In what may later be seen as a pivotal game in the race for the playoffs, the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies edged the Wind River Cougars 13-6 Friday afternoon to remain undefeated and tied for the top spot in the 1A West.
Now 4-0, the Grizzlies avenged a 49-2 loss at the hands of the Cougars in Pavillion a year ago, a game where the Grizz were not only banged up, they faced a team that changed without warning from a spread offense to the single wing running game.
“This is enormous for us,” coach David Hayes said, “not only because of last year – and they’re probably better this year than last year – but because this year we know there are probably four tough teams after Cokeville” – Wind River, Burlington, Shoshoni and Rocky.
“We knew this would be a huge, huge game for us to win. We missed a lot of opportunities, but we held ‘em off and scored again.”
Being better prepared made the difference from one year to the next, Hayes said.
“Last year they put in the single wing just for us,” Hayes said. “They surprised us with it, and we had no clue. They had lost their quarterback. This year they used the single wing again. We had a plan for it and it worked.
“Coach (Justin) Moss had three or four different packages. We were reading their sets. Coach Moss did an excellent job scouting it and putting in a defense.”
Friday’s game was a defensive battle that saw seven turnovers, a blocked kick and little scoring, although four touchdowns were called back by penalties.
It looked for a while like neither team would score. The Cougars picked off Rocky quarterback Kirby Winland on the first series, and after a Wind River punt, the Grizz fumbled the ball away on a pitch play.
After an exchange of punts, Wind River drove to the Rocky 32, but Ethan Landers hit Zach Lindstandt as he passed and John Higgins snared the ball for an interception.
The Grizz started a drive and converted a fake punt for a first down, and on the next play Winland found Joey Jewell streaking down the left sideline for a 53-yard touchdown pass. But the play was called back on a holding penalty and three plays later Winland threw an interception.
Midway through the second quarter the Cougars drove to the Rocky 17, and after a holding penalty set them back a screen pass to Tyler Rupe on fourth down went for only eight yards and the Grizz held at the 9.
The Grizz drove out to the 22, and on second and seven running back Cannon Simmons broke through the Wind River defense and raced 78 yards for a touchdown. The PAT failed but Rocky led 6-0 with 1:58 left in the first half.
Wind River quickly moved to the Rocky Mountain 23 after recovering an on-side kick, and Ward Gordon broke around left end for a touchdown run, but this time it was Wind River’s turn for a touchdown to be called back as the Cougars where called for an illegal block in the back. On the next play Xavier busted up a play, forced a fumble and recovered the ball to end the threat. Rocky led 6-0 at the half.
Early in the second half, the snake bit Jewell intercepted a Wind River pass and returned it about 80 yards for a touchdown, but for the second time the play was called back, this time on an illegal block penalty. Rocky had possession of the ball, but on the first play of the ensuing series the Grizz coughed it up on a handoff and Wind River recovered.
This time the Cougars drove 39 yards to score, aided by a pass interference call on third and 21. Ward Gordon scored on a six-yard run, but the PAT failed, leaving the score tied 6-6 with 3:24 left in the third.
On the ensuing kickoff, Landers took the kick at the 17 and raced 83 yards for a touchdown, but for the third time in the game a referee’s yellow flag called the play back, this time, again, on an illegal block penalty.
“When it comes down to it, obviously the holding was a hold, and we had two called back due to blocks,” Hayes said. “We should have laid off 10 to 15 yards behind the play.”
Neither team scored again until the Grizz drove 50 yards to score after a strong defensive stand and a short Wind River punt. A key play along the way was a 17-yard gain by Jewell on an end around. Then facing fourth and seven at the 27, the Grizzlies spread several receivers right, then had Winland throw back to the left to tight end Wilson Flowers, who raced for the touchdown on the well-designed play. Bill Despain’s PAT gave the Grizz a 13-6 lead, and they went on to take the win.
“Right from the get-go we knew we were in for a tough game,” Hayes said. “We earned it. We were giving up 70 to 80 pounds per person on the line. We average about 150-155, and they were big. We battled the whole game, and the crowd was on pins and needles.”
Simmons finished with 86 yards rushing on 18 carries, Landers 38 yards on eight carries, Jake Jones 29 yards on seven carries and Jewell 17 yards on two attempts. Winland completed 7 of 17 passes for 35 yards, two to Jewell for 9 yards, two to Jones for 5 yards, one to Flowers for 27, one to Simmons for no gain and one to Despain for a loss of six.
Jewell and Jones were the leading tacklers with eight solo and one assisted tackle each. Jewell added two tackles for a loss and an interception.
And now the big one. The Grizzlies will put their 4-0 mark on the line this week when they make the long trip to Cokeville to take on the top-ranked and also undefeated Cokeville Panthers.
The fourth-ranked Grizz will meet the Panthers at 1 p.m. Friday.
“We’ve already been studying film to prepare for Cokeville. They’ve got our total attention,” Hayes said Sunday evening. “They just got off their biggest battle at Shoshoni (41-19 Cokeville win), and it was 8-5 right before halftime.
“We feel like we have a lot of speed and athleticism. But we’ve got to make tackles and not allow quick scores. We need to make them earn it and not allow them to get a run going or we’ll be in trouble. We’ll play like we did against Wind River. We’ll be scheming them.”
Besides the win at Shoshoni, Cokeville has also defeated Mountain View 45-13, Riverside 50-7 and Saratoga 48-0.
By David Peck