The Circle Thunderbirds did what they needed to do to bounce back on the road against the Clearwater Indians, but back-to-back penalties did the T-Birds in as the Indians won the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division IV matchup 23-21 after Circle had come back from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit.


The Circle Thunderbirds did what they needed to do to bounce back on the road against the Clearwater Indians, but back-to-back penalties did the T-Birds in as the Indians won the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division IV matchup 23-21 after Circle had come back from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit.
The Thunderbirds looked to have stalled the drive at the Circle 9 when the Indians didn’t reach the first down marker on fourth down; but the defense was called for a facemask, giving Clearwater a new set of downs at the Circle 4.
Circle again looked to have put the game on ice on the next play when they sacked the Clearwater quarterback at the Circle 19; but defensive holding was called against the Thunderbirds, moving the ball up to the Circle 2 and another first down.
The Indians (2-1, 1-1) scored on the next play when Austin True got around the T-Birds for the game-winning touchdown.
Deespite the loss, Circle coach Lee LaMunyon said the T-Birds showed character in giving themselves a chance to win after being down 17-6 early in the fourth quarter.
“The kids didn’t panic, they held themselves well. We played well and fought hard against a very good team,” LaMunyon said.
The loss ruined what had been a very big second half for Circle (2-1, 1-1) when they amassed only 36 total yards and looked to not have any chance of stopping the Indians’ triple option in the first half. Despite their troubles, the T-Birds were only down 10-0 at halftime and going into the lockerroom with some motivation.
 “All three games, it’s either taken a big play or the second half to get the spark going. We did not have a spark that first half,”?LaMunyon said. “We played solid that first half and you’re pleased in what we were doing when you play a team that loves to pound the ball. We did some good things, but we need to get a spark early."
Quarterback Alex Gardinier threw 183 of his 206 passing yards after intermission for two touchdown passes; tight end Jordan Phillips caught one touchdown pass, jumped over the Clearwater defense for a rushing score, and also scored on a two-point conversion; and receiver Richard Mould made two big catches, one for a touchdown and another to set up a score.
Circle’s first big play came in the third quarter when Gardinier threw a slant pass to Mound for what looked like a short gain, but Mould had blockers in front of him and was able to scamper around the Indians for what ended up being a 65-yard touchdown pass with 8:26 left in the stanza. The extra point was blocked.
 Mould finished with four catches for 152 yards for Circle.
“Richard is a great receiver,” LaMunyon said. “He’s been nursing back a really bad ankle sprain, but we have worked back. He did some wonderful things Friday night and that was something we have been missing.”
Clearwater pushed the lead up to 11 on its second play of the fourth quarter on a 16-yard run by True; but T-Birds kick returner Garrett White got the ball back to the Clearwater 46 on the ensuing kickoff and Gardinier threw to Phillips on the next play for a touchdown. Phillips, who had three Clearwater players on him as he crossed the goal line with 11:15 left in regulation, also scored on the two-point conversion to make the score 17-14.
The T-Birds defense shut down the Indians on their next drive and Circle answered with the touchdown that would give them the lead. Gardinier threw a short pass to Mould, who stayed off his knees as it looked like he would be tackled, and went on a 50-yard scamper deep into Clearwater territory. A face mask on the play moved the ball inside the 10.
 Gardinier was tackled just short of the goal line on first down and Phillips, lining up as a fullback, jumped over the defense for the touchdown.
Circle had one final chance after Clearwater’s touchdown, but ran out of time with the ball at midfield.
The Thunderbirds will host Wellington this Friday, while Clearwater travels to Maize for another league matchup against the South Mavericks.