Punchers battle Wind River in nailbiter

Robert Galbreath photo Sophomore Caden Clifford leaps over the Wind River defense during the Homecoming game on Sept. 23. Also pictured is junior Roger Young.

BIG PINEY – An epic showdown between the Big Piney Punchers and the Wind River Cougars – the top teams in the 9-man, 1A West Conference – came down to the wire at Puncher Stadium on Friday, Sept. 23 during Homecoming Week.
Entering the fray with undefeated records, both teams pulled out all the stops as they grappled on the gridiron to retain the No. 1 seed.
At halftime, the Cougars held a razor-thin lead, 14-12. Big Piney responded with a third-quarter touchdown to regain the initiative, 18-14. Wind River managed to reach the end zone in the fourth quarter and score two points after touchdown to win the game by a slender margin, 20-18.
The Punchers’ grit and ability to run point for point with a top-ranked opponent demonstrated beyond a doubt that Big Piney is a serious contender in the conference.
“Offensively, the kids moved the ball on the ground and through the air well,” said Head Coach Jeromy Moffat. “Our only problem was our offense wasn’t on the field for enough time. Checking the stats, we ran 27 offensive plays to almost 60 from Wind River. Eighteen points (by Big Piney) on 27 offensive plays is a compliment to the kids for making plays when they had the chance on offense.”
The Puncher defense also made a strong statement.
“Wind River had some beef up front and they ran the ball very hard,” Moffat said. “Our defense held them to 20 points. Wind River hasn’t been held under 50 points this season so far. We had some big stops on a few fourth downs.”
While the loss was a tough one for the Punchers, Moffat praised Big Piney’s fighting spirit.
“These kids never quit,” he said. “I’ve appreciated their heart, tenacity and response to adversity all season. Our conference is a gauntlet. There is a lot of football to be played and we just proved we belong in the top tier of the 9-man teams in the state.”
Tackling each quarter
The action opened with Wind River scoring a touchdown on its first drive.
Big Piney wasted no time answering back. Senior Hunter Fisher returned Wind River’s kick to the Punchers’ 37-yard line. Sophomore Caden Clifford ate up yards with a carry.
Under heavy pressure, junior quarterback Champ Snively completed a pass to junior Karsyn Gurr. Gurr landed at the Cougars’ 18-yard line. Howard bulldozed up the middle.
Snively fired off a pass to Fisher, moving the line of scrimmage past the 10-yard mark. Snively completed a second pass to Clifford at the 1-yard line.
Howard took the handoff and charged through the Cougar defense to score Big Piney’s first touchdown.
The Big Piney defense held firm on Wind River’s subsequent possession. Junior Roger Young, Snively, Clifford and Gurr each pulled off tackles.
Junior Dylon Woodward took down Wind River’s runner for no gain. Zack Murphy, also a junior, made a tackle in the backfield. Clifford and Young shut down the Cougar offense with a tackle for no gain.
The first quarter ended in a 6-6 tie.
The Wind River offense ran up against an ironclad Puncher defense on its first drive in the second quarter, with tackles by Howard, senior Brandon Jones, junior Reuben Stoutenburg and Clifford.
Wind River’s short punt set Big Piney up at the Cougars’ 21-yard line. Clifford tucked the ball and carried it to the 1-yard line. Snively handed the ball to Howard. Howard plowed through the Cougar defense to score Big Piney’s second touchdown.
Wind River reached the end zone on its ensuing drive despite a dogged Puncher defense. The Cougars scored two points after touchdown, placing Wind River in the lead, 14-12, at halftime.
The Cougars’ first drive in the second half stalled out due to penalties and an unyielding Puncher defense. Tackles led by Woodward, Howard, Snively and Young forced Wind River to punt.
Big Piney returned the punt to its 41-yard line. Snively fired off a pass to Clifford. Gurr completed a 14-yard pass play for a first down. A pass to Stoutenburg resulted in an 8-yard gain for another first down.
Howard and Stoutenburg drove the ball forward. Snively completed another pass to Clifford. On the next play, Snively wound up a pass to Gurr, open in the end zone for a Puncher touchdown.
Big Piney pulled into the lead, 18-14, as the third quarter ended.
Wind River relentlessly pushed the ball down the field in the fourth-quarter, reaching the end zone for a touchdown and taking the lead by two points, 20-18.
The Punchers travel to St. Stephens on Saturday, Oct. 1.
“We will regroup this week,” said Coach Moffat. “A loss can add extra motivation if we handle it the right way and learn to grow from it as a team. That’s exactly what we plan to do.”

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