Sophomore Austin Haslem didn’t have time to be nervous.
“He was busy (playing football) before he took that kick,” head coach Richard Despain said.
That’s how it goes playing as part of a 17-player squad. No one plays just one role and every one is beat up, Despain said. It’s been a tumultuous season for the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies full of injuries and disappointing losses, but during their homecoming game against Wind River Friday, the winds started blowing their way.
A 42-yard field goal kick by Haslem gave the Grizzlies a 13-12 victory, giving the team their first win on the field in the season, coming back from a 12-3 deficit in the third quarter.
The win gives Rocky Mountain a 2-5 record on the season and a conference record of 2-2.
After holding the Wind River Cougars to a crucial three and out in the previous possession, a 37 yard punt return by Cason James put the Grizz in good field position as the fourth quarter clock ran down.
“We wouldn’t have even been close enough to attempt a field goal,” Despain said about the run.
The Grizzlies then gained another six yards from a run up the middle, before quarterback Zane Horrocks and Haslem connected for a two-yard reception.
“There are no small plays,” Despain said. “I knew that we were at the edge of Haslem’s range. I’ve seen him knock down 40-yard field goals in practice. I don’t know if he could have hit a 44-yard field goal. Those two yards were crucial.”
Haslem did knock down a 42-yard field goal Friday night, though. After an off-line snap, Horrocks was able to re-center the ball. Even more importantly, according to Despain, the line held, allowing no pressure to come up the middle. With the kick making it through the uprights, Rocky Mountain sealed their first win of the season.
The match started with what could have been a case of déjà vu for the Grizzles, with the Cougars driving down in their first possession to score a touchdown. They failed to convert the extra point, giving the team a 6-0 lead.
But Rocky Mountain came back swinging. A 43-yard completion between Horrocks and Trace Moss put the Grizz deep in the Cougars redzone, at the two-yard line. Wind River was able to hold the line, but a 24 yard field goal by Haslem cut the Cougars lead in half.
After a standstill in the second quarter, Wind River capitalized on a drive early in the third, gaining a 12-3 lead on a 16-yard run, againmissing the extra point kick.
But luck turned the Grizzlies way. After returning to the field from a first half injury, Travis Lytle returned a botched punt from the Cougars for a touchdown to cut the lead to two with 4:24 left in the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies would still have one more significant obstacle to overcome before the winning field goal kick. Wind River came knocking early in the fourth, and almost sealed the game away on a fourth down run, but Trevor Jewell instead wrestled the Cougar halfback down at the one yard-line, forcing a fourth down turnover instead.
“We didn’t beat ourselves. We didn’t fumble the ball, we weren’t missing snaps. All those improvements came together,” Despain said. “The longer we were in the game, the more we still had a chance, they kept playing, they kept fighting. “
Wind River got more than twice the offense yards Rocky Mountain gained in the contest, with Wind River recording 319 to the Grizzlies’ 146, but Rocky Mountain controlled the ball, keeping their offense on the field for 27 minutes in the contest.
The Rocky Mountain’s defense played aggressively throughout the contest, dialing up a torrent of blitzes for the Cougars to fend off, giving the Grizzlies eight third down stops in the game and a sack by Lytle.
“The defense was what was strongest. We saw some progress. We saw some bigger things from them,” Despain said. “ We knew (we had) to take more chances, play a little more aggressively, we knew we’d need to keep them off balance.”
Horrocks had his best performance of the season as quarterback, hitting 7 for 16 for 97 total yards, and gaining 12 yards off of eight carries. James was the Grizzlies leading rusher, gaining 29 yards off of five attempts, adding another 37 yards through punt returns.
Moss led the Grizzlies in receiving yards with his 37 yard first quarter reception. Lytle also was an offensive weapon for the Grizz, gaining 29 yards off of two receptions. Tyler Banks wasn’t far behind, gaining 26 yards off of two receptions.
James and Horrocks were the Grizzlies’ top tacklers with 7.5 tackles recorded apiece.
Rocky Mountain will play their last contest of the regular season against Wyoming Indian Friday, in a 2 p.m. away matchup. Wyoming Indian has largely played a junior varsity schedule this season.
Both Rocky and Wyoming Indian share a conference win on their record after Saratoga forfeited in their matchup against both teams.
By Ryan Fitzmaurice