PINE BLUFFS – The Big Piney Puncher football team fell to the Pine Bluffs Hornets, 45-16, in the 1A/9-man quarterfinals for the State title on Friday, Oct. 28.
Pine Bluffs entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the conference with an undefeated record.
True to form, the Punchers made Pine Bluffs fight for every yard and Big Piney pulled out impressive plays on offense, defense and special teams.
Senior Braunsn Smith and junior Reuben Stoutenburg both returned kickoffs and ran the ball into the end zone in the first and third quarter, respectively. The Punchers converted on each touchdown, and the score remained close into the beginning of the third quarter.
“Going into the second half, we were still in the game,” said Head Coach Jeromy Moffat.
Pine Bluffs turned up the heat in the third quarter, taking advantage of its depth. The Hornets fielded 40 players with Big Piney down to 18 due to injury.
“Honestly, with no depth, we just ran out of gas in that second half,” Moffat said. “That’s not an excuse for how we played, but that depth towards the end of the season and playoffs I feel played a big factor.”
The Big Piney offense and defense “played their butts off against a bigger team” and Moffat praised the team’s work ethic and heart.
“These kids gave me everything they had, they were beat up and sore playing every snap of every down, including special teams,” Moffat said.
The final score on Friday did not reflect Big Piney’s exceptional season. The Punchers finished the regular season tallying six wins, including an upset against Rocky Mountain. Big Piney’s two conference losses were extremely close against strong opponents.
The Punchers showed up to each game with talent, tenacity and a positive attitude to make a strong statement in a new conference.
“It was an honor and a privilege to be their coach,” said Moffat. “The kids bought into what we are wanting to build as a coaching staff from day one and that carried over into some big wins for us this season. Being small in numbers, they played with a huge heart every single game against opponents that often outweighed us up front. This team played with class and relentless energy. I feel they brought our community and school together with a pride that has not been felt for awhile. Being in the locker room after the game was tough, but I hope these young men and young woman can look back at this season with a pride in what they accomplished. It was a heck of a ride.”
An uphill battle
Pine Bluffs scored on its first possession of the game, although the Big Piney defense hounded the Hornets on each play.
Smith took down the kick returner at the Hornets’ 20-yard line. Senior Brandon Jones, junior Roger Young and junior Zach Murphy pulled off multiple tackles.
Senior Hunter Fisher broke up a pass. Stoutenburg made a sack in the backfield.
Pine Bluffs drove the ball into the end zone on its second first-quarter drive.
The Hornets sent the kickoff straight into Smith’s arms. Smith immediately found an opening and raced 65 yards into the end zone for a Puncher touchdown. Sophomore Caden Clifford ran in the conversion.
The Hornets scored a touchdown early in the second quarter.
The Big Piney offense churned up yards on the ensuing possession. Clifford gained enough yards for two first downs. Stoutenburg charged forward for a first down.
Junior quarterback Champ Snively completed two passes to Brandon Jones.
Pine Bluffs took possession and drove the ball into the end zone for a third touchdown. Smith shut down the Hornets’ attempt to convert.
The Big Piney defense stopped the Hornets’ final drive of the second quarter. Fisher tipped away a pass. Pine Bluffs fumbled and Stoutenburg recovered the ball.
Pine Bluffs led, 26-8, at halftime.
The Hornets kicked off to begin the second half. Stoutenburg returned the kick at Big Piney’s 15-yard line. Shifting into high gear, Stoutenburg raced 85 yards into the end zone for a second Puncher touchdown.
Snively completed a pass to Fisher for 2 points after touchdown.
The Big Piney defense shut down Pine Bluff’s first drive in the third quarter. Junior Dylon Woodward, Stoutenburg, Murphy and Young each made tackles.
The Hornets managed to break through the Big Piney defense and score a touchdown at the end of the third quarter and reached the end zone again as the fourth quarter commenced.
A determined Puncher defense ground the Hornets down on Pine Bluffs’ second fourth-quarter drive with tackles led by Smith, Woodward, Stoutenburg and Clifford.