Tigers reach Idaho state semifinals with win over Horsehoe Bend

| November 11, 2020 12:00 AM

By CHUCK BANDEL

Valley Press

The Tiger is still on the prowl and the hilltop burn barrel dudes are loving every minute of it.

On a snowy field in Mullan, Idaho, Saturday afternoon, the Idaho second-ranked 8-man football team from the combined St. Regis, Montana and Mullan, Idaho high schools clawed their way to the state semifinals with a gritty 28-12 win over Horseshoe Bend.

The win propels the Tigers into a showdown this weekend with Dietrich, Idaho, the state’s top-ranked team.

Before a large crowd that included a sizable contingent of fans who made the 385-mile drive from Horseshoe Bend and a fun-loving group of Mullan fans who gathered around their traditional burn barrel on a hillside overlooking the field, the Tigers unleashed their potent offense and bend-but-don’t-break defense to topple the Mustangs.

Horseshoe Bend took the opening kickoff and moved methodically downfield over snow-covered grass in a clock-consuming drive that reached the St. Regis/Mullan 9-yard line.

A procedure penalty and a tough Tigers red zone defense rose to the occasion and stopped that drive on the 13.

Two plays later sophomore quarterback Caleb Ball connected with a wide open Luke Trogden who was off to the races on his way to an 87-yard touchdown pass.

The quick strike by St. Regis/Mullan gave them a 6-0 lead with 2:05 to go in the first quarter. The point after touchdown was no good and the quarter ended with the Tigers in front by six.

The Mustangs returned the ensuing kickoff to near mid-field. On the next play they put together a pair of first downs, capped by a 36-yard pass reception that set them up on the Tigers’ 2.

On the next play, Horseshoe Bend’s Caedmon Graham pushed through the Tigers’ defense from two yards out, tying the game at 6-6. A bad snap under increasingly slippery snow conditions left the score deadlocked with 9:41 to go in the second quarter.

St. Regis/Mullan returned the kickoff to their 38. On the next play Caleb Ball broke loose on a 54-yard sprint down the sideline giving the Tigers first-and-goal on the Horseshoe Bend 5. Two plays later Caleb flipped a short TD pass to his brother, junior running back Adam Ball to put the Tigers back in front.

The PAT was good, giving the home team a 14-6 lead with just under eight minutes left in the first half.

Horseshoe Bend then took the kickoff back to its 32. On the next play, Graham scooted across the snowy turf for what appeared to be a 68-yard touchdown run.

However, the scoring run was nullified by a pair of illegal block in the back calls by the Mustangs, which infuriated the Horseshoe Bend sideline. Two more yellow flags were launched for sideline encroachment on the Mustang coaches who stormed onto the field to protest the calls.

With the ball back at their own 35, the Mustangs regrouped and faced a fourth-and-4 situation when they were called for delay of game. Again the coaching staff came out on the field in protest, only to be flagged again for sideline encroachment.

After play resumed, Tigers defensive standout Riley Trogden cut off that drive when he intercepted a pass by Mustang quarterback Colten Meyer. That turnover gave St. Regis/Mullan the ball on the 45 but they were unable to move and punted three plays later.

Both teams swapped punts over the next two series. On the Tigers punt, the kick was muffed, giving Horseshoe Bend the ball with two seconds to go in the first half, but the clock ran out before they could move downfield.

The Tigers got the ball back to open the second half and took control at their 46. Several plays later, with snow falling heavier, Caleb Ball rolled to his right and launched a rainbow pass that was hauled in by freshman John Pruitt who took it into the end zone from 41 yards out.

The PAT was no good, leaving the Tigers with a 20-6 lead at the 8:36 mark of the third quarter.

Neither team could move the ball on their next possession, however a Tigers punt that went awry was recovered on the St. Regis/Mullan 15 yard line. On third-and-9, the Mustangs tossed a pass into the end zone that was tipped by a Tigers defender before falling into the hands of the Horseshoe Bend receiver for a TD.

The third quarter came to an end with the Tigers clinging to a 20-12 advantage.

With a snow/rain mix continuing to turn the field into a sloppy quagmire, neither team was able to sustain a drive. With eight minutes left in the game, St. Regis/Mullan started a drive from its 14.

The last several minutes of the game was a penalty filled affair with most of the damage being done to the Mustangs. The Ball brothers managed to scratch out a pair of clock-killing first downs, and topped the drive with a 46-yard run by Adam Ball that gave the hosts the ball deep in Horseshoe Bend territory.

An unsportsmanlike penalty on the Mustangs that was quickly met by another flag following unseemly comments by the visitor’s coaching staff, along with three unsportsmanlike penalties on Mustang players moved the ball to their 2.

On a fourth and goal from the two, Caleb Ball slipped through the Horseshoe Bend defense for a touchdown plunge that upped the Tigers’ lead to 28-12 with just over two minutes to play in the game.

The Tigers defense forced a turnover on downs on the Mustangs drive, allowing St. Regis/Mullan to run out the clock and secure the win.

With the victory, the Tigers ran their season record to 9-1 and earned a spot in the state playoff semi-finals this weekendS. They will presumably play top-ranked Dietrich, which according to protocol will host the game.