LUSK – Including the perfect seasons of 1991 and 1992 – in which the Tigers were ineligible – Niobrara County High School was in the midst of seven straight years out of the playoffs. The 1994 edition had 11 returning lettermen and a strong group of freshmen for Jerry Fullmer’s 20th season as head coach.
The season opener against Upton featured a young, opportunistic defense that forced seven Bobcat turnovers. The lead was 14-0 for Lusk at halftime – yet could have been more – if not for a couple of missed opportunities. NCHS scored twice more in the second half in the 28-0 shutout.
The following week at Wright, it took a pair of fourth quarter scores to break open a defensive struggle. Cory Wasson scored in the first quarter as NCHS led 6-0 for most of the game, but were stifled numerous times, despite six Panther turnovers. Wasson and Mark Mundlein both had touchdowns in the fourth quarter to break open the game in the 18-0 win.
To open SEWAC play, Lusk hosted Burns in a matchup of the No. 1 Tigers and the No. 2 Broncs, according to state pollsters. NCHS put the first points on the board with Wasson’s touchdown and John Meier kicking the PAT. The visitors answered as Lusk suddenly had slippery fingers with four turnovers. Two of them led to a pair of scores as the visitors built a 12-7 halftime lead. Brent Fullmer scored in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers the lead and held on for the 13-12 win.
Lingle-Fort Laramie visited in week four as the Tigers used Dogger miscues for a 14-0 halftime lead. Brent Fullmer to Bill Peterson gave NCHS a 20-0 lead as the varsity exited with eight minutes left. The JV scored a late touchdown in the 26-0 final score.
The top ranked Tigers remained unbeaten with a 13-0 win at Southeast as Wasson scored early in the game and sealed it with a 37-yard pick six with barely a minute left. It was the Tigers fourth shutout in five games for one of Lusk’s stingiest defenses in school history.
The home game against Pine Bluffs accomplished two things in the hard fought 7-6 victory. It gave the Tigers at least a share of the SEWAC title and ensured NCHS a home playoff game. Heavy rain pushed the Homecoming game from Friday night to Saturday and the Tigers were flat. The Hornets scored first, and it took until late in the game when Mundlein scored, and Meier’s PAT secured the win.
NCHS had little trouble with Guernsey-Sunrise as they clinched the SEWAC title and top seed in the 1A 11-man playoffs. Mundlein and Brian Zowada each had two touchdowns, and Brent Fullmer scored on a 51-yard interception touchdown. The 35-14 win set up a quarterfinal game against Sundance on Gibson Field.
The first half was closer than the 22-6 halftime deficit the Bulldogs faced, but Lusk would not be denied. Sundance closed within 22-12 early in the third period, yet after that it was all Tigers. Mundlein scored his fourth touchdown and Kenny Jensen added a couple more as NCHS rolled to the 49-20 win.
The semifinal game took take place in a faraway town called Cokeville, which is as close to Idaho as Lusk is to Nebraska. The Panthers were building a dynasty like no other in Wyoming and met the Tigers for the first time ever.
Lusk missed their chances early with a pair of turnovers and another series halted on fourth down. Brent Fullmer passed to Zowada for Lusk’s only score as halftime approached, yet Jensen was denied by mere inches on the conversion. Cokeville scored to open the second half and their PAT put NCHS in trouble. The Tigers were assessed 50 yards in penalties in the third quarter alone, as the hosts wore down the clock. While Lusk made one final scoring attempt, a couple of very questionable officiating calls down the stretch ended the Tiger season at 8-1 in the 7-6 final score.
Mundlein, Wasson and Jason ZumBrunnen were named as first team All-State, while Jensen made the second team. All SEWAC included Peterson and Chad Rose on the first team, followed by Meier, Fullmer, Matt Jensen, JD Harvey and Roger Bonsell on the second squad.
(Writer’s note: This article was written with the assistance of The Stat Rat, Wyoming-football.com and The Lusk Herald archives.)