Tiger football: A 1961 Retrospective

LUSK – The Tigers dominance throughout the 1960’s began during Francis Rose’s first year in 1959. His teams were loaded with size, talent and depth, and were about to embark on one of the best runs in state history.

The 1961 season will be forever known as the year of the “Touchdown Twins”, Warren Jordan and Mike Kropatch. Coach Rose knew he had two speedy backs and a sophomore fullback Tommy Thompson to go with a strong line and defense.

The season opener at Edgemont, S.D. proved to be one of Lusk’s toughest games of the season. A Jim Hollon to Kropatch touchdown pass gave Niobrara County High School the 6-0 lead. After a bruising exchange of plays, punts and several penalties, Edgemont got right back in the game with a 65-yard score. Jordan made it to the endzone before halftime and the Tigers led 12-6. The Moguls tied it late in the game before a miracle play lifted the Tigers to the 18-12 win. A 62-yard drive over the final two and a half minutes saw Lusk seal it with a 28-yard score from Hollon to Jon Burnham with 3.5 seconds remaining.

The home opener was against Igloo, S.D. and featured a new scoreboard in the east endzone. After a scoreless first period, NCHS put the numbers in motion frequently. The 13-0 halftime lead became a rout in the second half as the Tigers scored 31 straight points before a late Igloo score finished the game at 44-6.

Newcastle came to town and the Tigers were a bit sluggish to begin, with a pair of touchdowns called back on penalties. Thompson crashed into the endzone shortly before halftime and NCHS led 6-0. Hollon scored from 23 yards and Kropatch carried the extra point in, but the Dogies responded and cut the lead to 13-6. Lusk chewed up 6:22 of the final 6:40 and moved to 3-0 with Jordan’s late score for the 20-6 final.

The first conference game was against Wheatland, a third straight home game for Lusk. The Tigers started fast and didn’t let up until they had a 34-6 halftime lead. The Touchdown Twins accounted for 27 of the 34 first half points. Kropatch scored another in the second half and Thompson scored twice in the 53-12 victory.

A road trip to Gillette was next and the Tigers made it five wins in a row. Jordan had a pair of touchdowns and the Hollon to Burnham connection gave Lusk a 19-0 halftime lead. Jordan scored once more in the third before it was Kropatch’s turn to get a pair of scores. The second one came on a pass from Hollon as NCHS routed the Camels 39-6.

Homecoming at Gibson Field was against rival Douglas, and the Touchdown Twins accounted for all of the Lusk points in the 27-13 win. The 6-0 start for the Tigers had them on the brink of a conference championship and perfect season, yet nemesis Torrington had other ideas.

The Trailblazers came into the game with a 1-5 record, yet all of those losses were to AA or Nebraska schools. They put up a pair of first half touchdowns and the Tigers were frustrated offensively. Kropatch narrowed the lead with a score before the teams went to the locker rooms. While the defense pitched a second half shutout, the offense was unable to overcome the home team in the 14-6 defeat. Little did anyone involved with the program realize that would be the last loss NCHS would suffer until the 1964 season.

The final game of the season was at Cheyenne St Mary’s, and the Gaels committed nine guys to stop the run. Hollon made them pay from the air with one of the best passing games in school history. He was 7 of 13 with five touchdowns and 241 yards. As if Coach Rose had it planned all along, the Touchdown Twins did the majority of the scoring in the 52-6 final score. They ended the season tied with 92 points each, and both scored 14 offensive touchdowns. Jordan’s 1,034 rushing yards was the first 1,000-yard season in school history and Kropatch added 732 for a 7-1 team that is most certainly on the short list of best ever.

NCHS outscored their opponents 259-68 behind a stellar defense, and Jordan (second team), Kropatch (HM) and Leif Thompson (HM) were named all-state.

(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.)


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