PINEDALE – A trophy, a win and a recruiting tool followed the “underdog” Big Piney Punchers as they celebrated victory on Friday night defeating their Sublette County rival, the Pinedale Wranglers, in a close game, 12-6.
Large crowds showed up from both communities to cheer their teams on, and the game was a nail biter until the very end when Puncher defense prevented the Wranglers from advancing to score a potentially tie-breaking touchdown. The final score stood at 12-6.
“The kids didn’t know about the trophy,” Big Piney Head Coach Aaron Makelky said.
The traveling trophy was won easily last year when Big Piney had a team full of seniors that competed for state.
Having to bring it back to Pinedale for the winner of this year’s match, the trophy was hidden in the back of suburban.
“We didn’t want the kids thinking about it,” Makelky said.
That has changed on Monday as it sits on his desk as “propaganda.”
“We have to bring pride back and recruit in our own school,” Makelky said.
The win was a team effort. “It was ugly but that is what you want when you’re the underdog,” Makelky said, of the Puncher’s first win on the Wranglers’ turf since 2010.
Both teams took awhile to warm up as temperatures dropped into the 30s. Neither team scored on their first drive. The Puncher defense forced Wrangler quarterback Sam Lopeman to fumble the ball after a long advance into Puncher territory by Wrangler Sammy White.
On their second drive, Big Piney quarterback Kaden Raza executed a series of handoffs to running back Calder Taylor. Raza completed a deep pass to Lincoln Long, bringing the Punchers to within 10 yards of the goal line. Raza snapped the ball to Taylor, who ran the remaining nine yards to score the first touchdown of the game. The Punchers’ attempt at a two-point conversion was unsuccessful, and the score stood at 6-0.
Big Piney defense forced another Wrangler fumble, but were unable to score on their third drive of the quarter. Pinedale players finished the quarter moving the ball forward, but were unable to reach the end zone and the score remained at 6-0 as the second quarter opened.
Pinedale opened the second quarter with a long series of handoffs between Lopeman and Josef McCulloch. Lopeman completed a pass to Radin Keating, but Big Piney’s Teagan Elliot brought down Keating, forcing a turnover on downs.
The Puncher defense forced another fumble on the Wrangler’s next drive, but again went away without scoring on their second drive of the quarter. After an incomplete pass between Lopeman and Wyatt Phelps, Big Piney gained possession of the ball with only seconds left in the quarter. Raza executed a trick hook-and-lateral pass with Elliott and Tate Hughes, but Pinedale brought down Hughes at the 10-yard line. At half time, the score still stood at 6-0.
The third quarter opened with a long, relentless drive by Pinedale that chewed up almost seven minutes of the third quarter. McCulloch scored the first and only touchdown for the Wranglers at the end of the drive. The game was tied at 6-6 when Cam Thomas took down White during the Wrangler’s failed attempt to score the extra two points.
Big Piney only had time for one drive in the third quarter. Despite pushing the ball forward with a series of handoffs between Raza and Taylor, the Punchers were unable to get the ball into the end zone. After a turnover on downs, possession returned to Pinedale.
Pinedale was forced to punt at the end of the third quarter. The Punchers suffered a penalty and an incomplete pass and were also forced to punt early in the fourth quarter. Pinedale advanced on their first drive, but Puncher defense again forced a fumble.
Big Piney started their second drive of the quarter with two handoffs between Raza and Taylor. Raza completed two passes to Elliot. Elliott scored the second touchdown for the Punchers on the second deep pass.
“Raza dodged a Pinedale rusher who face-masked him, then stepped up and threw a deep ball to wideout Elliott, who out-jumped his cover man and brought the ball down for the go-ahead touchdown,” Coach Makelky said.
The score stood at 12-6 with Big Piney unable to make a two-point conversion.
Puncher defense stepped up their game to prevent Pinedale from scoring again and tying the game in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter. Brady Johnson intercepted a pass from Lopeman to Keating. Hughes tackled Lopeman behind the line of scrimmage with 20 seconds left in the game. Big Piney gained possession and counted the last seconds of the game down winning, 12-6.
This week, Big Piney plays a home game against Buffalo on Friday, Oct. 12, at 2 p.m.
“Buffalo is the number one rated team in the state and very talented,” Makelky said, “This game will be a huge test for us as we prepare to finish out the regular season and get into the playoffs. Our players will be ready to compete on Friday afternoon!”