Better, but still not a win.
After blowout losses to Wind River and Cokeville, the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies got a few players back from injury and went toe to toe with the Shoshoni Wranglers in Friday’s homecoming game in Cowley before falling 13-8 in a close, hard-fought contest.
The Grizz struggled offensively in the first half, allowing a late touchdown pass to trail 6-0 at intermission, then outplayed the visitors from Fremont County in the second half, outscoring the Wranglers 8-7.
“We felt like we should have won the game,” coach David Hayes said. “We played poorly in the first half, and we addressed a few matters at halftime. We played better in the second half but still made multiple mistakes, which cost us the game.
“This is crunch time, and we really need the team to stick together for the last two games. We simply need to play with passion, execute plays correctly and eliminate our mistakes. Everything else will take care of itself.”
Shoshoni took the opening kickoff and drove deep into Rocky territory, but a pair of Jordan Whitener passes were broken up and the Grizz also stuffed running back Layne Watson for a seven-yard loss. Whitener fumbled on fourth down and the Grizz had the ball.
With the Grizz unable to move the ball, Shoshoni spent much of the first half in Rocky territory, but the Grizzlies held every time until late in the half. Jaeden Herd picked off Whitener twice, and the Grizz also recovered a fumble.
Rocky Mountain didn’t pick up a first down in the first half, and the Grizz eventually lost the field position battle, despite the strong efforts of the defense. With time winding down in the first half, Whitener found Josh Thoren for a 27-yard gain, found Lawry Lindblad for a 10-yard gain and cashed in with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Thoren with just five seconds left on the clock in the second quarter. The Wranglers muffed the snap on the PAT but led 6-0 at halftime.
After gaining only 1 yard rushing in the first half, the Grizzlies came out in the third period with great determination and ran for 197 yards on the second half.
After an initial 13-yard run by Derik Romero for the initial first down of the game for the Grizz, the drive stalled and Shoshoni drove 62 yards to score. Whitener hit Lindblad for 21 yards on fourth and six at the Rocky 35, and on third and 16 at the Rocky 20 the senior quarterback lofted the ball high to the lanky Thoren, who out-leapt Joey Jewell for the ball. The PAT put Shoshoni up 13-0.
The Grizz answered in a flash and dash as freshman halfback Cannon Simmons broke free on the first play of the ensuing series and raced 80 yards for a touchown. The PAT was blocked, but the Grizz were in the game trailing 13-6 midway through the third.
Shoshoni fumbled the ball away on the first play of the next series, and the Grizz were in business at the Shoshoni 15. But Tyler Clementson picked off Kirby Winland in the end zone to end the Rocky threat.
Rocky forced a Shoshoni punt, then drove to the Shoshoni 25, but a pitch play left the ball on the ground and Shoshoni fell on it.
The Grizz held, forcing a punt, and although the Rocky offense couldn’t move, the Grizz punted the ball to the end zone. The resurgent Rocky defense forced the Wranglers backwards, and on fourth and 13 at the Shoshoni 17, sophomore TJ Willis broke through the line to block the Wrangler punt. Shoshoni was able to fall on the ball in the end zone for a safety, making the score 13-8.
Taking the ball on the ensuing kickoff, the Grizz drove into Shoshoni territory thanks to a 16-yard run by Jake Jones, but the drive stalled and the Grizz gave the ball up on downs.
After an exchange of punts the Grizzlies got the ball back when Jones ripped the ball from a Wrangler back. Taking the ball at the Rocky 43, Romero got five to the 48, then Winland hit Flowers for 11 to the Shoshoni 41. Simmons burst for 20 to the 21, but on the next play Lindblad stepped in front of a Winland pass to end the final threat. Shoshoni ran out the clock to preserve the five-point win.
The Grizz finished with 198 yards rushing and 27 passing, while Shoshoni had 96 yards rushing and 197 passing.
Simmons rushed for 114 yards on seven carries, a breakout game for the freshman. Romero added 85 yards on 21 carries, Jones 16 yards on one attempt. Flowers had three carries for 9 yards.
Winland completed two of 11 passes for 27 yards.
Seniors Brady Penman and Caleb Estes dominated on the defensive side of the ball. Penman finished with 10 solo and one assisted tackle, Estes eight solo and three assisted stops. Logan Friedly added five solo and five assisted tackles, Romero nine solo tackles and Jones eight solo and one assisted tackle.
Hayes emphasized that the Grizz still make the playoffs if they can win their last two games. The quest begins Friday when the Grizz take on the Burlington Huskies at 2 p.m. in Burlington.
The Huskies are 3-3 this season with wins over Big Piney, Saratoga and Wyoming Indian and losses to Shoshoni, Riverside and Wind River.
The Grizz and Huskies appear to be evenly matched on paper.
“The playoffs are still in our sights,” Hayes said. “Even in the loss we had some real highlights from multiple players and we need to carry that into the next game. We are really proud of the way we fought down the stretch and look to be strong this coming Friday.
“Burlington will be ready, and we will be ready, too. It will be a great 1A West conference game.”
By David Peck – Editor and Publisher