LUSK – The 2010-14 run was eerily similar to the 1994-98 stretch in the sense that Niobrara County High School was perfect in the regular season, but came up short in the championship game or semi-finals. The ten seniors had plenty of talent, size and experience amongst them- yet two straight title game losses on their minds.
NCHS had little trouble with Burlington in the season opener on Gibson Field at Fullmer Stadium. Martin Fitzwater and Derick VandeBossche each scored three touchdowns as the Tigers won 47-0.
The following week NCHS traveled to Crook County to face the Upton-Sundance Patriots. It was the closest game of the season for Lusk, as they held a slim 16-6 lead at halftime. Multiple turnovers from both sides and sloppy play kept both teams off the scoreboard in the second half.
Moorcroft visited and scored right away before the Tigers woke up. Logan Lamar scored two touchdowns and threw another to VandeBossche for a 20-6 halftime lead. NCHS blew open the game after the break as Jacob Robinson had a pick six and Lamar’s punt return for a TD finished off the 59-6 win. Fitzwater (140), VandeBossche (121) and Lamar (100) all crossed the century mark on the ground.
After a long trip to Dayton to face Tongue River, the Tigers arrived to temperatures in the 90’s. Lusk held a 21-7 lead at the break before putting the game away with three touchdowns late in the third quarter. Tristan Graham’s debut as kicker was successful as he made five of six PATs in the 49-7 victory. It was the 475th win in school history.
To watch the scoring NCHS put on in Pine Bluffs during the first half was an anomaly to what many were accustomed to. Lamar, Zach Venable and VandeBossche combined for four touchdown passes in the first 24 minutes and led 34-0 at halftime. The Hornets scored on the final play of the game as Lusk won 48-6.
Back at home against the also 5-0 Doggers, NCHS took a somewhat surprising 35-13 halftime lead. The second ranked Tigers put up 558 rushing yards in the game and cruised to the 56-13 win over third ranked Lingle-Ft Laramie.
Homecoming was a blowout win over Southeast as the Tigers tuned up for the playoffs. Fitzwater had a pair of early scores and Brady Thurston’s interception return, combined with VandeBossche’s three touchdowns helped Lusk to a 41-0 halftime lead. A couple more touchdowns made the score 54-0 as the Tigers clinched their fourth 1A East Conference championship in five seasons.
After a bye week eight, NCHS opened the playoffs at home against Riverside. The Rebels had to win a pigtail game Tuesday before the trip from Basin four days later. A heavy dose of VandeBossche and Fitzwater contributed to the 34-0 halftime lead. Late in the game Thurston had a pick six as the Tigers took a 55-0 win.
The Patriots came to Lusk for the semifinals fresh off their first playoff win and put up a pair of quick touchdowns on the Tigers. Lusk answered before halftime and cut the lead to 12-8. VandeBossche and Fitzwater got the offense rolling in the second half with two touchdowns each as NCHS won 44-12.
The win set up a rematch with Cokeville in the title game at War Memorial Stadium, as the Panthers trimmed NCHS 14-13 in the 2013 championship game. Cokeville used most of the first quarter clock on a 77 yard drive that resulted in a 6-0 lead. The top two ranked defenses showed why as the second quarter resulted in 12 plays, 11 yards and four punts-combined. The Tigers chances went sideways when Lamar left the game with an injury right before halftime.
VandeBossche opened the second half with a 60 yard kickoff return that set up his touchdown four plays later. Zane Hladky had been the two-point specialist all season but was denied this time, yet NCHS had tied the game at six.
The Panthers responded with a touchdown and interception that suddenly became a 19-6 lead with one period to play. A backbreaking 47 yard drive on nine plays resulted in Cokeville taking the 26-6 lead and eventually running out the clock on the Tigers perfect season.
Postseason awards came in bunches as VandeBossche was named 1A East offensive POY and Hladky 1A East defensive POY. Both players became three time All State Tigers and selected for the Shrine Bowl with Fitzwater. VandeBossche was named to the Casper Star-Tribune’s Super 25, while Fitzwater and Hladky named second team. Lamar and Thurston also made the All State team. Venable, Adam Kraft and Shawn Thompson joined them on the All Conference squad.
At the end of the season head coach Matt VandeBossche stepped down to follow Derick and Matthew play at Dickinson State University.
(Writer’s note: This article was written with the assistance of The Stat Rat, Wyoming-football.com and The Lusk Herald archives.)