LUSK – Coach Francis Rose left after five successful seasons, and Vince Zimmer came into an almost entirely new lineup.
The 1959-63 teams are among the greatest in school history, and with just five seniors, many expected a down year. Even with a diverse schedule ahead, Niobrara County High School was entering new territory.
Lusk opened on the road against newly combined Guernsey-Sunrise, and the Tigers controlled the tempo with 13 first downs and 254 total yards. Steve Baribeau and Jim Shillenn scored touchdowns and quarterback Jerry Baker had both conversions as NCHS won 14-0.
The following week at Newcastle, Lusk suffered their first loss since 1961. The Tigers were riddled with injuries and illness but in a scoreless battle at halftime. The Dogies prevailed 13-6 behind a strong passing attack and 85 yards in penalties from NCHS.
Edgemont, S.D. visited for the final time as the schools had agreed to discontinue the lopsided series spanning almost 40 years. The Tigers won 26-7 to close the rivalry with a 20-8-4 record against the Moguls.
Gillette visited Gibson Field a week later and their quick strike offense was more than the Tigers were ready for. The Camels led 25-0 at halftime before going on to the 32-0 win. Despite the loss it was noted the defense wasn’t as bad as it appeared on the scoreboard.
NCHS overcame a halftime deficit in Douglas as Shillenn and Jerry Baker each scored two touchdowns. The Tigers won 25-21 for their first conference victory before St. Mary’s visited for homecoming. The Gaels were winless coming in and left the same way as Shillenn had an outstanding game with 191 yards rushing on 25 carries with a pair of touchdowns. Lusk won 54-21 and Shillenn’s stats still rank in the top 50 of all time.
The final home game for NCHS was against Douglas High School from Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D. It’s unknown how the matchup came about and is the only time the Tigers have faced the Patriots. The game was a close battle and the Tigers led 7-6 at halftime. Baribeau scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half and Bob Norris’s three conversions were the difference as Lusk won, 21-19.
Sundance was back on the schedule after more than a decade and were no match for a team playing their best football of the season; 28-0 for the Tigers at halftime led to a 41-7 easy victory.
Shillenn, a candidate for all state, led the Lusk attack with 279 yards on just 19 carries with two touchdowns. At the time, it was a new single game school record, surpassing Harold Sturman’s 270 against Torrington in 1959. Currently, it is the sixth highest total in school history.
NCHS wrapped up the season with a 20-13 victory at Wheatland, their fifth in a row to finish 7-2. The outcome of the game was in question until the final minutes when Shillenn capped the win and a fantastic season with his 22-yard touchdown run. He scored a pair of touchdowns and ran 130 yards to finish with 1,136 yards- another new school record. It bested Willis Prather’s 1,051 from the year before and earned Shillenn an honorable mention on the all-state team.
The Tigers were Southeast District champions and voted ninth in the Casper Star Tribune top 10 (A/AA). Zimmer left after one season and his .777 winning percentage is the second highest in Tiger history.
(Writer’s note: This article was written with the assistance of The Stat Rat, Wyoming-football.com and The Lusk Herald archives).