LUSK – The 2010 version of the Niobrara County High School Tigers began a five-year run that stands with any in school history. Most of the twelve seniors were experienced, talented and hungry for a state championship.
The season opener in Burns was the closest game of the season as the teams traded touchdowns in the 20-14 first half Lusk lead. A controversial Bronc touchdown tied the game in the third period, but Lance Hladky finished a 90 plus yard drive with a touchdown that ate up most of the fourth quarter’s clock. Hladky intercepted a pass at the one yard line to halt Burns’ final drive for the 26-20 win.
Hulett had already forfeited their season before head coach Matt VandeBossche could find a replacement game so the Tigers got an early off week. This gave NCHS extra time to heal up and prepare for Southeast.
The Southeast Cyclones visited Gibson Field at Fullmer Stadium, and the four-time defending state champs had trouble with the Tigers’ emerging offense. Jerit DeGering scored all three of Lusk’s first half touchdowns while the defense collected four turnovers. NCHS continued the onslaught after halftime with a convincing 46-6 win.
Lusk went to Lingle-Fort Laramie in a matchup of the No. 2 Tigers and No. 3 Doggers. The home team had no chance as DeGering (153), Derek Smith (115) and Ace Thurston (103) all went over the century mark rushing. The Tigers led 30-6 at halftime before taking the 52-12 final.
NCHS put up 52 points again the following week as Pine Bluffs visited for Homecoming. The Hornets scored just three plays in, but NCHS responded with a 44 point explosion before halftime. DeGering, Hladky and Thurston each scored twice and Smith added one in the 52-7 victory.
For senior night the Tigers faced Sundance, and was becoming a pattern, used a punishing and balanced offensive attack. NCHS scored 38 points in the first half and another 15 in the second half for the 53-0 shutout.
It was the first of four in a row for the stout and opportunistic defense. At Normative Services, they posted two safeties, and DeGering had a long punt return for a touchdown and Smith scored on a pick six in the 62-0 blowout.
The trip to Upton was a similar rout with DeGering posting interception and kick return touchdowns in the 65-0 final. The win clinched the 1A East Conference championship and home field advantage in the playoffs.
Burlington came 320 miles from the West Conference and was powerless against the mighty Tigers. Lusk was not real sharp early but led 14-0 after one quarter. A heated timeout lit the Tigers fire as they erupted for 27 second quarter points. The running clock was set in motion moments into the third with DeGering’s touchdown run. The senior had a career night with 315 rushing yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns. His 315 breaks Brian Zowada’s 302 school record single game rushing yards set in 1997.
The 47-0 win over the Huskies set up a rematch with the Doggers, but like the first meeting, it was no contest. Smith had four touchdowns, and Trent Johnson tied a school record with four interceptions in a game, including one for a score. The 66-14 semifinal trouncing of the Doggers punched the Tigers ticket to Laramie, for a championship meeting with also unbeaten Cokeville.
Lusk’s first trip to War Memorial Stadium ended with title hopes crushed by the Panthers. NCHS scored right away on a 10-play, 80-yard drive, but two plays defined the game. Moments after the score and a defensive stop, DeGering’s apparent touchdown was ruled a fumble and Cokeville ended up with a 14-6 halftime lead.
Lusk was mounting a drive in the fourth period when three-year starting quarterback Hladky was injured and unable to return. Without their leader, the offense faltered and the Panthers sealed it with a pair of late scores in the 26-6 heartbreaker.
Post season accolades for the 9-1 Tigers mounted up as VandeBossche was named 1A East Conference and State Coach of the Year. DeGering was named to the Casper Star-Tribune Super 25, 1A East Player of the Year and 1A Co-Player of the Year. Hladky became a three time all-state player to become just the fourth in school history, at the time. Thurston was a two time all-state player and selected to play in the Shrine Bowl with DeGering. Johnson, Smith, Thomas Mason and Tyler Arnett were also included on the all-state team.
The Tigers set six team school records; most points in a season (476), team scoring average (47.6), rushing average per game (399.1), offensive average per game (430), most rushing yards in a game (616) and most all purpose yards in a game (706). As close as this team came to a championship, their place is secure among the best in school history.
(Writer’s note: This article was written with the assistance of The Stat Rat, Wyoming-football.com and The Lusk Herald archives.)