Top-ranked Thunder Basin rallied for a 20-16 victory over visiting Natrona County on Friday to remain undefeated.
The Bolts (6-0 Class 4A) never got going offensively and trailed the defending state champs 16-0 at the break.
But sophomore Isaiah Halliburton returned the second-half kickoff 92 yards to finally get Thunder Basin on the scoreboard and the Bolts defense bottled up the Mustangs over the final 24 minutes.
The Bolts cut the gap to 16-13 on a 1-yard run by junior Jaxon Pikula with 2:02 remaining in the third quarter.
Following two empty possession by both teams, Thunder Basin scored the go-ahead touchdown with 4:04 on the clock on a 25-yard run from Pikula. Freshman kicker Nick Black, who was filling in for injured starter Garner Gauthier, made the extra point to give the Bolts a four-point lead at 20-16.
Black's PAT proved to be crucial as Natrona County (4-2 4A) drove to the Thunder Basin 25 but needed a touchdown instead of a tying field goal. Harrison Taubert's pass to the end zone on the final play of the game fell incomplete, giving the Bolts their first victory over the Mustangs.
Natrona County struck first Friday. The Mustangs took advantage of an interception by Thunder Basin senior quarterback Mason Hamilton on the Bolts’ first possession to grab a 7-0 lead.
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After senior Dante Wallace got the Mustangs to the Thunder Basin 3 with a 13-yard run, Taubert found the end zone from 5 yards out.
Thunder Basin then drove into the red zone, but a sack pushed them out of field goal range and a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
Natrona County then capped its third drive with with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Taubert to Roman Overstreet. Ben Hoppens’ extra point made it 14-0 with 9:42 to play in the first half.
Neither team was able to do much on their next possessions, but the Mustangs pinned the Bolts at the 2-yard line with a punt. Two plays later, Natrona County sacked Hamilton in the end zone for a 16-0 lead.
The Mustangs drove into field goal position late in the first half, but a penalty pushed them back and they were content to take the 16-0 lead into the half.
Thunder Basin now has a one-game lead on Sheridan, but the Bolts have a firm grasp on the top seed after defeating the Broncs last week. Natrona County and Cheyenne East are both two games back, although the Mustangs own the tie-breaker over the Thunderbirds after beating them in double-overtime last week.
Natrona County will look to bounce back next week when they host cross-town rival Kelly Walsh (1-5) in the annual Oil Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Cheney Alumni Field.