Loss puts playoffs just out of reach

The 2015 football season ended in heart-breaking fashion for the Big Timber Sheepherders as the team lost 32-27 to Red Lodge after the Rams scored the game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds left in the game.

Compounding the heartbreak of the loss was that it kept the Herders out of the playoffs. After starting the season 6-1, Big Timber lost its final two games of the season by a combined 12 points. Those losses opened the door for Roundup to earn District 4B’s second playoff spot.

The Herders were without a number of starters in the game.

“We played without three starters on offense and four starters on defense,” head coach Bruce Bell said. “The injury bug finally hit us. We had nine guys standing on the sidelines in street clothes.”

Despite the injuries, it looked as if everything would go Big Timber’s way when Nathan Baker scored a touchdown with just more than five minutes left in the game to give the Herders a 27-26 lead.

But Red Lodge went on an extended drive to take nearly all the time off the clock before scoring the game-winning touchdown on a two-yard plunge with 23 seconds left.

The Big Timber defense had two chances to stop Red Lodge on fourth downs, but both times the Rams were successful in continuing the drive.

“We pushed them to the limit to get them to those fourth downs,” Bell said. “It was third-and-goal and they chose to run the ball. If they didn’t score on that play it was probably game over, but they didn’t do anything different on that drive than they did the rest of the game. 

“They’re a running team, and they ran the ball at us,” he added. “They ran the ball well enough to get it on two fourth downs and put the game away with 23 seconds left.”

The Herders did have one final chance to steal the game back, but their final play from the 40-yard line gained just 20 yards before a lateral went out of bounds to end the game.

“My message (to the team) for most of the year has been that this is not just a game about winning or losing on Friday nights,” Bell said. “It’s also about the lessons we all can learn through the process. 

“When you have a tough loss like that or a tough last couple of games where you are losing by a touchdown or less and that takes you out of the playoffs, it is a pretty harsh realization for those seniors.”

Bell recognized those seniors with the team after the game and congratulated the group on all they have done for the Herder football program.

“It’s going to be a group of seniors that I and all my coaches will miss because they are great leaders,” he added. “They did everything that they could and worked as hard as they could on the field to get where we needed to go, we just came up short.”

By Thomas Watson / Yellowstone Newspapers

Photo by LINDSEY ERIN KROSKOB / Big Timber Pioneer