The Rocky Mountain Grizzlies stayed firmly in the playoff chase Saturday with a 28-14 conference win at Burlington.
The game was scheduled for Friday afternoon but was postponed due to field conditions after a Thursday snowstorm in Burlington.
Burlington came into the game 0-4 but with senior Preston Wardell back at quarterback and defensive back and junior Justin Cortez at running back and DB after missing games, and playing their intra-district rivals for homecoming, the Huskies were ready for the 3-1 Grizzlies.
At first it looked like the Grizz would dominate, forcing Burlington three and out on the first series then driving 59 yards to score. Junior running back Cannon Simmons broke loose for a 40-yard run that set up a two-yard bootleg by quarterback Kirby Winland. A pass for the two-point conversion was incomplete, leaving the Grizzlies up 6-0 on the snowy Burlington field.
A fumbled snap from center on a punt deep in Rocky territory early in the second quarter handed the home team a touchdown as the Huskies got the ball at the Grizzly 4 and scored in one play – a four-yard run by Landon George. The PAT put Burlington up 7-6.
There was no more scoring in the first half as Burlington clung to a one-point lead at intermission.
Special teams played a huge role in the second half. The Grizz started the second half with a lightning bolt from speedy senior Xavier Mangus, who corralled the kickoff along the Rocky sideline, then turned on the afterburners and dashed 80 yards for a touchdown. Simmons scored the two-point conversion, and Rocky led 14-7 just 13 seconds into the third quarter.
Burlington returned the ensuing kickoff to the 47 and drove 53 yards to tie the score as Wardell, Cortez and Nickolas Carrizales ran hard. Cortez scored on a four-yard run and Wardell booted the PAT, tying the score 14-14.
Then it was Rocky’s turn to put together a long drive. The Grizz went 79 yards as TJ Willis had runs of 25 yards and 18 yards, then Simmons burst for 21 yards to set up a Willis one-yard run. Winland hit Willis for two, and Rocky led 22-14.
Burlington fumbled on the first play of the ensuing series and the Grizz drove deep but stalled at the 3 as the Burlington defense stiffened.
Burlington drove the ball out of the Husky end of the field, but the Rocky defense held. The Huskies tried a fake punt but coughed up the football in the attempt and Cordell McFarlane scooped it up and dashed about 25 yards to the 3. Three plays later, Winland ran a bootleg right from nine yards out and stretched the football over the goal line at the pylon as he dove to the end zone.
The two-point conversion failed, but Rocky led 28-14 with 3:38 to play, and a fumble recovered by the Grizz on the next series sealed the fate of the Huskies.
Rocky finished with 227 yards rushing and 43 passing, while Burlington had 181 rushing and 15 passing.
Willis led the Grizz with 109 yards rushing on 17 carries, and Simmons added 106 yards on 19 attempts before leaving the game with an injury. Winland completed five of 12 passes for 43 yards. Mangus caught two passes for 15 yards, Jordan Arnold one for 16 yards, Joey Jewell one for 8 yards and Willis one for four.
Wardell led Burlington with 107 yards rushing on 20 carries. He also completed two of 10 passes for 15 yards.
Coach David Hayes had relatively few comments following the game, saying simply that the Grizz were able to overcome adversity and noting several huge plays including Mangus’ kickoff return that saw him “tightrope the sideline.”
“We need to get better this week in all three phases of the game,” Hayes added, noting the huge homecoming challenge the Grizz face when they host the Cokeville Panthers at 7 p.m. Friday.
“As a team we need to go in strong minded for the Panthers,” Hayes said. “In order to beat the Panthers you must match their intensity. We have players to do so, we simply need to start and finish every play correctly and we will be in a position to win the game.
“It will be a fun week preparing for Cokeville. When our team plays on all cylinders we can play with anyone. Our upper classmen need to lead the troops and get stronger as the season unfolds.”
Cokeville is 4-1 on the season and 2-0 in conference games. The Panthers have won four straight after falling 27-21 at Mountain View in their season opener. Since then Cokeville has defeated Southeast 42-0, Wind River 51-8, Lingle 37-0 and Riverside by forfeit after weather initially postponed the game on Friday.
by David Peck