POCATELLO — Across a season that spanned roughly two months, nine games and three bye weeks that drove his kids crazy, Butte County coach Sam Thorngren gave his team one goal: Every game, be the most physical team on the field.

For the Pirates, it was always a noble pursuit. They made good on it consistently. They thrashed opponents with a bruising ground game, surprised them with an efficient pass attack and buried them with special teams plays that swung contests in all the right ways. Oftentimes, they weren’t just the more physical team. They were also the better one.

Still, Thorngren also pushed his group to become a physical team because he knew it would become even more important against the titans in Class 1AD1.

Even if the Pirates weren’t the better team, he reasoned, they could always be the more stout one. Maybe that could keep them in games.

If Butte County reached that goal Saturday evening in a 52-22 loss to Oakley in this state semifinal, it didn’t result in a win. The Pirates may have been more physical, but their season ended here at Holt Arena because their offense slowed to a crawl, because their defense couldn’t make stops, because they couldn’t keep scoring long enough to match the Hornets’ offensive assault.

“I think we got kind of flustered and caught up in our emotions with everything going on,” Thorngren said. “We started having guys forget plays, formations and all that stuff. We just didn’t do the things that we did well all year, mainly.”

Butte County came unraveled slowly, but it became obvious as the game wore on. The Pirates drew within two early in the second quarter, but from there, the Hornets rattled off 28 unanswered points. That hole was too deep for Butte County, whose offense languished when it mattered most. Quarterback Tyler Wanstrom completed just 10 of 24 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns, including a 4-for-10 mark in the first half.

The numbers may look deceiving — Butte County total 221 rushing yards, including 95 from running back Treyton Miller — but the truth is that the Pirates’ fast start slowed to a crawl, which allowed the Hornets to build an enormous lead.

For Butte County, though, the bigger problem was its defense. Oakley quarterback Payton Beck completed 14 of 17 passes for 304 yards and four total touchdowns, including a stretch of 11 straight completions that pushed the game out of reach. The Pirates did well to contain the Hornets’ ground attack, holding them to just 92 yards in that department, but that mattered far less than the way Beck completed eight passes for 10-plus yards in the first half.

“You give them time to throw,” Thorngren said, “they’re going to complete passes.”

For his part, Thorngren expressed displeasure with a few Oakley plays he called “bush league” — he said officials missed calls like crackback blocks, pass interference and holding — but the Hornets also won by 30, racking up yards through the air like few teams in this classification.

The interesting part is that approach wasn’t always effective for Oakley, not right away at least. On its first series, Oakley went three and out. On their second, the Hornets dropped back to punt — except Butte County senior Boone Gammet blocked the kick, tracked the ball, scooped it up and raced six yards into the end zone. Just like that: An 8-0 lead for the Pirates.

They just couldn’t hold onto the lead because of plays like the one that followed. On the ensuing kickoff, Oakley’s Bridger Duncan took a reverse handoff and outran everyone, bolting 80 yards the other way. Tie game. Butte County’s lead lasted 16 seconds of game time.

The Hornets widened their advantage on their next series, using a short touchdown rush from Beck to take a 16-8 lead. The Pirates matched on their next opportunity — Wanstrom found Braxton Gammet for a 23-yard touchdown pass — but that’s when their offense dried up. That’s when Oakley kicked off its 28-0 run. That’s when Butte County’s season began to end.

The Pirates’ campaign ends at 7-2 overall, reaching the state semifinals for the first time since 2012.

“They just do things the right way,” Thorngren said. “They’re good sports. They play hard. They get along. There was no drama with this bunch of kids. They were pretty selfless and team-oriented. They’re going to go on and become great husbands, fathers, moving on in life. It’s just a great group of kids.”


Butte County 8 6 8 0 — 22

Oakley 16 20 8 8 — 52

Scoring summary

First quarter

BC — Gammet 6 blocked punt return (2-pt good), 5:09

O — Duncan 80 kickoff return (2-pt good), 4:53

O — Beck 3 rush (2-pt good), 1:35

Second quarter

BC — Br. Gammet 23 pass from Wastrom (2-pt no good), 11:11

O — Toribau 15 rush (2-pt no good), 10:35

O — Toribau 10 rush (2-pt good), 4:49

O — Toribau 57 pass from Beck (2-pt no good), 1:29

Third quarter

O — Beck 6 rush (2-pt good), 4:30

BC — Smith 7 pass from Wanstrom (2-pt good), 0:39

Fourth quarter

O — Jones 50 pass from Beck (2-pt good), 9:46


RUSHING — Butte County: Miller 25-95, Wanstrom 13-79, T. Gammet 1-6, Moncur 3-6, C. Gammet 2-1, Br. Gammet 1-34. Oakley: Bingham 3-2, Toribau 8-41, Beck 7-35, Cranney 3-2, Severe 7-12.

PASSING — Butte County: Wanstrom 10-24 167, C. Gammet 1-1 6, Miller 0-1 0. Oakley: Beck 14-17 304.

RECEIVING — Butte County: Moncur 1-5, B. Gammet 5-47, Smith 3-64, Br. Gammet 1-23. Oakley: Cranney 5-106, Jones 6-97, Toribau 1-57, Gonzales 2-44.

Greg Woods is a sports reporter at the Post Register. Reach him 208-542-6772 and follow him on Twitter at GregWWoods.

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