maybe one was savable.”
“[McGuire] killed it today,” added Beattie. “It was his first full game.”
Down 2-0 at half, the Big Horns made some adjustments. Coppola noticed more consistent possession in the Rangers’ defensive third, but still a failure to contain breakaway threats from the speedy Rangers.
“We played some defense that wasn’t too savory, and they burned us on it,” he said. “I was really proud of these guys in the second half.
Alec Dalby scored his second goal early in the half, and Hasbrook added the Rangers’ fourth score with 25 minutes remaining. Morale was low for the Big Horns.
As the Big Horns started shooting from 30-40 yards out, some momentum seemed to finally swing toward the home team.
With just under 12 minutes remaining, junior Beckett Johnson hit the crossbar from the right side and freshman Ian Pecunies volleyed a one-touch goal on the rebound. The entire team was thrilled but nobody was more overjoyed than Pecunies, who sprinted back toward half-field and jumped with joy.
The crowd finally had something to stand and cheer for, chanting “he’s a freshman” and injecting life into the cold darkness.
Unfortunately, after nearly 20 seconds of celebration, the goal was called back for having touched the football goalpost.
“It didn’t feel good,” said Pecunies after the game. “As a freshman you don’t really get too much playing time, so to score a goal is pretty cool.”
“I really wish that one would have counted,” coach Coppola said.
The Big Horns were frustrated and mentally beaten, but Coppola said their focus remains on Lockwood.
“All we have to do is win and we’ll be in the playoffs,” Beattie said.
The Big Horns blanked Lockwood 4-0 in their last meeting, a home match on Sept. 25. Lone Peak will need to win on the road to stay alive.