Kremmling " West Grand battles Saratoga for 13-9 win in Wyoming
Sky-Hi Daily News
The West Grand Mustangs football team overcame a shaky start to build a seven-point lead and then hold on for a 13-9 victory over the Saratoga Panthers in a game played in Saratoga, Wyo, last week.
It may not have been the first-ever meeting for the two teams, but the program for the game declared it the inaugural contest between the schools.
As one might expect at a game played in Wyoming, the wind was a factor in deciding who would receive the kickoff and which goal each team would defend during the game.
All the points in the game were scored while the scoring team was going with the wind. Both interceptions thrown by Saratoga led to scores by West Grand and both were thrown into the wind.
The Panthers won the opening coin flip and deferred the choice to the Mustangs, which elected to receive the kickoff. Saratoga elected to have the wind at its back for the first quarter.
The Mustangs have virtually an entire new starting lineup and a bit of that inexperience showed on their first possession.
Three running plays and a penalty resulted in a loss of 10 yards. The ensuing punt was held up in the wind and when it hit the ground it nearly bounced back to the line of scrimmage.
Saratoga took advantage and traveled the 18 yards for a touchdown in three plays. The point after attempt failed and the score was quickly 6-0 in favor of the hometown Panthers.
On the ensuing possession by West Grand, a penalty stalled the drive. Ritschard’s second punt of the day was partially blocked, but it did travel for positive yardage.
During the next possession by Saratoga, the Mustangs started to establish themselves on defense. On successive plays, Justin Strang and Cory Burr tackled Panther ball carriers for losses in the backfield.
Forced to punt, the Saratoga kicker sent the ball through the end zone and West Grand took over on their own 20 yard line. On four successive carries, senior tailback Jake Motz gained a total of 44 yards and completely changed the battle for field position into West Grand’s favor.
The teams then swapped misplays as the Mustangs fumbled a snap on third down but Strang snared an interception to give the ball right back to West Grand.
What followed was a 71 yard touchdown drive that featured a 17 yard screen pass to Motz, a spectacular grab by Stetson Sabados for another 17 yards and a 14 yard run by Connor Widener.
The touchdown was scored on an option pitch from Ritschard to Motz for a play that covered one yard. The final block that sprung Motz into the end zone was delivered by Sabados. Sky Handyside nailed the PAT and a one-point lead was secured by the visiting Mustangs.
After trading possessions, West Grand came up with another turnover when Motz intercepted a Panther pass and returned it 27 yards to the Saratoga 14 yard line.
Moving deftly from his role as defensive end to tailback, Motz carried the ball 12 yards to the Panther 4 yard line. Fullback Connor Widener then appeared to score, but the officials signaled that he had come up just short on his dive up the middle.
The Mustangs were out of timeouts, the final seconds were draining from the game clock and tension was rising as both teams seemed to realize the importance of this possession. After Ritschard was stopped on the next play, the sophomore alertly got the team lined up and he spiked the ball to kill the clock.
On the final offensive play of the half, Motz scored on an option pitch around left end. Although the PAT sailed to the right, the Mustangs took the 13-6 lead with them into the halftime locker room.
The Mustangs had only one possession in the third quarter. That opportunity died when Ritschard was sacked on a third-down play.
In the fourth quarter, the Mustangs earned their only first down of the half. A 34-yard punt into the wind by Ritschard turned out to be the most significant chunk of yardage gained by West Grand. It may have been the key play of second half as it left Saratoga with a long way to travel for a score.
The Mustang defense started to show its mettle. Saratoga mounted a drive, but the yards were coming at the cost of a great deal of effort and precious time.
On a key third down play, Burr broke through the line to get a sack and force a fourth-down decision for the Saratoga coaching staff. The home team had a seven-point deficit with no timeouts. The braintrust for Saratoga elected to try a field goal and then hope for the best on an onside kick. The 37-yard field goal crawled over the crossbar.
So, the Mustangs put in their “hands” team for the onside kick. Senior Justin Strang, a transfer from Middle Park, cradled the onside attempt in his sure hands and secured the game in the win column for the Mustangs.
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