By Al Malinowski EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – The Lone Peak Big Horns football team concluded their 2021 campaign Thursday night at home against the Choteau Bulldogs, from the 8-man Northern Division. Despite a 14-14 tie at halftime, the Big Horns were unable to contain the Bulldog running attack in the second half, falling to Choteau 58-20. Lone Peak ends their season with a 2-6 record, while Choteau finished at 2-7.
Both teams faced tough competition this season, contributing to their respective losing records. Lone Peak’s first four games came against three teams currently ranked in the 406mtsports.com High School Top Ten—Simms, Joliet, Park City—and the fourth against Sheridan who recently dropped out of the Top Ten.
The Northern Division currently boasts four of the Top Ten teams, twice as many as any other division. Choteau faced three of those Top Ten teams this season—Fort Benton, Belt, Chinook—and also played Sheridan in a non-division game.
Despite their records, the two teams entered their final game motivated to end the season on a positive note and send their seniors out with a victory. The first half play depicted two teams determined to finish their seasons on a winning note.
Choteau received the football first, but Lone Peak’s defense held, forcing the Bulldogs to punt. On the Big Horns’ first drive, sophomore quarterback Juliusz Shipman connected with senior Issac Singer for a 51-yard touchdown, when the Bulldog defensive back dove for a deflection and missed. Singer maintained his concentration and snagged the pass, then raced down the open field to the end zone. The Big Horn attempt to kick the Point After Touchdown was blocked, giving Lone Peak a 6-0 lead.
Choteau answered on its next drive. At the Big Horn 30-yard line, Bulldog sophomore quarterback Bowen Rappold rolled to his right, drawing all four Big Horn rushers with him. Rappold lofted the ball back to the left where senior Carter Morgan was awaiting the screen pass. Morgan took the ball the distance, though the Choteau PAT attempt was also blocked, tying the score at 6-6.
After a Lone Peak drive that ended in a punt, Choteau faced a fourth and long in their own territory and planned to punt. However, the snap was bobbled and freshman Bridger Flores tackled the Bulldog punter at the Choteau 29-yard line.
The Big Horns would waste no time taking advantage of the Bulldog miscue. On the first play from scrimmage, Shipman hit junior Pierce Farr for a 29-yard touchdown strike down the left sideline. On the 2-point PAT, Farr caught a pass from Shipman at the 1-yard line, then outpowered the Choteau defender to score, regaining the lead for the Big Horns 14-6.
Choteau punted on its next possession. Lone Peak drove the ball deep inside the Bulldog territory for a first-and-goal opportunity. However, the Big Horns lost yardage on their next several plays and turned the ball over on downs.
The Bulldogs would immediately add to the momentum of their defensive stops. On their first play of the possession, Rappold would turn what appeared to be a broken-down pass play into a 54-yard scramble for a touchdown. Senior Jeffrey Colesworthy added a 2-point conversion run to tie the score, 14-14, and conclude the first-half scoring.
Lone Peak began the second half with a steady drive into Bulldog territory but lost the ball with a fumble at the 35-yard line. Choteau would score 5 touchdowns in their next 13 offensive plays, all running the ball, to seize control of the game.
After touchdown runs from 29 yards by Colesworthy, 3 yards from Morgan and 44 yards again from Morgan, Shipman gave the Big Horns hope by returning the next kickoff to the Bulldog 16-yard line. Lone Peak eventually scored on a Shipman quarterback sneak from 3 yards out on fourth and goal. The PAT failed, and Lone Peak had cut the deficit to 34-20.
Choteau responded with a 63-yard kickoff return touchdown to regain their 20-point lead, 40-20. The Bulldogs added another touchdown run by Morgan from 39 yards, his fifth of the game, a 19-yard scamper by Colesworthy, and a 40-yard interception return by junior Landon Jamison on the final play of the game. With unsuccessful PATs on the final four touchdowns, the Bulldogs won 58-20.
Both head coaches praised their seniors following the game. First-year Big Horn Head Coach James Miranda acknowledged the resiliency of his seniors, Henry Slade, Issac Singer, Aiden Miller and Robert Pruiett, as their team battled through injuries this season. He also reinforced the feelings their teammates have for them. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the W for them, but you’ve noticed [the seniors] are definitely well respected and loved by their players.”
Miranda also looked ahead, recognizing the experience the underclassmen had earned and the success of the middle school program.
“Guys are playing through a lot of pain,” he said. “We have individuals that are looking forward to a long weekend, but we told them, Aug. 12 next year, tell your parents that’s when it starts.”
Choteau Head Coach Lucas Gunderson lauded the performance of his seniors, Morgan, Colesworthy and Jared Selander.
“They just had phenomenal games, especially that second half,” Gunderson said. “They really turned it on and can find the holes and opened it up.”
Gunderson also recognized the overall defensive play on his team and how in contributed to the offensive success.
“We had some big turnovers, fourth-down stops that puts all the momentum back in the offense’s hands, and we just capitalized on it.”
Earlier in the day, the Ophir Miners middle school team defeated rival West Yellowstone 60-12. The Miners concluded their season with a 5-1 record and look to promote eight eighth-graders to the high school program next year.