POCATELLO – For the fourth time in five years, the Blackfoot Broncos will be playing for the 4A state football championship. The Broncos earned that right with a thrilling, heart-stopping 34-31 victory over conference rival Hillcrest in Holt Arena on Friday.
“I’m glad that they are out of our league next year, I’ll tell you that,” Blackfoot coach Stan Buck said. “We knew that they were a tough team and it always seems like these games come down to an end like this.”
The end was certainly in doubt as Hillcrest came roaring back from an early 21-point deficit.
Blackfoot got that early lead on its first offensive play after the Bronco defense held on a 4th-and-one from the Hillcrest 44-yard line. Blackfoot wasted little time dialing up the home run ball as Trae Pilster dropped back and then let fly with a perfectly placed ball to Colton Dance for an early 7-0 lead.
“We were going to run that play on the first play no matter where we got the ball on the field,” Pilster said. “The line gave me plenty of time and we ran it to perfection.”
After another fourth down stop on the ensuing Hillcrest possession, Blackfoot turned to the ground game as Carlton Moore broke off huge chunks of yardage on nearly every play.
Ryan Murdoch capped things off with a 1-yard plunge as the Blackfoot contingent erupted in celebration with the 14-0 lead.
“We wanted the ball on the kick off because I felt that it would be important to play with a lead,” Buck said. “Our offensive line did a great job and our defense was what put us up early because they really played well, especially early in the game.”
After a Hillcrest score midway through the second quarter, Blackfoot tallied two more first half scores, first with a Moore 9-yard scamper and the second, another Murdoch bulldozer run from 2 yards out for a 28-7 advantage.
Murdoch’s score was set up by a fabulous interception by James Wislodoski who stepped in front of a rare Knight pass, setting the Broncos up deep in Hillcrest territory.
Even with the lead, this was Blackfoot/Hillcrest and these two teams never blow one another out. True to form Hillcrest made a run.
With the Knights looking to just run out the half they caught a huge break on the Holt Arena field turf when Caden Neuerburg fumbled the ball.
The ball bounced true, right into the waiting arms of Tyler Belnap who scooped it up and raced 58 yards to the end zone. After a two-point conversion the score was 28-15.
“They caught a little bit of a break on that last play of the half and I let the kids know in the locker room at the half that this game was far from over,” Buck said.
Blackfoot received the second half kickoff and promptly engineered a nice drive that culminated with a Moore 8-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter.
Moore finished the day with 118 yards rushing on 23 carries to go along with his two scores.
Blackfoot went for two on the point-after attempt but failed, making the score 34-15.
That is when the Knights ignited their comeback attempt. They scored a third quarter touchdown and then added a fourth quarter score with 7:31 remaining to cut the lead to three points.
Needing a momentum shift, Blackfoot got just that from junior Cody Evans. He took the kickoff and then split the coverage for a great return to the Knights' 48-yard line.
From there, Blackfoot went to the ground game as they pounded away at the Knights, eventually getting the ball down to the 1-yard line with two minutes remaining.
On the fourth down play, the Knights held, however, giving the Knights one last chance to steal the victory from the Broncos.
“Our offensive line played so great all night and on the fourth down play we had the back looking for the gap but Hillcrest did a good job on the play,” Buck said. “We were really just trying to run the clock because we knew that our defense was getting tired. If we could have gotten just one more score, it would have made it easier on us.”
Hillcrest was able to move the ball out of the shadow of its own goal line but its ground-and-pound offense simply isn’t designed to go the length of the field in such short order.
On a 4th-and-11, Blackfoot got a quarterback sack and a fumble which Austin Campbell recovered.
“It was a great game for the fans, but it was hard on us coaches,” Buck said.
Pilster concurred with his coach's assessment.
“It’s always a big game when we play Hillcrest, especially if we play them twice in a season because the second game is win or go home,” Pilster said. “It was really emotional out there but now we have one more game. You don’t get a lot of chances for this so we need to take advantage.”
Blackfoot will play next week for the state championship in Holt Arena. The date and time has yet to be determined.
Hillcrest 0 15 8 8 – 31
Blackfoot 14 14 6 0 – 34
9:57 B-Colton Dance 44 pass from Trae Pilster (Luis Oseguera kick) 7-0
1:22 B-Ryan Murdoch 1 run (Luis Oseguera kick) 14-0
6:40 H-Caden Neuerburg 3 run (Tyler Belnap kick) 14-7
2:23 B-Carlton Moore 9 run (Luis Oseguera kick) 21-7
1:20 B-Ryan Murdoch 2 run (Luis Oseguera kick) 28-7
0:00 H-Tyler Belnap 72 fumble return (run good) 28-15
8:44 B-Carlton Moore 8 run (run failed) 34-15
4:34 H-Caden Neuerburg 5 run (run good) 34-23
7:31 H-J.B. Bateman 5 run (run good) 34-31
Blackfoot passing – Trae Pilster 14-17 226 TD, INT; Rushing – Carlton Moore 23-118 2TD, Trae Pilster 8-33, Ryan Murdoch 8-24 2TD, Ryan Gallegos 1-1; Receiving – Colby Pearson 3-32, Colton Dance 3-73 TD, Gabby Maldonado 3-34, Cody Evans 2-30, Jake Denning 2-27, Carlton Moore 1-10