The Choteau High School football team, playing in Philipsburg Aug. 31, lost to Thompson Falls, 44-40, but head coach Lucas Gunderson said the close loss was a great learning experience for his team and one that will benefit the Bulldogs this week, when they play Rocky Boy at home on Sept. 5 at 7 p.m.
The Thursday night football game was originally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 6, but a shortage of officials in this region forced some schools to move games to Thursday.
While the Thompson Falls game was one of Choteau’s two nonconference matches this season, the game against Rocky Boy will count for the team’s conference record.
Gunderson said the coaches have not been able to view any video of Rocky Boy’s first game of the season, a loss to Hays-Lodge Pole, but will work with the boys this week to fix some of the short-comings they saw in the Thompson Falls game. The boys will be ready to play Rocky Boy despite the short week, he said.
Looking at last weekend, Gunderson said, “We are incredibly happy. We were frustrated with the loss, but when we looked at the film, and we saw the mistakes, they are all correctible.” And, he said, having a team that did not quit even when the Bulldogs were down, 24-0 in the first half is huge. “They know that they can battle back,” he said.
One of the things Gunderson plans to change this week is to do a better job of rotating in Kolby Kovatch and Gage Cummings as running backs to spell Kyler Crabtree and Carter Morgan.
The coach said he is happy with the direction the team is heading and described Thompson Falls, which just moved down to eight-man football this season, as a stepping stone and a growing experience.
In the Thompson Falls game, the Bulldogs fell behind, 24-0, in the second quarter. Thompson Falls “had a big O-line and ran a really solid running game against us,” Gunderson said.
The Choteau boys hung in and played tough defense, and their patience paid off. They scored twice in the second quarter as quarterback Johnny Rappold handed off to Crabtree who had touch-down runs of 7 and 15 yards, each followed by a successful two-point conversion. At the end of the first half, Thompson Falls led, 24-16.
In the third quarter, Crabtree generated some momentum for the Bulldogs with a 69-yard kickoff return touchdown to cut the Thompson Falls lead to just two points, 24-22. The Bulldogs’ two-point conversion failed, but from that play on, the game was a seesaw battle.
Thompson Falls answered with a 12-yard touchdown pass to go ahead, 30-22. But, the Bulldogs own offense was clicking then, and Rappold again put together a scoring drive with big help from Choteau’s offensive line, that did a good job blocking for him against Thompson Falls players who had a size advantage. That drive culminated with a Crabtree touchdown on a 5-yard run. The two-point conversion failed, but Choteau was again within two points, 30-28.
Thompson Falls answered again with a five-yard touchdown run, but also missed the two-point conversion, to extend the lead to 36-28. But, in the second big special teams play of the game, Kovatch returned a 76-yard kickoff for six more points, and the third quarter ended with Choteau down, 34-36.
In the final quarter, both teams only scored once. Crabtree scored on a 19-yard run, but the Bulldogs’ two-point conversion failed. That score put them up, 40-36, their only lead of the game.
As they had all afternoon, the Thompson Falls Hawks answered with their own scoring drive and nailed their two-point conversion to win the game, 44-40.
Choteau had 254 yards of offense on 49 plays, including 25 yards passing and 229 yards rushing. Rappold completed two of 10 passes for 25 yards. Crabtree had 160 yards rushing on 27 carries while Rappold had 50 yards on seven carries and Morgan had 19 yards on five carries.
Kovatch had one reception for 20 yards and Crabtree had one reception for five yards. The Bulldogs had no turnovers, but Crabtree forced a T-Falls fumble and recovered it while Kovatch had an interception.
Crabtree had four kickoff returns, averaging 37 yards and one for a touchdown, while Kovatch had one for 76 yards and a touchdown and Cummings had one for 12 yards.
Gunderson said the Choteau boys worked hard to stop Thompson Falls. “We made them work for every inch they got,” he said.
The coach said that Choteau’s first two drives were good efforts, but were stalled by penalties. The boys were able to adjust and then put together successful drives. “I was confident that if we could put up some points, we’d be able to compete,” Gunderson said.
He complimented the offensive line for doing a great job blocking for the quarterback and the running backs. Choteau’s defensive line did a good job of forcing the Hawks to keep their plays inside. Choteau’s boys tackled well and didn’t give up any big plays, he said.
Thompson Falls 16-8-12-8 — 44
Choteau 0-16-18-6 — 40
Thompson Falls — Brandon Zimmerman 32-yd. run. (Run.)
Thompson Falls — Trey Fisher 23-yd. run. (Run.)
Thompson Falls —Fisher 2-yd. run. (Run.)
Choteau — Kyler Crabtree 7-yd. run. (Run.)
Choteau —Crabtree 15-yd. run. (Pass.)
Choteau —Crabtree 69-yd. kickoff return. (Pass failed.)
Thompson Falls — Roman Sparks 12-yd. pass from Fisher. (Run failed.)
Choteau —Crabtree 5-yd. run. (Pass failed.)
Thompson Falls —Fisher 5-yd. run. (Run failed.)
Choteau — Kolby Kovatch 76-yd. kickoff return. (Run failed.)
Choteau — Crabtree 19-yd. run. (Run failed.)
Thompson Falls —Sparks 5-yd. run. (Run.)