LARAMIE — The ending couldn’t have been more thrilling for the Rams.
The Big Horn High School football team defeated Lovell 8-7 in dramatic fashion to win the state championship game Friday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium on the campus of University of Wyoming.
Big Horn trailed 7-0 with 1:42 remaining in the game backed up to their own 2-yard line. The final drive of the season would seal the fate for the Rams. Quarterback Garber Cooper connected with receiver Dawson Richards and brought it to the Big Horn 26-yard line. Cooper spiked the ball to stop the clock but was then sacked two plays in a row. The Bulldogs were threatening to end the game, but Dawson caught another first down to give the Rams life with 28 seconds left. Dawson wasn’t done, as he caught a 61-yard catch from Garber with 11 seconds remaining. Big Horn could have kicked the extra point to force overtime, but head coach Kirk McLaughlin made a gutsy decision to attempt a two-point conversion.
Garber tossed the ball to sophomore backup quarterback Avon Barney, who ran toward the Big Horn sideline and found Garber in the endzone for the winning score. The play is called “2-point pine” by the team.
According to McLaughlin, they’ve been practicing the play since 2018 but have only run it once this season during a game, which proved to be successful against Upton-Sundance. The Rams changed a couple things in the formation so it wouldn’t be obvious to what they were running. McLaughlin said he premeditated the decision to run 2-point pine if given the opportunity with around 4 minutes left in the game.
“We told them if we score here, we’re going for two,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin ultimately put the game in the hands of a sophomore.
“Barney’s a dude,” he said. “On any other team he’d be the starting quarterback, but we have a stud like Cooper Garber. We trusted (Barney) all the way. We knew once it’s in his hands, he was going to make the right decision. We trust him 100%.”
McLaughlin’s trust in Barney meant the world to the underclassman.
“It’s amazing knowing they have so much trust in me, and the staff will go to battle for me and I love them to death,” Barney said.
Big Horn squibbed the kickoff and was able to recover the ball off the hands of a Lovell player to concrete the Rams’ sixth state championship victory, its first since 2019. This is Big Horn’s first 2A state title win.
Lovell’s only score in the game occurred with less than five minutes remaining in the first quarter on a running back 3-yard scamper. The Big Horn defense was stout from then on. The biggest moment for the defense was when the Rams stopped Lovell on a goal line stand early in the second quarter. Big Horn stopped the Bulldogs on fourth-and-goal on the 1-yard line.
Garber completed 18 of his 35 passes for 266 yards.
Big Horn struggled to run the ball as Drew Heermann led the team in rushing with 16 yards on seven attempts.
Dylan Greenough-Groom led the team in receptions with 100 yards on seven catches.
Senior linebacker Wyatt Brown had 15 total tackles, five of which were solo. Junior Kiefer Dunham had six solo tackles, two of which were for a loss.
“This is a special one,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be down here with the team celebrating before, but it never came down to the wire like this. I’d never had a team that at the beginning of the season, that was so undervalued by everyone else, we weren’t expected to be here. And we had to battle a lot this year… and we found a way.”