Next to nothing went right in the first half for a top-ranked Thunder Basin football team that harped on starting fast all week long.
For the second straight week, the Bolts found themselves with their backs against the wall Friday night. Rock Springs’ top-ranked defense was as good as advertised in the first half and TBHS was facing a 14-2 halftime deficit in hostile territory.
The Bolts are no stranger to that position, though, and came alive in the second half just like last week. This time they scored 24 straight, while the defense pitched another second-half shutout for the 24-14 comeback win.
“They’re a good football team, but we shot ourselves in the foot so many times. … We have to be prepared to play two halves of football,” TBHS coach Trent Pikula said. “Our guys believe in themselves. They never think they’re out of the game.”
The first chance for TBHS to carve into the Tigers lead came with about 8:30 left in the third quarter. Jaxon Pikula was held to 7 yards on seven carries in the first half, but after a steady diet of carries to start the second half, he busted to the outside for a 29-yard touchdown with 6:14 remaining in the third quarter.
That quickly cut the deficit to 14-9 and then Rock Springs further fed into the Bolts’ momentum on the first play of the ensuing drive. Tigers’ quarterback Seth Hymas tried airing it out on first down, but the pass came down amid a group of TBHS defenders and Tanner Richards made the easy interception at midfield.
It looked like a holding penalty was going to stall Thunder Basin’s next possession, which was a theme throughout the first half. However, a gutsy play call from Pikula and even better execution gave the Bolts a chance to keep driving.
Fill-in punter Blaine Allen took the snap at Rock Springs’ 46-yard line, but instead of booting it, he took off and made it all the way to the 23. Four plays later, the Bolts were in the end zone and in the lead, as quarterback Mason Hamilton rolled out to the right and then threw back to an open Cameron Durgin for the touchdown.
Pikula reached into his special teams bag of tricks again for the PAT. The holder, Richards, took the snap and hit Dyse Shepard in the end zone to extend Thunder Basin’s lead to 17-14 with 3:04 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers got the ball back just five minutes after holding a 14-2 lead and suddenly needed to put points on the board. However, the Bolts’s second half defense has been lights out this season and tackles from Allen and Hayden Lunberg, followed by an incompletion, forced a quick RSHS punt.
The Bolts went for the throat on the first play after the stop. Hamilton flashed some of his brilliance with a perfect throw down the seam and right into the arms of Richards for the 41-yard touchdown. The quick strike made it 24-14 with 1:11 left in the third.
“It was an incredible throw from Mason and I was just able to catch it and get in (the end zone),” Richards said.
Richards had himself a game on both sides of the ball. Already with a pick and a touchdown, he ended the next RSHS drive with a pass breakup and later picked off Hymas in the end zone with 5:27 left in the game.
Thunder Basin’s defense only allowed one first down in the fourth quarter — a long ball to Justis Reese — and yet again, it gave the Bolts a chance to grind out a win. It was senior linebacker Caleb Driskill’s blocked punt that kept the Bolts from being shut out in the first half.
“The defense held us in the game until our offense picked it up,” coach Pikula said. “We can’t keep putting them in positions where they have to win us the game.”
The victory comes a week after Thunder Basin beat Natrona County 20-16, after falling behind 16-0 in the first half. With two games remaining in the regular season schedule, the 7-0 Bolts seem to be on a collision course with the No. 1 seed for the 4A playoffs.
The Bolts will face Kelly Walsh at home next week for their final home game of the regular season.