It was the same formula that has worked all season.
Powered by a devastating running game and a hard-hitting, ball-ripping defense, the Hot Springs Savage Heat put the finishes touches on an undefeated regular season by trouncing visiting Gardiner, 55-7, Thursday night.
Early on the game looked to be a tight battle of the run. Hot Springs got on the scoreboard first when standout wide receiver Kyle Lawson hauled in a short, 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jack McAllister.
But the Bruins struck back on their next drive, led by the bruising, yard-gobbling running of junior running back Evan Guengerich who broke through the Savage Heat defense on his way to a 40-yard score, evening the game at 7-7 with 50 seconds left in the opening quarter.
From that point on it was pretty much all Hot Springs, despite several more long gallops by Guengerich. After taking the opening kickoff at their own 33-yard line, Lawson snared a pass and raced 22 yards. Savage Heat QB Brandon Knudsen capped that drive with a dodging, weaving 11-yard jaunt into the Gardiner end zone. A successful point after kick boosted Hot Springs’ lead to 15-7 with 8:19 left in the second quarter.
After holding Gardiner to just a few yards on the Bruins’ next possession, Knudsen took the ensuing punt 60 yards to paydirt just over a minute after his last score. Gardiner, which was plagued throughout the night by costly turnovers and drive-killing penalties, coughed up a fumble which was recovered by Hot Springs. The Bruins held and got the ball back only to fumble again, this one scooped up and returned 59 yards for a score, giving Hot Springs a 27-7 lead with 3:03 left in the first half.
Yet another fumble by Gardiner gave the ball right back to Hot Springs, which marched steadily downfield, aided by two Bruin penalties. With the clock winding down on the opening half, Lawson swept around end for a 1-yard TD as with 18 seconds left in the second quarter. The score pushed Hot Springs’ lead to 33-7 at the half.
The second half was more of the same, with Gardiner losing the ball one more time, this one recovered by Knudsen. Hot Springs ground down the field behind the solid running game and scored off that turnover when Knudsen raced in from 20 yards out, bumping their lead to 41-7 halfway through the third quarter. Gardiner’s next possession ended with another turnover when Knudsen picked off a pass and returned it 37 yards to the Gardiner 18.
Lawson put the finishing touches on the ensuing Hot Springs drive, corralling a lateral and scooting into the end zone from three yards out.
The Savage Heat then held Gardiner once more, this time snuffing out a fourth-and-12 desperation attempt and taking over on downs. A short while later, Lawson scored the game’s final points when he ran in from 13 yards out.
The win boosted Hot Springs regular season mark to a perfect 9-0, with a homefield playoff game next on the agenda.
The game, scheduled for this Saturday will be against Harlowton/Ryegate. Gardiner fell to 4-4 with the loss.