Players discuss Lone Peak’s most successful season in recent memory
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
BIG SKY—On Saturday afternoon, the Lone Peak High School Big Horns will take the field 493 miles closer to the North Dakota border in Culbertson, Montana.
In a first-round playoff game for the first time since losing to the Flint Creek Titans, a co-op between Drummond and Philipsburg high schools, in 2017, the Big Horns will face the Culbertson High School Cowboys in what’s expected to be a highly physical playoff matchup. Lone Peak’s nimble, pass-heavy approach will need to keep up with Culbertson’s consistent run game. Big Sky football fans can watch the game on NFHS Network for $12, and for those families and friends who want to see the action live, the game is a mere four and half hours beyond Billings.
“This is the great thing I love about small school sports in Montana,” head coach Dustin Shipman said. “Many of our players have never been to eastern Montana. This is the kind of thing they will remember when they’re 30 years old. It’s something they remember forever.”
Coach Shipman said the Big Horns played in the toughest division in the state this season. They finished 5-3 overall, but with a few favorable bounces, he thinks they could have held a 6-2 or 7-1 record. This season produced the most wins in recent memory for coach Shipman, and he notes that the Big Horns have only one senior; most opponents have six or seven seniors, he said.
Lone Peak hasn’t faced a team like the undefeated Culbertson Cowboys, first place in the East division with a significant group of seniors.
“They’re eastern Montana kids, they’re big and strong and run the ball a lot,” coach Shipman said. “We wouldn’t expect to do too much different. We need to throw the ball well, and we need to block well. We’re not going to vary a lot from the script we’ve had that got us here. We know what we do well. We just need to have everybody healthy and believing in themselves for us to be successful.
“They’ve got each others’ backs, and I couldn’t ask for the chemistry to be much better at this point in the season,” coach Shipman said.
After Wednesday’s practice on a snowy home field, the captains and two young standout players spoke with Explore Big Sky.
“Eastern Montana football is ground and pound,” senior Pierce Farr said. “They’ll run it every single play, throw it maybe three times the whole game. They’re going to try and run all over us, but I think we’ve prepped accordingly. I think it’s gonna be a great game.”
Farr said they’ve added heavy linebacker sets into their defense to stop Culbertson’s run game up the middle. The Big Horns also hope to play to their strength on offense and exploit the Cowboys’ pass coverage.
“I don’t think they’ve seen a team quite like us at all,” sophomore Grady Towle added. “They’ve probably never seen a team that passes the way we do, or runs the ball the way we do.”
On special teams, junior George Helms hopes to use his speed to take advantage in the kick return game as he’s done all season.
“We’re definitely faster,” he said.
Quarterback Juliusz Shipman said, “They’re big, so we just need to out-physical them, which I think we can do.”
In 2020, the Big Horns had a record of 0-7. Last season, they finished 2-6. This season, they put an emphasis on hard work and have been practicing since the spring.
“This year, we’ve worked harder than ever to get to where we are,” Helms said. “I think that’s where the credit goes, to the kids that showed up to every single practice all summer, working up to this point, and to our linemen who got bigger and stronger, which we’ve never had before. That works wonders when it comes to winning a football game.”
Freshman Ebe Grabow has made an impact on both sides of the ball as a receiver and cornerback.
“It was nice to join a high school team that worked like we did all summer long, with lifting, practices, two-a-days,” he said. “We didn’t have that [in years past], we just started the season off in mid-August. [This year] we started way back in April, so it was nice to come into a program that cares a lot about football.”
“It’s nice to have more depth,” Towle said. “A ton of freshmen showed up to play and are willing to work. I don’t think we’ve had a team that’s worked this hard in a long time, and I think it really shows on the field.”
“I don’t think we’ve had a team that works this well together,” Helms added. “We all get along, and we work our butts off every single day to get to where we are. We have the common goal of winning.”
The captains said they lack a team anthem, but they break down every game and practice with “Big Horns on three, family on six.”
The group of five echoed excitement for the long drive, and suggested that the team might bring an Xbox to stay busy on the long trip. On Friday night, the Big Horns plan to stay in a hotel in Sidney. They’ll also run a final walkthrough practice on a field near their hotel on Friday.
The captains were given a chance to comment on the Big Sky community.
“Thanks for coming out,” Farr said. “We had the most fans we’ve ever had come to our games, and that definitely helps.”
“Tune in on NFHS, Saturday at 1 o’clock,” Helms said. “We’re gonna whoop some Culbertson Cowboy butt.”