Herders hit road for the playoffs

Just outside the Herders’ home football stadium, there’s a paper sign reading “We love our seniors” still tapped to the side of one of the sets of bleachers. Slightly tattered by the windy gusts during the course of the last week, it still remains. 

For the first time in nearly a decade, the football team — like the lowly banner — is still standing strong, and running headfirst into the postseason. 

It’s just the second time (2015) in the last 10 years the Herders have a winning record and the fifth time in the last 14 years the name ‘Sweet Grass County’ will be noted among the 16 Class B teams in the playoffs this year. 

This team, a squad that’s on a five-game win streak and outscored opponents 188-15 in that same timeframe, wasn’t built in this offseason. The foundation was set four years, when these players began to buy into a process of rebuilding and culture changing.

“Since the beginning of the year, our main thing has been toughness,” said senior Nathan Baker. “We’ve been trying to define who Big Timber is and now we’re starting to get there. I remember coming in as a freshman, being told other teams thought of us as a pushover. Now, we’re doing everything we can to make people fear us.”

After these regular season final, a 42-8 blowout of Columbus, head coach J.V. Moody refused to take any credit for the best season of Herder football in the past decade.

“It really has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with the assistants,” Moody said. “They do all the work, they get them ready to go. They’re the ones who deserve all the credit. They absolutely deserve all the credit.” 

Kent Morgan, Pat Dringman, Levi Evjene, Tony Carroccia and Becky Frese have helped transform the team and the culture around football in Big Timber this year, and will be tasked once again to aid in keeping the season alive with the players this weekend.

Who is Huntley Project?

So, you’ve drawn the No. 7 Red Devils in the first round of the playoffs. Who are they?

Huntley Project touts a pair of senior threats on offense, mainly in the rushing fanatic of Lane Sumner.

The senior tailback for the Red Devils up 1,150 yards this season on 154 carries. He scored more times (11) than anyone else on his team, and had five, 100-yard rushing games. 

In the Red Devils’ two losses, Sumner still posted 74 and 194 yards, respectively, but only found the end zone once. 

Sumner averaged 7.5 yards per carry in the regular season and was a threat on special teams, too. He had 1,898 yards in kickoff returns, averaging 49.9 yards per game. 

When the Herders aren’t focusing on Sumner, they’ll need to keep their eyes on Keenan Reynolds, the leading receiver for the Red Devils. 

He had the second-most scores (nine) all coming in the form of receptions. Senior quarterback Tylan Croy threw 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions, with half of those scores going to Reynolds. 

Croy was a 57.1 percent completion thrower, racking up 1,295 yards this year. The Red Devils will be more than capable of a dual-threat attack against a stout Herder defense. 

Seeking to break history

Take a closer look at how the Herders have done in past playoff games:

Year   Result   Score   Opponent

2017  ????     ??-??    Huntley Project

2010  Loss      27-6     Colstrip

2007  Loss      50-14   Fairfield

2004  Loss      40-0     Baker/Plevnia

2003  Loss      Unknown Ennis

*1981 Loss     20-14    Unknown

*1975 Loss     13-7      Unknown

*State title games. Single season records only went back as far as 2003 on the Montana High School Association website. 

For more of this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at bigtimberpioneer.net.

PHOTO CAPTION: Casey Gunlickson (88) scrambles up field for a 68-yard touchdown, accompanied by teammate Jacob Roberts (56) and Columbus’s Izaak Huncovsky. (STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Big Timber Pioneer)

By STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Pioneer Staff Writer

 

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