The new-look Rocky Mountain Grizzlies started the 2016 in impressive fashion Friday night, powering past the Class 2A Kemmerer Rangers 47-7 on their home field in Cowley.
Riding a 28-game losing streak they wanted to end, the Rangers battled but couldn’t overcome Rocky Mountain’s superior skill and strength.
For new Rocky coach Richard Despain, the game was a positive step on the young season.
“I thought we played well. We’ve improved in areas we needed to improve,” Despain said. “We took better steps up front (on the offensive line), our timing was better with the new offense and we had unselfish play by our receivers. Their blocking downfield helped us get extra yards several times.
“We saw great effort from the kids. They’re learning and they’re working hard. If we keep doing that, I’m very excited.”
The Grizz showed balance on offense, rushing for 218 yards and passing for 163. Quarterback Cole Simmons, making his varsity debut behind center, hit 10 of 20 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions.
“Cole threw well,” Despain said. “He threw some that should have been caught, and we also had him throw some 50-50 balls that could go either way.”
Despite being unavailable in the first half, along with Brian Crawford, senior Gehrig Sweat led the Grizz with 76 yard rushing on only seven carries. Tristan Jewell gained 58 yards on one play, and Treyson Frost gained 46 yards on seven carries. Simmons added 32 yards on 10 carries.
Simmons’ favorite receiver Friday was Frost, who caught four passes for 25 yards. Jewell caught three aerials for 62 yards, Ethan Price two passes for 36 yards and Sweat one for 40.
The line, Despain said, is “getting better,” adding, “They’re talking better and recognizing and calling their blocks better.”
Despain said coaches have installed only 40 to 50 percent of the new spin offense and will add three or four plays a week with the week’s opponent guiding the installation.
The Grizzly defense either forced a turnover or held the Kemmerer offense three and out on six of the Rangers’ 10 possessions until Kemmerer drove to score in the fourth quarter against the Rocky second-string defense.
“Kemmerer is not a bad team, but when times are rough and you have a streak like they’ve had, you’re waiting for what goes bad next. Turnovers killed them,” Despain said.
“We had some kids step up on defense. Carson May played very, very well (at corner), and Scott Banks played well (at robber) and scored our defensive touchdown,” Despain added. “We tackled better. Guys weren’t bouncing off as often. Our team was pursuing. Everybody was getting to the ball.”
“Treyson Frost played great on both sides of the ball. On offense he ran it hard when he had the ball and blocked well when it was his turn to block.”
The Grizzlies took the opening kickoff and drove 66 yards in 12 plays as Frost and Wyatt Horrocks ran hard and Simmons hit some key passes. The senior quarterback first found Ethan Price for 13 yards on third and 17, then hit Jewell for 27 yards to set up a four-yard quarterback sneak for the touchdown by Simmons.
Kemmerer went three and out but got new life when Jewell fumbled on the punt return. After one first down the Rangers stalled, giving the ball up on downs.
Following an exchange of punts, Rocky drove 72 yards to score in six plays. A 58-yard reverse by Jewell took the ball to the Kemmerer four, and after a five-yard penalty, Frost dashed around left end and dove for the touchdown. The PAT was blocked, but Rocky led 13-0.
A pick-six interception and 42-yard touchdown return by Banks put Rocky up 19-0, and after Kemmerer fumbled a punt return with under a minute left in the half, the Grizz scored in two plays: a 31-yard pass from Simmons to Price and a 13-yard touchdown scramble by Simmons, who then hit Frost for the two-point conversion, giving Rocky a 27-0 halftime lead.
Rocky added two touchdowns in the third quarter to lead 41-0: a 40-yard pass out of the backfield to Gehrig Sweat and an eight-yard run by Sweat, capping a drive that featured runs of 43 and nine yards by the senior.
The Grizz added one more score in the fourth quarter on an 18-yard leaping catch in the end zone by Jewell. Kemmerer followed with a 65-yard drive culminating in a four-yard pass from Tanner Plowman to Josh Thatcher.
Garrett Vezain finished the game with 10 assisted tackles, and Wyatt Horrocks had nine assisted tackles and one solo tackle. Triston Rusch added six assisted tackles. Jewell had four solo tackles, one assisted tackle and an interception.
Big road game
The Grizz won’t start conference play for a couple of weeks, but they will play for pride this weekend when they travel to Upton to meet the defending state champion Upton/Sundance Patriots, who knocked the Grizz off in the first round of the playoffs last October, 39-12.
The Patriots are loaded again, Despain said.
“Upton is a physical team,” he said. “They have a power run game and they like to pull their guards. They do a lot between the tackles. They only lost a few seniors and return almost all of their starters.
“On defense they’re big and physical. We’ll need to stay low, get our helmets in front and hit half a man (instead of hitting high into their strength).”
U/S started the season with a 34-21 win over Class 2A Newcastle on Friday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday in Upton.
By David Peck