The early-week Labor Day holiday cost the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies a little bit of first-half cohesiveness in their home-opener Friday night in Cowley, but the Grizz put it all together in the third quarter as they crushed the visiting Wyoming Indian High School Chiefs 56-6 in the first conference game of the season for both teams.
Rocky fumbled the ball away three times in the first half but still led 14-0 at the half, then exploded for five touchdowns in the third quarter to pull away and win big.
“We got off to a shaky start,” coach David Hayes said. “We had three linemen who weren’t normally starters in there because of sickness and missed practice time on Labor Day. We had to shake it up, and things were all out of whack at first. But we hung in there, got things going in the second quarter and had a big third quarter.”
The Grizzlies rushed for 217 yards and passed for 161 on a sunny afternoon Friday as Logan Friedly gained 78 yards on seven carries, Derik Romero carried 10 times for 67 yards and Jake Jones added 62 yards on 10 attempts.
“We mixed things up pretty good,” Hayes said. “We kind of pounded it right at ‘em for quite a while, then started hitting the outsides and the outside was wide open. That was set up by our inside running game. The sweeps worked and were wide open for a few plays.
“Our offensive line did an excellent job. They’re really coming along. They’re a little undersized, but they’re coming along on their assignments. They’ve improved a ton.”
Freshman quarterback Kirby Winland completed 7 of 11 passes for 161 yards, five first downs and one touchdown. He found Friedly twice for 56 yards, Wilson Flowers twice for 43 yards, and Bryce Ward caught one pass for 24 yards, Jones one for 22 and Romero one for 6. Winland also scored on an eight-yard quarterback bootleg.
On several plays Friday Rocky backs waited patiently for plays to set up and/or develop, then followed their blocks for big gains.
“We’re working on not only getting our line to block but getting our running backs and receivers to block to the whistle,” Hayes said. “It’s coming along.”
Defensively, the Grizzly defensive line did a good job at the line of scrimmage, allowing the linebackers to come up and stuff the run, Hayes said.
“Our D line was very active. They weren’t getting caught up, and that left the linebackers free to come up and make tackles. We have kind of a quick and fast defense, and they know their assignments. We pursue the ball very well as a team.”
Senior linebacker Caleb Estes led the team with 34 defensive points on six assisted tackles, seven unassisted tackles, three tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery. Fellow backer Friedly added 22 points on six assisted tackles, five solo tackles and two tackles for a loss. Ward added 16 points, Jaeden Herd 14 and Romero 13.
Herd was 8-8 on PATs, smoothly booting the ball through the uprights each time.
Neither team scored in the first quarter Friday as Wyoming Indian punted twice, lost the ball on a fumble and snapped the ball over the punter’s head. The Chiefs recorded two first downs. Rocky wasn’t much better, fumbling twice, punting once and giving the ball up on downs once. The Grizz had two first downs.
The Grizzlies gradually gained a field position advantage, then finally got some offense going against a game WIHS squad midway through the second quarter when they drove 38 yards to score as Romero, Jones and Friedly ran hard. Romero scored when he took a pitch and broke around left end and dashed down the sideline for a 19-yard touchdown run.
After an exchange of punts left the Chiefs buried in their own end of the field, the visitors from Fremont County punted again and Romero caught the ball at the Chief 40, followed his blockers and cut up for a touchdown. Rocky led 14-0 at halftime.
The Grizzlies scored five touchdowns in the third quarter, the first two coming on big plays that seemed to demoralize the Chiefs. Friedly weaved his way through traffic, then broke free for a 56-yard touchdown run, and after Wyoming Indian tried and failed to convert a fourth down, Friedly scored on the next play, gathering in a screen pass from Winland and dashing 49 yards for a touchdown.
Rocky added three more scores in the third: a 14-yard run by Romero following a Chief fumble, a 12-yard run by Friedly set up by a 37-yard run by Jones and an eight-yard bootleg by Winland set up by a 24-yard pass to Ward. Winland made a nifty move on the touchdown run, faking a pass and then diving for the end zone.
Rocky led 49-0, which started the running clock to save time, but before that there was a 35-minute delay while coaches tended to sophomore Joey Jewell, who was hit by a much larger Wyoming Indian player while trailing a play. He suffered a concussion, Hayes said, and is going to be OK, but there was no ambulance on site for the game, so it took a while for a response from Lovell. Freshman Caleb Horrocks also suffered a lower calf injury in the fourth quarter.
Rocky added a final touchdown early in the fourth when Herd intercepted a pass from Chief quarterback Ron Mitchell and returned the pick 33 yards for a touchdown. Mitchell came back to score Wyoming Indian’s only touchdown on a 19-yard keeper with 2:37 left in the game.
After two blowout victories, the Grizzlies will travel to Basin Friday night for a stiffer test against the Riverside Rebels. The Rebels are 1-1 after beating Pinedale 30-14 in Basin and falling at Cokeville 48-0.
“They’re a big team. Their front line is big,” Hayes said. “Brynnt Wood is a big, tough dude. They have some real good athletes. Their quarterback, (Jordan) Herman, can throw, and (Clint) Getzfreid is their go-to receiver. (Mike) Miller is a tough fullback.
“We know ‘em. They run a wide-open offense. We’re looking for a big test on the road. We’ll be ready.”
By David Peck