BIG PINEY – Polls favored the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies against Big Piney at the Sept. 9 showdown in Puncher Stadium. In true underdog form, the Punchers rose above statewide expectations, proving that talent, sweat and teamwork can overcome any opponent.
The Grizzlies finished the 2021 season as the State Champion runner-up in 9-man football. The senior-stacked team opened the 2022 season with a runaway victory against Wright.
Two days before Big Piney squared off against Rocky Mountain, the Wyopreps coaches and media football poll ranked the Grizzlies No. 2 in the conference with 186 points from voters. Big Piney hung down near the bottom of the survey with 3 points.
Still, the Punchers shoved Rocky Mountain right off its pedestal with a pivotal 12-8 victory on Friday.
“It was a great football game” said Head Coach Jeromy Moffat. “We talked to the kids about needing a total team effort to win this game. That’s what we got. We knew Rocky Mountain would make some big plays. We challenged the kids to respond, and they did. We scored an offensive touchdown, had two interceptions, made some huge stops on defense and scored a touchdown on special teams with the kickoff return by Karsyn Gurr.”
The Big Piney offense demonstrated coordination, speed and agility.
“Caden Clifford had an excellent game and broke a few big runs, including a touchdown run,” Moffat said. “As far as passing, (quarterback) Champ Snively hung well in the pocket and made some big throws under pressure to Gurr and Hunter Fisher.”
The Puncher defense held the line against a team that scored 59 points against Wright the previous week.
“Defensively, I could not be more proud of these kids,” Moffat said. “We had some big third- and fourth-down stops and some huge interceptions by Gurr. Zach Murphy, Dylon Woodward and Fisher battled hard against their big guys. Our line-backing core of Reuben Stoutenburg, Thomas Howard and Clifford did an excellent job executing our plan against Rocky Mountain’s running backs, quarterback and tight ends.”
Big Piney’s defensive backs also rose to the challenge.
“Champ Snively stepped up and made some big hits filling lanes from safety and Gurr and Brandon Jones held their own at corners.”
Sweeping the field
In the first quarter, the Grizzlies faltered on their opening drive against a determined Puncher defense. Tackles by Snively, Gurr, Fisher, Clifford and Howard ground Rocky Mountain down. Murphy took down the Grizzlies’ runner, forcing a turnover on downs.
Big Piney came up short on its first drive, although Stoutenburg and Clifford ate up yards and Snively and Gurr completed a 40-yard pass play.
Rocky Mountain made minimal gain on its next drive. Gurr and Howard stopped the Grizzlies’ kick returner. Stoutenburg pushed back Rocky Mountain’s line of scrimmage. A pair of incomplete passes by the Grizzlies gave the Punchers possession.
Clifford took a handoff from Snively and swept up the right side of the field, gaining more than 20 yards. Howard drove the ball up the middle. Snively completed a pass to Gurr for 7 yards. Stoutenburg churned up yards.
Snively handed off to Clifford. Clifford tucked the ball and raced up the field into the end zone to score the Punchers’ first touchdown.
Woodward’s kickoff landed in the end zone for a touchback. Fisher, Woodward and Clifford each led tackles to shut Rocky Mountain down.
The Grizzlies punted as the second quarter began.
Big Piney took possession and runs by Stoutenburg and Clifford resulted in first downs before the Punchers lost possession.
The Big Piney defense hammered away at Rocky Mountain with tackles by Howard, Woodward, Jones and Snively.
Stoutenburg recovered a fumble by Rocky Mountain. Before the halftime buzzer sounded, Clifford moved the ball down the field. Snively completed a pass to Fisher for a 12-yard gain.
The halftime score favored Big Piney, 6-0.
In the third quarter, Rocky Mountain reached the end zone and scored two points after touchdown to take the lead, 8-6.
Rocky Mountain kicked off. Gurr returned the kick deep in Puncher territory. Finding an opening, Gurr bolted up the field into the end zone for a touchdown.
The Punchers regained the initiative, 12-8.
Coverage by Jones broke up a pair of passes by Rocky Mountain on its next drive. A tackle by Clifford and Jones brought the Grizzlies up short, forcing a turnover.
In the fourth quarter, the Big Piney defense showed no mercy with tackles by Murphy and Clifford during the Grizzlies’ first fourth-quarter possession.
On Rocky Mountain’s next drive, freshman Zeferino Zuniga entered the fray, taking down the Grizzlies’ kick returner.
Gurr intercepted two passes, dashing Rocky Mountain’s final attempts to score.
The Punchers travel to play Greybull on Friday, Sept. 16.
“Our focus with Greybull will be to not let up,” said Coach Moffat. “After an emotional, intense win like this, a trap game the following week can happen. We have no easy weeks in our conference this year and are expecting another battle in Greybull.”