All season long, no lead seemed too large for the Thunder Basin High School football team to overcome. Four come-from-behind wins helped the Bolts reach the state championship game undefeated at 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in Wyoming Class 4A, but they finally fell behind by a deficit they couldn’t overcome Saturday.
The Sheridan Broncs turned three of Thunder Basin’s four turnovers into touchdowns to take a three-touchdown lead at 28-7 early in the third quarter. Thunder Basin’s never-say-die mentality took over to mount comeback that nearly capped a perfect season for the Bolts. But Sheridan showed its championship pedigree to win its fourth state title in the last five years 35-26.
Thunder Basin rattled off 19 unanswered points in the third quarter to close the gap to 28-26, but the Broncs played a near-perfect fourth quarter to close out the win and keep Thunder Basin’s dangerous big-play offense off the field.
Sheridan put together a 97-yard touchdown drive that took more than a third of the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game at 35-26 with 7:51 to play and then the Broncs stopped Thunder Basin’s one and only drive of the fourth. A gutsy call from Sheridan coach Jeff Mowry iced the game when the Broncs executed a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from its own 35 with 2:50 on the clock. A 19-yard scamper to the left side earned a first down and allowed Sheridan to run out the clock.
Sheridan didn’t give the Bolts much of a chance in the final 12 minutes, but the comeback in the third was something to be proud of, TBHS coach Trent Pikula said.
“It’s nothing we haven’t been doing all year long. We just didn’t have enough tonight,” the coach said. “Every game this year we fought, fought, fought and battled to the end. That’s just what these guys are about.”
The question of whether senior Mason Hamilton would start at quarterback Thunder Basin was quickly answered when he took the first-team reps pregame. Then the concern quickly turned to how effective he could be playing through the pain of an injured right shoulder.
Early, it looked like the answer was “not very,” as he threw interceptions on two of Thunder Basin’s first three possessions — the second was returned down to the Bolts’ 1-yard line. Sheridan quickly turned each of picks into touchdowns, one a 22-yard drive and the other from a yard out to take a 14-0 lead with a minute left in the first quarter.
Thunder Basin was in danger of being shut out in the first half for the first time this season as the 2-minute mark was closing in. That’s when Hamilton really started to push the ball downfield.
Up to that point, he had barely thrown the ball more than 10 yards through the air. Almost all of his completions were off dink and dump plays, but that changed when he hit Tanner Richards in stride for the 49-yard touchdown with 2:04 left in the first half.
That closed the gap to 14-7 and shed some light on an otherwise dominant performance from Sheridan in the first half.
The Broncs ran their 2-minute drill to with ease and marched 71 yards in 1:18 to make it 21-7 when Jacob Boint scored a touchdown from 5 yards out, busting through the middle on a read option play.
Snow that started before kickoff continued to fall when the teams returned to the field in the third quarter and the Broncs leading by two touchdowns. That changed quickly when Thunder Basin fumbled on the first play of the second half leading another Sheridan short-field touchdown from 25 yards out and a 28-7 lead.
Sheridan also milked four minutes of clock despite the short field, and Garrett Coon made a tackler miss in the hole for a 3-yard score.
“First half, offensively we just turned the ball over three times and came out on the first drive of the second half and turn the ball over again,” Pikula said. “Those are just things you can’t do, regardless of where you’re at. But in a state championship game against a very good football team, those are things you can’t overcome.”
It looked like disaster for the Bolts, but that’s when their mental toughness took over.
“It was a mentality thing. We’ve been in that position before,” senior Blaine Allen said. “We knew how to fight back, because we don’t just give up. We trust all of our brothers.”
The nightmare start to the second half seemed to wake the Bolts up and everything suddenly came together for them on the next drive. Hamilton threw two bullets to Richards and Warren Carr near the sideline to get the sticks moving and then set up a middle screen perfectly to Carr for a 52-yard touchdown.
Carr picked an open lane to run through, but he probably wouldn’t have scored without the help of Allen. There were a couple of defenders closing in on Carr near the end zone, but he ran behind his teammate and Allen put the last defender straight on his back for the crucial block. The score came 1:06 after Sheridan’s touchdown to make it 28-14.
Suddenly, Sheridan was out of rhythm and discombobulated. Richards made a huge hit on the ensuing kickoff to pin the Broncs back at their 12 and then the Broncs fumbled trying to pitch the ball on an option play.
Dyse Shepherd recovered the ball at Sheridan’s 7-yard line with 6:31 remaining in the third. Twelve seconds later, the Bolts were in the end zone again when Hamilton hit Richards with a quick throw and dive across the goal line.
The Bolts missed what ended up being a crucial extra point make the score 28-20. A
nother defensive stop set up one of the biggest plays of the game. Thunder Basin’s drive had stalled on fourth and 15 at Sheridan’s 31, but coach Pikula elected to roll the dice since the offense was in no-man’s land — too far from out for a field goal, too close for a punt.
He dialed up a deep ball and Hamilton went straight to the back corner of the end zone. Allen doesn’t lose many athleticism battles and that’s what it came down to. He out-jumped the defensive back to high point the ball and came down with an acrobatic catch to shock the stadium.
Thunder Basin had scored three touchdowns in six minutes and had a chance to tie the game at 28 with 31 seconds left in the third. Because of the earlier missed extra point, TBHS was forced to go for a 2-point conversion and was stopped just short of the pylon to keep the deficit at 28-26.
Thunder Basin only got the ball back one more time and they needed at least two chances after the Broncs answered with the 97-yard touchdown drive that put them up 35-26.
Despite falling one step short of a state title, Thunder Basin made an unprecedented run against a perennial Class 4A powerhouse.
“I’m proud of my guys. They fought all year long,” coach Pikula said. “This was an amazing season.”