Trailing 20-21 in the fourth quarter, the Moffat County Bulldogs put their season on the line by sending running back Frank Counts around the left side against the Gunnison Cowboys.
Counts took the Cowboys to task Saturday afternoon as he knifed through the defensive line for a two-point conversion and the lead, 22-21, with 9 minutes and 20 seconds to play. It would be all the varsity football team would need to keep its playoff hopes alive.
"We just knew that we had to get the ball in the end zone," said Counts. "I have to give all the credit to Matt Johnston my lead blocker. He played awesome."
"The kids never have hung their heads to anybody," said Bulldogs coach John Haddan. "Even if we are down we feel that we can come back and win the game. The outcome speaks for itself."
The Bulldogs moved to 5-4 on the year and 4-2 in league play, while Gunnison dropped to 5-4 on the season and 4-2 in conference.
After scoring the first touchdown of the game, the Bulldogs found themselves down 21-6 in the third quarter. Moffat County rallied for 16 unanswered points and shut down the Gunnison offense.
In the second half, the Cowboys appeared in control of the game with six minutes left in the third quarter.
After driving 97 yards, Cowboys running back Evan Kennedy, a senior, ran in from the 3-yard line to boost the score, 20-6. Gunnison kicker Matt Reed, a senior, nailed the extra point putting the Cowboys in front, 21-6.
"We came out in the second half and had that long drive," said Cowboys coach Rob Howard. "I thought that we had them on their heels, but they came back and they didn't give up. They played hard. We just didn't get it done."
The Bulldogs got back in the game when Counts found the end zone for his second touchdown from the 3-yard line with 28 seconds left in the the third period, cutting the score to 21-12.
MCHS went for two and converted when quarterback Jeff Gaylord, a junior, ran in to cut the lead, 21-14.
After forcing the Cowboys to punt after three plays, the Bulldogs took over at the Gunnison 43-yard line.
Five plays later, Counts scored a touchdown from the 4-yard line at the 9:20 mark, forcing a lead-or-tie decision. The Bulldogs didn't hesitate as Counts ran in the two-point conversion and what would be the winning score for a 22-21 lead.
The Bulldogs defense then stepped up as linebacker Adam Peer, a senior, had an interception and defensive end Coalin Hume, a senior, had a sack late in the game to ice the victory for the Bulldogs.
"At the end of the game, that is big time," said Peer. "During the interception the running back came out of the backfield and so I did a hook and curl. The quarterback threw the ball, I stepped up and I caught the ball."
Peer said the Cowboys were a tough team to beat.
"Gunnison was a solid team," said Peer. "It was probably one of the most physical teams that we played all year long. It was strength against strength and at the end we got the best of them."
On defense, Bulldogs linebacker Kevin Field, a senior, had 15 tackles to pace the team. Counts finished with 13 tackles and defensive lineman Kurtis Kostur, a senior, ended with 11 tackles.
"In the second half Kurtis came to the sidelines and said let's run the 44 special on defense," said Haddan. "We ran that for most of the second half and we shut them down."
On offense, the Bulldogs racked up 291 total yards. Counts finished with 95 yards on the ground and running back Jeremiah Noland had 55 yards. In the air Gaylord was 6 of 14 for 73 yards.
Wide receiver Kevin Voorhees, a junior, had two catches for 30 yards and slot back Nathan Browning, a junior, finished with two catches for 38 yards.
The Bulldogs will look to clinch a playoff spot and their fourth straight victory at 7:30 p.m. Friday when Battle Mountain comes to town to close out the regular season.
"We have to get one more victory to get into the playoffs," said Haddan. "Everybody knows that Steamboat Springs beat Delta and if Gunnison beats Delta we will be the No. 2 seed.
"We are sitting where we need to be going into the last week of the season."