Wheatland falls to Tongue River
WHEATLAND – On an unseasonably warm October night, the Wheatland Bulldogs would wrap up the regular season at home against the WyoPreps No. 4-ranked Tongue River Eagles.
The Bulldogs would send off 14 seniors for their last home game. The game would be important for playoff seeding: the winner would be the 2A East Conference third seed and travel to No. 2 ranked Lyman and the loser would get the fourth seed and travel to No. 1 ranked and undefeated Mountain View.
The Tongue River Eagles brought the state’s top ranked defense along with a high scoring offense. In a game of two completely different halves, the Bulldogs would dominate the first half but allow the Eagles to take the second half in a 21-7 Bulldog loss.
The first quarter was a defensive battle. Tongue River head coach Steve Hanson said before the game on the WyoPreps game preview that they were going to focus on stopping running back Cole Goertz and the Bulldog run game. The Eagle defense was aggressive as Wheatland could not move the ball and the first quarter turned into a punting battle. Wheatland kicker/punter Tyler Bohnen boomed several punts over 50 yards to keep the Eagles pinned deep in their territory. The Bulldog front of Jake Hyche, Gabe Haroldsen, Bodie Stone and Wyatt Kafka spent the first quarter in the Eagles backfield.
Tongue River QB Carter Maslowski took several big hits from the Bulldog defense. Jake Hyche had five tackles for loss including three sacks in the first half. As the second quarter wound down, it appeared that the score would stay scoreless going into halftime. With 1 minute, 10 seconds left in the half, Bulldog defensive back Joe Frias intercepted Maslowski while throwing under a heavy pass rush to give the Bulldog the ball at the Eagle 35-yard line. Bulldog QB Brock Peasley would put together the Bulldog’s best drive of the night. With an up-tempo offense due to limited time, he would hit Waylon Milnes for five yards and Brice Stenson for 12 yards. After a holding penalty pushed the Bulldogs back, Peasley would scramble from pressure and throw a dart to the corner of the endzone and hit Tagg Mickelson for the touchdown. Following a 15-yard penalty, Bohnen would hit a long PAT and the Bulldogs would head to halftime up 7-0. At the end of the half, the Bulldogs had outgained the Eagles 110 yards to 70.
The second half saw teams again trade punts to start the third quarter. The Bulldogs put together a good drive in the third quarter completing a fourth down to move the ball deep into Eagle territory. Late in the third period, the Bulldogs would scratch and claw for short runs and passes as they moved the ball against 2A’s top defense but would fail to convert on fourth-and-4 from the Eagle 32-yard line and would turn the ball over.
After the failed fourth down, the momentum shifted.
The Eagles were getting destroyed by the Wheatland pass rush, so they made an adjustment and began to run the ball between the tackles. This appeared to catch the Bulldogs by surprise and the Eagles quickly moved the ball for the first time all night on a long, 68-yard drive to tie the game at 7-7.
On their next possession, penalties would bite the Bulldogs as they would come up just short and were forced to punt. The Eagles would continue with a run heavy approach and move the ball up the field. On a play action pass, the Eagles would catch the Bulldog defenders expecting run and Caleb Kilbride scored on a pass from Maslowski to go up 14-7 in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over on their next two possessions allowing the Eagles to score again near the end of the fourth quarter to finish the game with the win 21-7.
The Bulldogs defense held Tongue River to 192 yards total offense, well below their season average of 332 yards per game. The defense surrendered 122 of those yards in the second half. After the regular season, wideout Bryce Stenson finished as the state’s top receiver in yards per game (88) and total receiving touchdowns (12). He would end the season as the No. 3 kick returner in the state. Quarterback Brock Peasley finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in touchdown passes (17), No. 2 in QB efficiency (156) and No. 5 in all-purpose yards (194/game).
Other top 10 players for the Bulldogs included kicker Tyler Bohnen (43.8 yards/attempt), Cole Goertz rushing (70 yds/game) and punter Braden Nilsson (39.8 yds/kick). The top defensive point averages for the Bulldogs were Cole Goertz (12.6/game), Jake Hyche (11.9) and Bodie Stone (11.2).
In his KYCN postgame radio interview, head coach Tony Borton said, “We have to play a complete game and stay focused for four quarters. We got ahead in the first half but lost our focus in the second half and it cost us.”
The Bulldogs will play a day game for round one at Mountain View on Friday at 1 p.m. Wheatland lost to Mountain View (9-0) in week two but bring a much-improved team that finished the second half of the season with one of the state’s best offenses and a much-improved defense. Tongue River will travel to Lyman in round one.
Bulldog seniors honored Friday night included Gabe Haroldson, Cole Goertz, Eric Crossman, Cadence Arellano, Tyler Bohnen, Bryce Stenson, Tagg Mickelsen, Brock Peasley, Beckett Graves, Wyatt Kafka, Eric Frias, Mauriccio Grimaldo, Lorenzo Rojo and Braden Nilsson.