LUSK – Coming off a championship game defeat and coupled with the loss of a dozen seniors, Niobrara County High School was expected to slip a bit. Many of the upperclassmen had been role players and would be thrust into new positions, while a talented group of freshmen and sophomores gained experience. Matt VandeBossche was entering his seventh season as head coach and felt the preseason ranking of third was pretty generous.
Burns visited for Homecoming, and the defensive battle was won by the Tigers in dramatic fashion in the final minutes. The only other scoring happened in the first 90 seconds of the game as the Broncs scored on their second play. On the ensuing kickoff Ryan Prather raced 85 yards to pay dirt to pull Lusk within 7-6. The game stood that way until the Tigers winning score was set up on a fourth and 22. Colter Larson connected with Kevin Christianson inside the five and Matthew VandeBossche scored the winning touchdown in the 12-7 final.
NCHS traveled to Hill City, South Dakota for the first matchup between the schools. Each team would put up a first quarter touchdown and MP Lindberg’s kick were the 7-6 difference for Lusk. Grady Penfield and Larson carried the load and scored all five of Lusk’s touchdowns and Lindberg went 4-for-4 on PATs. The 36-12 final score was much closer than indicated.
The top ranked Cyclones were next, and the number three Tigers visited Yoder for home field advantage in the playoffs at stake. The first half was a scoreless defensive scrum, until Lusk put together an eight play, 59-yard drive that was capped by Penfield’s touchdown. The home team answered in the third and took the 12-6 lead early in the final frame. Larson scored to tie it, but Southeast’s late touchdown gave them the 18-12 win over the Tigers.
From there, NCHS reeled off five straight shutouts beginning with Lingle-Ft Laramie. Neither team did much in the first quarter, but Bryce Sturman connected with Ryan Prather for a touchdown midway through the second. A Dogger fumble gave it back and Lusk pulled the old flea flicker on the visitors. Sturman took the snap and pitched to VandeBossche, before slipping past the defense, and catching a touchdown. Lindberg’s kicks made it 14-0 at halftime. The Tigers missed a few opportunities to blow the game open, but Prather had a 26-yard pick six in the final minutes for the 21-0 win.
Lusk had little trouble in Pine Bluffs with scores from VandeBossche and Larson in the first period. Prather added a pair of touchdowns and the lead was 28-0 early in the third. VandeBossche scored another one late in the Tigers most complete game on both sides of the ball, as NCHS shutout the Hornets 35-0.
A trip to Sundance was similar to the Pine Bluffs game, as the Tigers controlled the line in scoring early and often. VandeBossche had two TDs and Larson’s score gave the Tigers a 22-0 lead at the half. Prather and VandeBossche made it to the endzone in the second half as the defense posted another shutout 36-0.
The Tigers final two regular season games at Gibson Field at Fullmer Stadium were against Normative Services Institute and Upton. The two were a combined 2-10, while Lusk was gaining momentum. Against the Wolves, VandeBossche scored on a punt return, the defense scored a safety, and the offense faced little resistance. Larson and Prather each had three touchdowns and Hunter Dockery scored on a 28-yard pick six for the 56-0 rout.
The Bobcats visited for Senior Night and NCHS put up four first quarter touchdowns. Larson and Christianson had the first two while VandeBossche added a pair. Prather and Derick VandeBossche also scored touchdowns and NCHS led 40-0 at halftime. Matt VandeBossche set the running clock in motion with a touchdown and Larson added a pick six in the 53-0 trampling.
Lusk hosted Saratoga in the quarterfinals and the 21-quarter shutout streak was stopped in the second. NCHS had already put up 18 points before the Panthers took a kickoff 80 yards for the score, and it stood 18-7 at the half. Sturman, Larson and M. VandeBossche had second half TDs as the Tigers won 38-10.
For the semifinals, NCHS went to Cokeville in a rematch of the 2010 championship game. The Panthers coughed up five fumbles yet scored first. Prather answered on a 69-yard run and Lindberg’s point after gave Lusk the 7-6 lead after one. It would be the Tigers last score and lead as the home team scored 14 in the second. NCHS could not mount a comeback in the second half in the 28-7 defeat.
Post season honors included seniors Taylen Arnett and Lindberg, along with juniors Larson and K. Christianson being named All State, while Arnett was named to the Shrine Bowl. All Conference players also included Craig Christianson and M. VandeBossche. Second team honors went to Sturman, Dockery and Jesse Bunner. This team exceeded expectations and paved the way for a fantastic three-year run.
(Writer’s note: This article was written with the assistance of The Stat Rat, Wyoming-football.com and The Lusk Herald archives.)