The Wind River Cougars served notice late Friday afternoon at Pavillion that they will be a force in the final four of Class 1-A 9-Man football with a 68-6 pummeling of the visiting Niobrara County Tigers from Lusk.
The loss was the most lopsided for the Tigers in almost a century, with only a 76-0 blowout at Crawford, Nebraska in 1925 worse. On the other side of the coin, Lusk hammered Wind River just four years ago in Niobrara County 74-6.
Friday, it was evident the Tigers were outgunned at every position. They lost their starting quarterback, 5-11 140-pound junior Jackson Smith to an ankle injury suffered in practice on Wednesday and took the field with freshman Brady Swisher running the offense.
It was a cold, bruising 32 minutes of football for the ninth-grade signal caller.
The Cougar offense was impressive, but not as impressive as their defense. Lusk couldn’t do much when they had the ball with Aidan Ruby attacking the perimeter like a starving piranha, Rowdy Shearer, Isaac Gardner, and Kyzaia Jones allowing nothing up the middle, and Blake Snyder waiting to hammer Tiger backs that tried to break around the end.
It was an outstanding defensive effort by Wind River.
“Our O line and D line played lights out and let everyone else do their job,” Wind River head coach Rod Frederick said.
The game opened with Ruby almost breaking the kickoff for a touchdown. Only a shoestring tackle on the slick field kept the senior from going the distance.
In quick succession, Cooper Frederick and Chris Burk picked up big chunks of yardage with Frederick capping a 45-yard drive on an eight-yard run just two minutes into the game.
It was backward three consecutive plays for Lusk and a punt before the Cougars were knocking again. This time Wind River faces a fourth-and-one at the Tiger 32-yard line. Burk set under Troy Tidzump at center for an apparent sneak but saw Lusk switch to a five-man front at the last minute with a noseguard directly over the ball and he took the ball around the left end behind blocks from Ruby and Snyder for the score.
An already stellar defensive effort picked up the intensity on the ensuing Lusk possession. Jones stuffed the Tiger center and body slammed running back Colton Coffman on a counter for a loss, Ruby drilled Swisher for the third time on a rollout and Gardner was in beast mode, blowing up the Lusk line repeatedly, either tackling the Tiger back or forcing him back inside.
“The defensive line was huge for us because it opened up a lot of things for our linebackers,” Frederick said. “Overall, this was one of the better defensive games we played, the kids were hitting well. There wasn’t much room for them to run.”
Lusk picked up a rare first down on a 28-yard pass from Swisher to 6-4 senior Aidan Mattheus but paid for it on the next play.
Swisher tried a naked bootleg on the left side and was drilled with a textbook-style tackle by Snyder. Snyder lifted Swisher in the air and drove him to the snowy turf with a resounding thud.
The next two passes ended in jailbreak-style sacks with Shearer, Gardner, and Jones making life miserable for Swisher.
Lusk punted and Brayden Tatro gained 32 yards on his first carry, a counter to the five-yard line where Frederick took it in for a 20-0 Wind River lead.
Tatro was back just a few minutes later on a 45-yard scoring run with Burk adding the conversion.
“Our offensive line took care of business we had some great holes for Cooper and Blake to run through,” Frederick said.
Lusk sold out defensively trying to stop Burk and Frederick opening up the counters by Tatro and a jet sweep by Joaquin Stevens that moved the ball to the four-yard line with just a minute left in the half. Frederick scored from there and Wind River took a 34-0 lead into the locker room.
Three and out by the Tigers gave the Cougars the ball at midfield and this time Frederick went to the air hitting Tatro on a 49-yard catch and run. Frederick found Burk for the two-point conversion and the running clock was imminent.
Jones drilled a line drive kick that hit Lusk freshman blocking back Raynce Brott in the hands at the 32-yard line. As the Wind River kick coverage team raced upfield in their lanes, Brott juked a defender and rolled 68 yards for Lusk’s only score of the game.
The score helped Lusk’s morale, but it didn’t do much for their defense.
Wambli Romero gained 30 yards on a wide counter to set up a four-yard Burk scoring run and a 48-6 Wind River lead.
Jones drove the ball deep and the Tigers retreated offensively with Jones blocking the punt by Gabe Federer, he recovered it at the four-yard line. Frederick scored on a one-yard plunge two plays later and the Mercy Rule was invoked with a running clock beginning late in the third period.
The Cougar varsity scored one more time on a five-yard pass from Frederick to Burk and a final time when sophomore Jacob Hardcastle broke a 40-yard run on a quarterback sneak with Mato Amos adding the conversion for the final 68-6 tally.
The Cougars host Southeast Goshen next Saturday at 1 p.m. with a berth in the state championship game at the University of Wyoming on the line.
Wind River 14 20 20 14 – 68
Niobrara County 0 0 6 0 – 6
WR – Cooper Frederick 8-run (Chris Burk run) 10:03
WR – Burk 32-run (run failed) 5:44
WR – Frederick 5-run (run failed) 6:45
WR – Brayden Tatro 45-run (Burk run) 5:24
WR – Frederick 4-run (pass failed) 1:02
WR – Tatro 49-pass from Frederick (Burk pass from Frederick) 9:12
NIO – Raynce Brott 58-kickoff return (run failed) 8:54
WR – Burk 4-run (pass failed) 5:53
WR – Frederick 1-run (pass failed) 1:58
WR – Burk 5-pass from Frederick (kick failed) 8:20
WR – Jacob Hardcastle 40-run (Mato Amos run) 3:08