LUSK – The Niobrara County football team of 1965 was coming off another successful season, yet under their third head coach in as many years.
Vince Zimmer left after one season, and Tom McAtee headlined a new staff that included Dick Price and Gil Young.
The Tigers opened the season at home against Buffalo, and McAtee started 10 seniors and one junior against the powerful Bison. Bob Bramlet scored the game’s only touchdown in the first quarter and booted the extra point for Lusk. The defense played exceptionally well, and the offense controlled the tempo in the 7-0 final. NCHS outgained the Bison 207 yards to 94 and picked up 11 first downs to the visitors four.
Newcastle gave the Tigers one of their losses the year before and was a strong favorite in the conference again.
They visited Gibson Field on a snowy Homecoming for NCHS and both squads had trouble handling the pigskin. Jerry Baker’s touchdown and Steve Baribeau’s extra point run gave the Tigers a 7-0 first half lead. In the waning minutes the Dogies scored on a short field yet the decision to kick a point after was ill conceived and off target. Lusk held on for the 7-6 win.
The next week’s road trip to Torrington humbled the Tigers, falling behind 20-0 by halftime. Lusk’s second half improvement was minimal but enough to only give up one score to the Trailblazers. The class AA home team shut out the Tigers 27-0.
Lusk returned to conference play with a game at Gillette and the defense put up another tremendous effort. The Camels scored first but NCHS responded when Bramlet crossed the goal line late in the first period. Baker was denied on the extra point and the game stood tied at six. Moments later as the home team took to the air, Gary Williams tipped the ball and Terry Foley was the fortunate recipient and motored 60 yards to the endzone.
Again, the conversion was shut down, yet the Tigers led 12-6 at halftime. The offense withered in the second half, but the defense kept Gillette from any scoring, and NCHS took control of the conference lead.
Douglas visited Lusk five days later in what was described as a “weird” game. The contest featured three safeties and several controversial plays near the goal line. Twice the Bearcats punt snap went out of the endzone and NCHS led 4-0 before the visitors scored a touchdown entering halftime. Bramlet and Baribeau each scored in the second half and Foley gained the Tigers third safety in the 19-12 win.
The last time St Mary’s defeated NCHS was in 1959, and it cost the Tigers an unshared conference title.
The hapless Gaels once again made an effort to spoil Lusk’s season. In a flat evening, the Tigers were without injured star Baker. The home team put up 14 first half points, and NCHS couldn’t recover. Tiger attempts to overtake the spirited Cheyenne team were stopped, and St Mary’s stunned in the 20-13 upset.
A statistical note: freshman Steve Cockreham threw the first of his still-standing school record 52 touchdown passes.
The Tigers rebounded in a big way as Guernsey-Sunrise provided a respite on the brutal schedule. Lusk led 19-0 at halftime and continued to dominate the Vikings in the second half as the entire roster got playing time.
NCHS posted their largest win of the season in the 36-0 home romp.
Sundance visited and the Tigers physical shape and versatility overwhelmed the Bulldogs. Baribeau had a pair of first quarter touchdown, en route to 176 yards rushing. Williams recovered a blocked punt by Jim Meng in the endzone for a TD, and Bramlet punctuated Lusk’s 26-0 win with a late score.
The Tigers closed the season with their third straight shutout and fourth of the season as Wheatland provided little resistance. NCHS won 20-0 to claim their third Absaroka title in four years and fourth straight Southeast District crown. Lusk would finish ninth in the Casper Star- Tribune AA/A top 10.
Meng, Ray Mayhan and Baker were named to the all-conference team as NCHS went 7-2 for the second straight season. McAtee stayed for another year but the Tigers would suffer their only losing season of the decade.
(Writer’s note: This article was written with the assistance of The Stat Rat, Wyoming-football.com and The Lusk Herald archives.)