It’s like climbing a challenging ladder for the Hot Springs High School football team. The Savage Heat made it to the first rung by earning the No. 1 seed from the West Division in the Class C 6-man state playoffs.
Hot Springs stepped onto the second ladder rung with a 49-24 victory over visiting Denton-Geyser-Stanford in a first-round game last Saturday. The third rung can be achieved by holding home-field again this Saturday against a high-scoring Jordan squad. The Mustangs ran roughshod over Roy-Winifred 88-40 on Saturday. Kickoff for the Hot Springs-Jordan contest is 1 p.m.
In the other first-round games, Geraldine-Highwood handled Noxon, 51-14; Richie-Lambert blew out Bridger, 80-30; Wilbaux throttled Shields Valley, 59-6; Big Sandy beat White Sulphur Springs, 56-22; Grass Range-Winnett edged Westby-Grenora, 27-24; and West Yellowstone outscored Sunburst, 86-60.
Other second-round 6-man matchups this week: Richey-Lambert at Geraldine-Highwood, Big Sandy at Wibaux, and West Yellowstone at Grass Range-Winnett.
Jordan comes in with a solid 8-2 record, the Mustangs’ only losses to unbeaten Wibaux and Richie-Lambert, both North Division foes.
The Mustangs of Jordan have the “horses,” namely the Murnion families — Edward, Keenan and Dawson. Edward Murnion is perhaps the most explosive; he had a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns in a recent Jordan win over Westby-Grenora. And Keenan Murnion is an adept passer and a threat to run.
“They’re definitely fast players,” Hot Springs head coach Jim Lawson said. “Jordan scores a lot of points. We’re going to have to have another good defensive effort to shut down a high-scoring offense.”
HOT SPRINGS started quickly against Denton-Geyser-Stanford (DGS), putting their first two touchdowns on the board in a span of only 6 seconds off the game clock.
Unable to sustain a drive on the first possession, DGS tried a fake punt, but a Dylan Taylor pass was broken up alertly by punt returner Brandon Knudsen. Two plays later, Luke Waterbury ran 30 yards for a Savage Heat touchdown.
On the next play from scrimmage, from the DGS 15-yard-line, Tyler Knudsen had a scoop-and-score on a Bearcats fumble. Two conversion kicks by Tyler Knudsen gave Hot Springs a 16-0 lead.
DGS drove to the Heat’s 2-yard-line, but the defense held. After two punts by Hot Springs and one by DGS, Jack McAllister recovered a Bearcats fumble at the DGS 11-yard-line. A couple of plays later, Tyler Knudsen scored on a 5-yard run for a 22-0 lead.
The Bearcats suffered a huge 28-yard loss on a terrible shotgun snap, and DGS had to punt. Brandon Knudsen returned the punt for a TD, but a holding penalty nullified the score. However, two plays later, Tyler Knudsen scored on a 31-yard jaunt. His PAT kick made it 30-0, early in the second quarter.
DGS capped a 63-yard drive with a 7-yard scoring pass from Taylor to Arik Ayers. Tyler Carr recovered the ensuing onside kick, and Hot Springs marched for a score on a 1-yard dive by Waterbury. It was a 36-6 margin for the Heat at halftime, the end of the half dampened by a lower extremity injury to key junior Ayers on a long reception on the last play before intermission. Ayers did not return for the Bearcats.
DGS DID NOT go down quietly, scoring the first points of the second half on a 30-yard pass from Taylor to Kyle Lee, his first of three second-half touchdowns for the Bearcats.
Hot Springs got a little breathing room on 4-yard TD run by Waterbury for a 42-12 lead early in the fourth quarter. Lee later ran for touchdowns of 55 and 57 yards, sandwiched around a 12-yard TD reception by McAllister on a Brandon Knudsen pass.
“It’s always tough to win playoff games,” coach Lawson said. “They’re (DGS) are good football team. They were able to fight back. They battle hard … We had to come up with some big stops. We were able to get a few turnovers. Our kids were able to pull out a win.”
While Hot Springs threw three interceptions, DGS had six turnovers. Brandon Knudsen, McAllister and Kyle Lawson each had a pickoff, while Lawson, Tyler Knudsen and McAllister recovered DGS fumbles.
“Defensively, they were a really stout team,” coach Lawson said, “but we did a good job of stopping their running game. Defensively,ºDGS was more physical that the Heat’s last few opponents. “They pursued and tackled well. They were good at filling the edges,” Lawson said.
Carr had a big game on defense, credited with 17 tackles.
With a win over Jordan, Hot Springs plays the Geraldine-Highwood vs. Richey-Lambert winner on Nov. 2 or 3. With a Savage Heat win and Geraldine-Highwood loss, Hot Springs would host Richey-Lambert in the semifinals the weekend of Nov. 9 and 10.