Bulldogs can’t get in red zone, lose to Wolves

GUNNISON—In a meeting between the two scrappiest, grittiest teams in 2A football, the Bulldogs marched up and down the field, but they failed at times to score in the red-zone.

The Gunnison football team dropped their fifth loss of the season in a home non-region matchup against North Sevier, 33-17, to move to 2-5 on a shortened season.

The visiting Wolves were borderline unstoppable when rushing the ball with 343 total rushing yards and five touchdowns, averaging precisely 8 yards per carry. North Sevier only attempted to pass the ball three times, one for a 12-yard completion, the other two for interceptions.

“North Sevier deserves a lot of credit,” Coach Patrick King said. “They played hard and put together long sustained drives. We did very well to contain the sweeps and outside runs, but that sometimes makes it hard to also cover the inside gut punches at the same time. We had our chances in this game to keep it very close.”

Junior quarterback Jack Hansen completed 10 of 20 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. The Bulldogs were efficient in the run game with 114 total yards, led by senior Zach Stewart who had 12 carries for 77 yards. Hansen backed up Stewart with 11 carries for 32 yards and another touchdown.

Stewart led in the receiving game with five catches for 70 yards and one touchdown.

Despite being able to move effectively across midfield, the Bulldogs struggled in the red zone all game long, beginning with a fumble on their first possession after a run by Stewart had put them in scoring position after a single play.

“Our offense moved the ball up and down the field,” King said. “However, mistakes and missed opportunities in the red zone will not cut it. We want to have a chance in the last five minutes of every game that we play. Playing well in the red zone is key to that. As our composure increases, we will continue to improve in the red zone.”

After the fumble, North Sevier scored a touchdown on their first possession, entirely committing to the run as their quarterback kept it for the 14-yard score.

Stewart, for the second time in the game, nearly broke away for a long touchdown on the ensuing drive were it not for a solid open field tackle by the Wolves. Instead, Gunnison drove all the way downfield for a 4th-and-goal situation, and North Sevier blocked the field goal attempt to keep Gunnison scoreless.

The Wolves again drove the field and scored on their second possession with a 1-yard run.

On Gunnison’s next possession, King drew up an impressive trick play as Hansen handed off to Stewart, who threw a lateral back to Hansen, who launched it downfield for a 37-yard completion to senior Peyton Dyreng. A few plays later, Stewart scored on a 15-yard screen pass to get Gunnison on the board, 13-6. Two plays prior, senior Dylan Anderson left the game after being carried off the field with a leg injury.

In the second half, the Bulldogs came with a defensive fire as North Sevier attempted to pass the ball. The first pass was picked off by Hansen at safety but a penalty for roughing the passer took it away. All the better, however, as on the ensuing play, freshman Pearson Judy nabbed another interception at midfield, howling with delight as the Gunnison fan section made some real noise.

Despite some good defense by North Sevier, junior kicker Carson Tucker made an impressive field goal from 38 yards to bring the Bulldogs within 4 points.

After that, the Wolves went back to running the ball and took over the game, scoring 20 unanswered points, 13 in the fourth quarter, before Hansen scored the final touchdown of the game in the last minute on a right side sweep.

The Bulldogs, despite being a capable and dangerous team, have lost three straight games. Based on power rankings and season predictions, Gunnison’s two games cancelled to COVID-19 this season likely took two wins off the board against Whitehorse and Providence Hall, robbing Gunnison of the chance to get more than three wins for the first time since 2014.

“I feel like our boys have done very well all year,” King said. “We likely could have accomplished even more without the COVID disruptions. The playoffs present an opportunity to climb the mountain together. We can in fact go on a run. We will likely face a familiar foe in the first round which should give us a lot of confidence going in.”

The Bulldogs end the regular season at home against Layton Christian this Wednesday.