The Thunder Basin High School football team got the fast start it was looking for Friday night, and then some. The Bolts lit up the scoreboard on their first four possessions and built a 28-0 lead before Kelly Walsh’s offense even crossed midfield.
Thunder Basin tacked on 14 more points to take a stranglehold on the game with a 42-0 halftime lead and eventual 49-14 win. It was a breath of fresh air for a team that’s been forced to come from behind to win four of its games this season.
The victory moves TBHS to 8-0 on the season and clinches the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A playoffs.
“We finally started fast, which is what we’ve been preaching for the last 2-3 weeks. It’s exactly what we wanted, put up points early and let our defense do what they always do,” coach Trent Pikula said. “This is the most complete game we’ve played in a long time.
“I think all three phases of the game played great for the first time in, I don’t know, it’s been a while.”
The Bolts finally showed what its offense can do when clicking, and senior quarterback Mason Hamilton was right in the middle of the offensive outburst. He has been itching to get a breakout game out of the way and Kelly Walsh was the unfortunate team that faced him while he was firing on all cylinders.
Most quarterbacks would’ve taken Hamilton’s halftime stat line in a heartbeat. He threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns completing 15-of-18 attempts. He added another touchdown during a second half shortened by a running clock.
“That’s the best feeling as a quarterback is when not just you have the stats, but you see your offense click as a whole,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been waiting for this since Week One, since like the beginning of the season — to go out and do what all of us know that we can do.”
Predictably, the star on the other side of the ball was Caleb Driskill, Thunder Basin’s senior linebacker who is getting looks from Arizona State University and many other Division I programs. He was everywhere Friday night, racking up 10 tackles, but his most impressive feat might’ve been on special teams.
He blocked his first punt with 2:32 left in the first quarter, shooting through the line and into the backfield, then did nearly the same thing midway through the second quarter. The Trojans tried to use a fake punt to spark the first drive of the second half, but Driskill was right in the hole to make the tackle.
“I think that’s probably the first time (I’ve seen that),” Pikula said about Driskill’s special teams play. “Just his ability to go out and make plays, make tackles in the backfield and block punts and tackles on kickoff — he’s a fun dude to watch and I think the other kids feed off him.”
The Bolts scored the opening touchdown just three minutes into the game, and it came from someone who’d never seen the end zone in a varsity game. Junior Hayden Lunberg capped a 65-yard opening drive with a 7-yard touchdown, taking a jet sweep around the left edge to the pylon for a 7-0 lead.
A tackle by Driskill on third-and-1 forced Kelly Walsh into a three-and-out on its first possession before the Bolts eagerly retook the field.
Hamilton completed his first two throws of the drive, making him 6-6. Then on the fourth play, he zipped a sidearm throw to Warren Carr on a middle screen and Carr outran the defense for a 46-yard touchdown and 14-0 lead seven minutes into the game.
Driskill’s first blocked punt gave the offense its next scoring opportunity on the Trojans’ 29-yard line. Hamilton should’ve had his second touchdown throw of the first quarter four plays later, but receiver Blaine Allen lost his footing at the goal line after a 15-yard gain.
Hamilton and Allen were joking with each other about the play a minute later, though, because running back Jaxon Pikula powered his way into the end zone on the next play for the 21-0 lead.
There were just 32.7 second left in the first quarter after the score, but the Bolts still managed to put one more touchdown on the board before the clock hit zeros. Another big defensive stop gave them the ball back, and this time it came from Tanner Richards.
A play after he was helmet in hands because of a missed tackle in the backfield, Richards read Trojan quarterback Trenton Walker’s eyes and jumped the route for an interception. He returned it 30 yards to the 7-yard line before Jaxon Pikula took the ball to the right pylon for a 28-0 lead with five seconds left in the first quarter.
A lot of Hamilton’s damage in the first quarter was done with short and intermediate throws, but he also showed off the deep ball in the second quarter.
Coach Pikula used a Kelly Walsh timeout to dial up the first bomb and Hamilton sailed a perfect ball over Allen’s shoulder for a 34-yard touchdown and 35-0 lead with 8:32 left in the first half.
The Bolts couldn’t make it six straight touchdown drives. Kelly Walsh finally made a stop on the next possession, but it was a short-lived victory for the Trojans.
Thunder Basin made another stop, with Driskill de-cleating a receiver on third down, and then Hamilton went for the throat.
KW’s defense bit on a play-action fake and Hamilton floated another deep pass over Richards’ shoulder and out of reach of the lunging defensive back for a 48-yard touchdown with 1:31 on the clock.
With the Bolts leading 42-0 at halftime, the final two quarters were merely a formality. Coach Pikula said it felt great to go to the locker room stress free “for once” and then be able to get back to having fun on the sidelines.
Thunder Basin triggered the 45-point mercy rule on its first possession of the second half, which made the final two quarters go by considerably faster than the first two. Hamilton’s seven-yard touchdown throw to Dyse Shepard with 8:28 left in the third was the Bolts’ lone score of the second half.
The only real blemish on the night for TBHS came a few seconds after taking a 49-0 lead. Cameron Burkett returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards for a touchdown, shedding four or five Bolt tacklers along the way.
The Trojans also tacked on a late touchdown with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter to make it 49-14, but the TBHS reserves had been in the game for a whole quarter at that point.
Since Thunder Basin holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Sheridan, the only one-loss team in the state, this win secured the No. 1 seed for the postseason. The next time the Bolts play on their home field, it will be hosting the No. 8 seed in the first round of the playoffs.