The Ronan defense had embodied the old football adage: Bend, don’t break.
Nine times New Plymouth (Idaho) had ventured onto the Chiefs’ land past midfield and six times they’d been turned away with no points on turnovers.
But the Pilgrims wouldn’t relent.
Visiting New Plymouth converted its first fourth-down try – the team was previously 0 for 5 – with about five minutes to play, breaking through the elusive red zone on the way to a go-ahead touchdown to sneak past Ronan 30-26 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday.
The Chiefs were guarding a three-point lead with their backs once again against the goal line. Having watched New Plymouth running back Chase Bowen gash the defense for more than 200 yards while the passing game floundered, the Chiefs stacked the box on the fourth-and-3 play.
This time, though, quarterback Kyler Harris hit receiver Justin Griffith with a wobbly pass near the left sideline for a 10-yard gain. Two plays later, Bowen busted in from a yard out for his third score of the game.
“It was a battle for sure; these Montana boys are tough no doubt,” Bowen said. “But we all had the mentality we didn’t want to come this far to get beat.”
The Pilgrims journeyed 350 miles from their home base just outside Boise to take part in the Hometown Pride Classic, a series of three games this weekend at the Montana Grizzlies’ stadium between locals and their Idaho foes.
Despite being heavily out-gained, Ronan looked like it was about to make Montana 2 for 2 leading 26-16 late in the third quarter. Chiefs QB Justin Krahn had just hit Colton McCrea on a screen pass that the shifty senior wideout turned into a 62-yard scamper and score, his second long TD of the game.
McCrea also returned a kick 82 yards to the house to answer New Plymouth’s first touchdown in the second quarter.
But right after McCrea’s receiving score, New Plymouth’s workhorse took over. Bowen rumbled for his longest gain of 45 yards and then found the end zone a play later to pull within three points.
Bowen finished with 250 yards on 30 carries, more than half of his team’s near 500 total yards.
He was the offense for the ’Grims, who struggled throwing the ball – outside of one long TD pass and catch that found Ronan napping on the final play of the first half. Harris completed less than 50 percent of his throws and was picked off twice.
Ronan aired it out when it was on offense, though as Krahn finished with 326 yards on 25 of 39 attempts. He had two scores, including an 11-yarder to Cole Snyder to open the fireworks in the first quarter.
“We installed a brand new offense and if you know anything about us, there’s been times we’ve gone games without throwing the ball,” said Ronan coach Jim Benn, who was shocked to see his team hit the 300-yard passing plateau. “We’re almost the polar opposite today; I’m pleased with that, but we’ve got to continue to develop our run game.”
The run game didn’t make the trip down from Ronan on Saturday with just 88 yards gained on the ground. Kasey Mock did punch in a score from three yards out, but the Chiefs looked lost behind their offensive linemen while trying to rush it.
Luckily the pass game, and specifically the screen passes to the outside or running backs, looked as good as gold.
“The short routes were working pretty good at first and then they’d tighten up a little bit and we’d hit ’em deep,”said senior Bryce Cullen, who caught six passes for 76 yards and also had a pick on defense. “We’ve got a great receiving crew.”
Snyder caught a game-high nine balls for 102 yards and McCrea also topped the century-mark with 112 yards.
Ronan had two chances to regain the lead late, once going 4-and-out in Pilgrim territory before earning a second possession by forcing a quick punt.
The Chiefs got all the way to New Plymouth’s 30-yard line with 15 seconds left and no timeouts before the passing attack finally failed. Krahn tossed up a jump ball down near the 5 that Plymouth’s Tyler Powell snatched out of the air to end the game.
New Plymouth 30, Ronan 26
N. Plymouth 0 16 7 7 – 30
Ronan 8 12 6 0 – 26
R – Cole Snyder 11 pass from Justin Krahn (Kasey Mock pass from Krahn), 1:22
NP – Chase Bowen 1 run (Bowen run), 10:49
R – Colton McCrea 82 kick return (run failed), 10:34
R – Mock 3 run (pass failed), 1:23
NP – Tyler Powell 38 pass from Kyler Harris (Bowen run), 0:00
R – McCrea 64 pass from Krahn (pass failed), 1:23
NP – Bowen 2 run (Powell kick), 1:02
NP – Bowen 1 run (Powell kick), 4:39
New Plymouth Ronan
First downs 27 21
Total yards 494 387
Penalties 8-75 10-75
Turnovers 3 3
3rd down % 6-14 6-12
4th down % 1-6 1-2
RUSHING – New Plymouth (49-367): Chase Bowen 30-250, Kyler Harris 15-90, Tyler Powell 4-27. Ronan (20-88): Logan Hakes 9-46, Bryce Cullen 3-33, Kasey Mock 4-10, Justin Krahn 4-(-1).
PASSING – New Plymouth: Harris 12-25-2 for 134 yards. Ronan: Krahn 25-39-3 for 326 yards.
RECEIVING – New Plymouth: Powell 4-47, Justin Griffith 4-24, Clayton King 2-45, Tate Yager 2-18. Ronan: Cole Snyder 9-102, Colton McCrea 6-112, Cullen 6-76, Mock 2-22, Hakes 2-14.