LAUREL — Laurel felt it had new life at halftime, and Locomotives quarterback/defensive back Kyson Moran felt rejuvenated.
And so it was that the defending Class A champions rolled in the second half Saturday afternoon and handed the Frenchtown Broncs a 34-17 quarterfinal football playoff loss at the Laurel Sports Complex.
Moran was feeling down at halftime. He threw a first-half interception that he felt helped give the Broncs momentum just at a time when it appeared second-ranked Laurel was ready to put the game away in the second quarter.
To top things off, Moran had to spend a large amount of energy trying to stop Frenchtown’s 6-foot-5 receiver Devin Shelton, who had become a favorite target of quarterback Eli Quinn in the first half. That was a tough task in itself for the 6-2 Moran, who, along with the rest of the Locomotives, saw a 14-3 lead evaporate into a 17-14 deficit.
After Shelton intercepted Moran, Shelton then hauled in a 31-yard pass from Quinn, who then hit Sully Belcourt from 15 yards to get the Broncs within 14-10. The Broncs recovered the ensuing pooch kick, and four plays later Noah Rausch punched in from one yard out after a 40-yard completion from Quinn to Carter White. Suddenly, Frenchtown led 17-14.
The Locomotives were able to pull even when Laurel soccer-player-turned-placekicker Kyle Desmet nailed a 26-yard field goal with no time left on the first-half clock. So for Moran and the Locomotives, halftime was as good a time as any to reset.
“I did not feel good at all in the first half,” Moran said. “I felt — I don’t know if I’d say dehydrated — I just felt my whole body was hot. I felt like I just had the sweats. I just couldn’t get out of it. I just didn’t feel very good. Went into the locker room and drank a bunch of electrolytes, (ate) some food, and felt totally good.”
Moran and coach Mike Ludwig felt Desmet’s kick, which came after Laurel drove the ball from the Frenchtown 45 to the 8 with just 30 seconds left and no timeouts in their grasp, was a lifeline.
Thus re-energized, Moran picked off his quarterback counterpart to help set up Desmet’s second field goal toward the end of the third quarter. This field goal covered 27 yards and gave Laurel (9-0) the lead for good as the Locomotives went on to intercept three more of Quinn’s passes. Moran got his second, Dalton Boehler had one and Shel Osborne provided the coup de grâce with just under a minute to play.
Meanwhile, Beau Dantic converted Moran’s second INT into a 24-yard touchdown run for a 27-17 lead and Konnor Gregerson caught a 17-yard scoring strike from Moran following Boehler’s forced turnover to put Laurel up 34-17 late in the game.
Points after turnovers for Laurel in the second half? Seventeen.
“You can’t turn the ball over and allow a team to get points off of those turnovers,” Frenchtown coach Ryne Nelson said. “You turn the ball over against a good football team, you’re probably not going to end up on the side you want.”
Moran finished the game 17-of-23 passing for 172 yards. He also rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown, and Dantic carried the ball 21 times for 112 yards and his score. Laurel racked up 391 yards to Frenchtown’s 251.
Laurel took a 7-3 lead on Moran 12-yard run. On Frenchtown's next series, Laurel's Jakob Webinger broke through the line to block a Broncs' put, and Owen Younger scooped up the ball and scored for a 14-3 lead.
Quinn completed 18 of 36 passes for 228 yards. Almost half of those yards — 113 — went to Shelton, who wasn’t as effective in the second half after injuring his shoulder joint. Frenchtown ran the ball 13 times and gained just seven yards on the ground.
Laurel escaped early disaster when two Locomotives collided trying to field the opening kick. Frenchtown recovered at the Laurel 5, but was held to Gavin Palen's 18-yard field goal.
“There’s definitely things we need to clean up,” said Laurel coach Mike Ludwig, whose team was coming off a bye week in the first round of the playoffs. “I thought our kids did a nice job of not panicking, though, and overcoming some of those situations. I thought our defense played tremendous, stopped the run against a team that likes to run the football.”
While Laurel advanced and will host No. 3 Polson, a 49-28 winner over Billings Central, in next week's semifinals, Frenchtown finished its season at 7-4. After starting the year 3-3, the Broncs won five in a row, including last week’s 24-13 road playoff win over Whitefish. Frenchtown was the sixth seed out of the West, while Whifefish was the third seed.
“I’m just proud of this team,” Nelson said. “We got the injury bug early and had to have guys step up and get the job done. We were able to finally get healthy towards the end of the season and I think it showed against Whitefish. But just a great group, and I certainly love coaching them. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else.”