LARAMIE — Thunder Basin senior quarterback Ryan Baker entered Friday’s game against Laramie as the best passer in Class 4A.
He proved why he is at the top, and only needed to the first half to do so en route to a 55-22 decision against the Plainsmen at Deti Stadium.
“In facing Thunder Basin; and Rock Springs, Sheridan and Natrona (earlier in the season), I don’t know which is better,” LHS coach Paul Ronga said during the KOWB 1290 AM postgame show. “I am surprised to see Thunder Basin (ranked) fourth, the reason being is that they are the best team we’ve seen all year. They are sound in everything they do, and we saw that (on Friday) not only in their ability to pass but also to run.”
Baker threw for five touchdowns and ran for another to help electrify the Bolts to a 55-0 lead at halftime as Thunder Basin (6-1) scored early and often, helped by five first-half turnovers by LHS. Two of those were interceptions for short fields to work with, another was a fumble recovery in the end zone, one was a fumble recovery after a punt — all leading to scores. The last LHS turnover before the break was a harmless interception as time expired.
The running clock mercy rule after a 45-point differential went into effect at the start of the second half as the Bolts pulled most of their starters out of the game.
Baker was 11 of 13 for 158 yards in the first half to go with his touchdown tosses of 22, 14, 8, 13 and 53 yards. He also had a 29-yard run for a touchdown.
Thunder Basin senior running back Isaiah Halliburton produced on the ground with 94 total yards on eight carries, including a 3-yard touchdown. He also had two catches for 54 yards, mostly from a 53-yard run after the catch for a score.
It didn’t take long, 53 seconds to be exact, after halftime for the Plainsmen (0-7) to erase the zero on their side of the scoreboard.
The Plainsmen duo of sophomore quarterback Ben Malone and senior receiver Jackson Devine hooked up for an 80-yard pass and catch with Devine wide open and later aided by some downfield blocking from junior receiver Mason Branch.
“I told our team at halftime, we need to break one big play and I didn’t expect it that fast,” Ronga said. “Then at the end of the game, I told them ‘boy guys, I need to talk to you more often’ because the more things I’m sayin’ they were doing. Then they were breaking another one and another one and I thought let’s keep breaking them. There were breaking a lot of big plays in the second half we’ve not seen all year and it was great to see that.”
Branch was rewarded for his earlier effort as he was the go-to receiver on the next LHS drive, capping it with a 45-yard touchdown catch when he spun around and broke a tackle before sprinting to the end zone.
Branch had a career-high eight catches for 156 yards, Devine had seven catches for 108 yards and junior Adrien Calderon added six catches for 53 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown reception.
Malone had a career-high in passing yards when he was 23 of 41 for 325 yards to go with his three passing touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Bolts had 333 total yards with 171 rushing and 162 passing. Laramie had 325 yards with 16 on the ground and 325 through the air.
LHS seniors honored
The final home game for the Plainsmen was also a time for a celebration for the senior players with their families and friends during a ceremony before the game.
The LHS seniors included Grahm Jaques (captain), Devine (captain), Cooper Gray (captain), Ethan Jenkins, Quail Perkins, Paul Crater, Talon Luckie, Sam Lee, Christopher Alvarez (acting captain), Will Daniel, Lucas Wall, Fischer Hawkins, Evan Clark, Taylor Thatcher (team manager) and Mackenzy Sanchez (team manager).