One week after a disappointing loss to Tongue River, the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies came on strong in the second half Friday night to topple the Shoshoni Wranglers in their conference opener on the road, 24-8.
The Grizz still have work to do, Coach David Hayes said, but Friday’s win was a step in the right direction.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Grizzlies got on the scoreboard first with an eight-yard bootleg to the right side by quarterback Kirby Winland for a touchdown.
“We worked the ball downfield,” Hayes said. “We struggled early on, but we finally sustained a drive.”
Cole Simmons hit Jordan Arnold for the two-point conversion on the “swinging gate” play, giving Rocky an 8-0 lead.
Hayes said it took a while for the Grizz to adjust to Shoshoni’s single wing offense, but overall they did a good job defending the offense, especially in the second half following halftime adjustments.
Shoshoni scored on an eight-yard pass from Jason Thoren to Connor Wilkinson. Then on the PAT the snap from center was bobbled and the holder, Wilkinson, sprinted around the end for the conversion. The run tied the game 8-8.
Rocky threatened just before halftime on a 20- to 25-yard run by Tyler Lindquist and a screen pass to Arnold, but time ran out.
The second half was a different story defensively for the Grizz. Shoshoni made some big gains in the first, but the Grizz shut down the running game, for the most part, in the second half.
“We made some defensive adjustments,” Hayes said. “We were more gap sound and put people in different positions. They had a hard time moving the ball on us.”
Rocky took the lead on a spectacular play in the third quarter when Winland looked right, then threw left on a screen pass to Caleb Horrocks, who dashed down the sideline and dove into the end zone for the touchdown to complete about a 45-yard play.
“Caleb made a really good move down the sideline, dove as he was hit and hit the pylon as he dove to the end zone,” Hayes said. Horrocks also ran in the two-point conversion, putting Rocky up 16-8.
In the fourth quarter quick junior Cordell McFarlane started “chewing up yards,” Hayes said, then broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run. Horrocks punched in the two-point conversion, giving the Grizz the final 24-8 win.
“Mistakes have been our nemesis in the first two weeks, mostly assignment mistakes,” Hayes said. “We’re trying to fix it.
“Kirby led the team well. He did everything he needed to do as a quarterback. Caleb, Tyler and Cordell all ran well, and Bill Despain had some really good blocks.”
Winland completed six of seven passes in the game for 114 yards and one touchdown, and Lindquist carried 16 times for 108 yards. Despain led the receiving corps with three catches for 25 yards.
Defensively, Lindquist had “another solid night” at middle linebacker, Hayes said, and both Wes Homewood and John Higgins played well on both sides of the ball. Despain and Simmons showed consistent play in the defensive backfield, and Horrocks and Brian Crawford had good nights at linebacker, the coach said.
Garrett Vezain “banged up his knee” and had to leave the game,” Hayes said. Coaches are keeping their fingers crossed for a quick return by the sophomore lineman, he said.
The Grizzlies will make the long journey to Carbon County Friday to meet the Saratoga Panthers at 6 p.m. for their second consecutive road conference game. Saratoga is 0-2 on the season with a 46-13 opening weekend loss to 1A East power Lingle-Ft. Laramie at home and a 49-8 loss at top-ranked Cokeville.
“They like to spread you out and pass,” Hayes said. “There’ll be trips and five wide, plus some traditional I formation. They kind of mix it up. They look like they’ve got some pretty good athletes.
“But we also need to fix our mistakes and worry about what we do.”
By David Peck