LUSK – Niobrara County High School was coming off their fourth SEWAC title in five years, yet the 1995 season ended with a bitter loss in the 1A-D1 state championship game. The 1996 edition had loads of talent returning and expectations remained high.
Lusk won their season opener on Gibson Field as Upton visited and put the first points on the scoreboard to take a 7-0 lead. From there the Tigers dominated as Newly Matthews scored three touchdowns filling in for all stater Brian Zowada. Leading 12-7, NCHS recovered a Bobcat fumble and Brent Fullmer connected with Billy Fitzwater for another score as the Tigers won 26-7.
NCHS went to Southeast and opened conference play with a 40-6 win over the Cyclones. Fitzwater, Matthews and Fullmer each ran in first quarter touchdowns for a 20-0 lead. Travis Kaltenheuser, Andy Martin (from Fullmer) and Bret Hytrek also made it to paydirt before the home team scored late. Cory Fosher made four of his six point after kicks.
When Burns came to Lusk, it was a defensive struggle as the teams combined for four first half turnovers. Clint Rising put the first Tiger points on the board and Fitzwater went 66 yards as Lusk led 13-0 at halftime. NCHS cemented the win as Fullmer called his own number for the score and caught the conversion from Fullmer before the Broncs got a late TD in the 21-7 win.
The Tigers survived their biggest test of the season as Lingle-Fort Laramie coughed up five turnovers. The Doggers scored first on a fumble into the endzone they recovered, but after that it was all Lusk. Fullmer scored and tossed a TD to Martin, as the Tigers took a 14-7 lead into the break. Fosher booted a 27-yard field goal before Fullmer took to the air for an 83-yard hook up with Fitzwater. Fitzwater’s 30-yard pick six ensured the 32-7 win.
Wright was no match for the Tigers, as the defense gave up just 103 yards of offense to the home team. Fitzwater and Fullmer each had first half touchdowns for a 14-0 first half edge. Fullmer and John Thayer each scored in the third period and Fitzwater picked up a fumble before racing to the endzone. Ryan Nelson scored the final touchdown as NCHS defeated the Panthers 42-0.
Homecoming was a 38-0 blowout over Pine Bluffs emphasized by the return of Zowada. He took the opening kick 32 yards before scoring his first touchdown of the season on a 31-yard scamper moments later. Rising punched one into the endzone and Fullmer connected with Zowada, as the Tigers led 19-0 after one quarter. Fullmer had a touchdown on the ground and found Fitzwater for another before Rising wrapped up the scoring for the 6-0 Lusk squad.
NCHS went to Guernsey and thumped the Vikings 53-0. Lusk put up four first stanza TDs, the final one, a 46-yard pick six from Fitzwater for a 26-0 lead. Rising had two more touchdowns and Fullmer added another before the varsity exited. Logan Heth scored the final points of the game with a touchdown for Lusk’s third straight undefeated conference season.
Tongue River visited for the quarterfinals and were overmatched from the start. The Tigers put up 493 yards total offense while limiting the Eagles to just 93. TR answered Zowada’s first quarter touchdown and the game was tied at seven early. After a Rising score, Jake Gibson recorded a safety for the 16-7 lead entering halftime. NCHS put the game out of reach with three third quarter touchdowns and plenty of breathing room at 36-7. The visitors got one back, but Zowada finished the scoring in the 42-15 win.
Greybull and future NFL star Brett Keisel came to Gibson Field for the semifinals, but the Tigers had a great game plan and came up with eight interceptions. The Buffs led 8-7 early but a pair of Zowada touchdowns moved it to 20-8. The visitors answered but misfired on the conversion, and it went to halftime 20-14 for Lusk. Fitzwater had a pair of interception returns in the second half, as the Tigers pulled away for the 45-22 victory.
A perfect championship season was to be denied the following week in Moorcroft. It was a rugged defensive struggle as neither team put up 200 yards of offense. The NCHS offense managed only a pair of Fosher field goals for a 6-0 score at the half. The sure-handed Tigers coughed up their second of the game and the Wolves capitalized, but the conversion was no good for a six all tie as the final period began. Disaster struck Lusk again as the home team blocked a punt and booted the winning field goal for the 9-6 final score.
Jerry Fullmer was named SEWAC coach of the year and Fosher player of the year. Joining him on the All-SEWAC team was Fitzwater, Fullmer, Travis Shoults, Gibson, Zowada and Keven Johnson. All Region players also included Martin. NCHS put six players on the All-State team with Fitzwater, Fosher, Fullmer, Gibson, Shoults and Zowada and Fosher was a member of the Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 team. Strong in all three aspects and explosive big play ability puts this team pretty far up the list.
(Writer’s note: This article was written with the assistance of The Stat Rat, Wyoming-football.com and The Lusk Herald archives. Team photo courtesy of NCHS library.)