BIG SANDY — The Big Sandy football team found itself on the winning end of a state semifinal game on Saturday, but they didn’t earn the win familiar fans would typically expect.
When the Class C Six-Man Pioneers come into a conversation, it is their dominating running game that typically garners the attention. And with top backs like Jessey Bailey, that attention is well deserved. Bailey has been the backbone of the offense for a couple of seasons now, and is coming off of his best season yet as a senior.
But as crucial as the running game was on Saturday, in the 38-32 win over Valier, the Pioneers succeeded in the passing game when they needed.
“We talked about it at the end of the first quarter,” Big Sandy head coach Greg King said. “It didn’t seem like we were doing much with the running game, but we stuck with it and we kept going to Bailey. We are going to live and die by it, and we added a couple pass plays, but for the most part we ran the ball. When we went to the air we were just trying to catch them sleeping. If we have to, we are able to throw the ball. I like running the ball and I like the running game, and the kids have gotten that into their heads that running as much as we do isn’t a bad deal. Everybody has bought into it, but we can still pass the ball if we have to.”
Bailey had another career day, racking up 260 yards on 48 carries. He was also able to get into the end zone on four separate occasions, including three times on the ground, but the final play of the game, a pass play by the Pioneers, stole the show.
Big Sandy passed the ball just six times in the first half. It was no surprise that they were few and far between, especially since the Pioneers opened up the game with six straight rushing plays by Bailey. The second half saw a few more attempts in the air by the Pioneers, as they attempted 12 more passes (17 total), but with no real big plays downfield, the Passing game didn’t seem relevant through the four quarters of regulation.
It may have never erupted, but the passing attack did finally pay off for the Pioneers.
In the single frame of overtime, the Pioneers continued to go to the air, even with limited success. On first down the result was an incomplete pass, while the Pioneers barely survived second down. They recovered a fumble on a busted run play. Third down resulted in another incomplete pass, but the Pioneers never strayed from the play. On fourth down, needing a 13-yard score to take the game, the Pioneers went to the air again. This time, quarterback Trevor Lackner was able to avoid the pressure, while also finding Bailey in the corner of the end zone for the score and win. The window was brief, but Lackner was able to hit a streaking Bailey, while more importantly, Bailey was able to hold onto the ball with the defense in his face.
“We were going to go to the run game,” Bailey said. “But they had stopped us so we went to the passing game. But we all trust in our passing game, and I don’t think we are only a running team. It just depends on what the defense looks like, but we are a double threat team.”
On the afternoon Lackner was 8-of-18, hitting Bailey, Zac Leader and Lane Martin. Martin had four receptions including a reception for 20-yards. But with eight incomplete passes, while also being sacked twice, Lackner was up against a very tough pass defense.
But the Pioneers did what they had to do, and they converted in the passing game when it counted the most. And by doing so, the Pioneers are now back in the state title game for the first time since 2003. Saturday the Pioneers will face Hot Springs at 1 p.m. in Hot springs.