Bulldogs lose to Milford,
but ramble in for a free score
By Matt Harris
MILFORD—In a game that had plenty of positives for Gunnison Valley’s football team, the score wasn’t one of them.
The Bulldogs fell in their first game of the season on the road against the Milford Tigers, 34-9, in a game that featured plenty of flags, plenty of turnovers, and some moments of inexplicable absurdity.
“We played very well and expected to win,” Coach Patrick King said. “When you play an experienced team, the margin for error is very small. We took our shot and see lots of positives to build on.”
Senior Zach Stewart led the team in rushing with nine carries for 71 yards caught eight passes for 51 yards. Junior quarterback Jack Hansen completed 15 of 23 passes for 123 yards and one interception. The Bulldogs struggled to put together complete drives on offense despite countless great plays.
“We shot ourselves in the foot on offense,” King said. “I expect our leaders to get things back on track as the first game nerves subside,”
On defense, Gunnison looked incredibly solid, limiting one of 2A’s best offenses to a scoreless first quarter and only 13 points in the first half. “Defensively, we had an excellent game plan and executed very well, especially in the first half,” King said.
King’s unorthodox play calling drilled holes in the Milford defense repeatedly in the first quarter. Working with a hybrid quarterback/halfback player in Hansen, the Bulldogs worked their way to midfield on their first drive before punting.
Milford may have been a bit too expectant to roll over Gunnison on offense, going to the passing game early on. Gunnison got the attention of the opposition by forcing a three-and-out on Milford’s first possession.
On the ensuing Gunnison drive, a handful of trick running plays got the Bulldogs down past the Milford 20-yard line, but then things started to go awry. Gunnison’s line committed a string of penalties pushing the offense back out of scoring position, and Hansen forced a throw to keep the drive alive that was easily intercepted.
Milford drove back to Gunnison territory, but the Bulldog defense held strong to force a turnover on downs. On the ensuing drive, Hansen and Stewart took a big chance on fourth down with a pitch play deep in their own territory. Milford sniffed it out quickly and put the Bulldog defense on their heels against their own end zone.
Milford’s senior running back capitalized on the opportunity and ran up the middle for a nine-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive for Gunnison, the Bulldogs once again gained momentum with a perfect slant pass to sophomore Bryson Sorensen for 29 yards, followed two plays later by a 13-yard run by Stewart, breaking several tackles.
It all unraveled in a split second when junior Milford linebacker Blake Barnes stormed the backfield against a Stewart direct snap and ripped the ball right out of his hands for a fumble and recovery.
On the Tigers’ responding drive, Gunnison’s defense came back for vengeance as Sorensen read Milford’s curl route and jumped right in front of it for a quick interception. Only Sorensen himself tripping and falling prevented the pick from becoming a touchdown.
With the Bulldogs’ offense beginning their drive at Milford’s 14-yard line, another turnover killed Gunnison’s best chance at the end zone when freshman running back Adrian Younger fumbled on an otherwise solid run inside the Milford 10.
The Tigers responded immediately with a long completion that kick started a 90-yard drive culminating in a nine-yard touchdown run by the Milford quarterback.
Gunnison’s next drive got far enough for their next punt to pin Milford deep in their own territory, and it paid off when Milford’s own punt team messed up their snap, resulting in a safety to put Gunnison on the board as the ball rolled through the back of the Tigers’ end zone near the end of the first half.
Coming out of halftime, Milford’s first play of the third quarter was a 45-yard touchdown run to extend the Tigers’ lead to 20-2.
After Gunnison’s offense stalled and Gunnison’s defense held strong once again, Milford elected to punt. What happened next was incredible.
As the ball hit ground and took a Bulldog roll, a MiIlford player bent down and touched the ball to mark it dead, but despite all players on the field making motions to reset and get ready for the next play, including team managers on the field, no referee had blown the play dead because the ball had not been downed.
Senior lineman Talon Belnap picked up the ball realizing with confirmation from a nearby official that the play was, indeed, not over. Recognizing it, Belnap and three other teammates took off for the end zone while Milford’s team, managers, and coaches looked on bewildered as Belnap crossed the end zone and the referee signaled a touchdown.
Following that, Milford took control the rest of the game with two more touchdown passes in the third and fourth quarters to seal the Bulldogs’ fate.
“Last Friday, our players got a taste of what it is to play playoff or championship-level football,” King said. “The great news is that we can play better. Our ceiling is much higher if we limit turnovers and calm our nerves. I see lots of growth in our boys and expect them to learn from playing a tough practice schedule.”
Gunnison won’t have much time to rest. They will host their 2020 home opener this Friday against Kanab.