COWLEY – The Niobrara County High School Tigers got on the bus at 7 a.m. last Friday morning and arrived 342 miles to the northwest to sunny temperatures in the 60s. A 62-50 home loss in week six sat in Lusk’s gut with revenge in mind.
NCHS set the tone early with a nine-play, 45-yard drive capped off by Drake Lamp’s 5-yard score at the 8:38 mark. Jasper Caldera scored the conversion, and the Tigers led 8-0.
But the home team responded in just four plays. Tyler Banks scoring a minute later. The conversion was denied, but fans buckled in for a great game.
Caldera and Lamp continued to gain yards, capped by Caldera’s 4-yard touchdown and Lamp’s conversion.
The ensuing kickoff wasn’t intended to be onside, but a Grizzly touched it and Dayne Lamp recovered to set up another Tiger score. Aiden Applegarth had the big gain on a reverse and Walker Kupke found Mason Wells for the 5-yard touchdown. Drake Lamp ran in the conversion, and Tiger fans were ecstatic with the 24-6 lead. Applegarth raced to the short kick and recovered for NCHS, but couldn’t take advantage as the first quarter came to a close.
The Grizz answered as Banks scored from 15 yards away and an improbable conversion early in the second pulled Rocky Mountain within 10 points. As the Lusk offense faltered, the home team closed within three behind Zane Horrocks touchdown and Austin Haslem’s point after. Suddenly the game was 24-21 at the half.
The Tigers continued their “run right at you approach” to open the second half and put six more points on the board with Dylan Molzahn’s 7-yard score. Lamp ran in the conversion, and NCHS led 32-21.
It took 11 seconds for Horrocks to bring the Grizzlies back as he connected for a 36-yard touchdown pass that was tipped and reeled in by Taylor Winland early in the fourth quarter.
NCHS came right back minutes later as Lamp punched in from 3-yards out. Molzahn’s conversion was curiously denied by the official on the far side. On the next series, confusion in the Grizzlie’s backfield allowed Caldera to grab a fumble. Lamp burst through for a 23-yard score four plays later, and Kupke to Wells on the conversion pushed the lead to 46-29.
More than four minutes still remained, and the Grizz would not concede. Another third-and-long and Horrocks desperate heave was tipped by Aric Eaton, juggled and hauled in by Jess Wambeke for a 66-yard touchdown. The Tigers held firm on the conversion, leading by 11.
After a successful onside kick, the home team’s last attempt was snuffed out. As the Tiger offense worked down the clock, Lamp put an exclamation point on the scoreboard with a 35 yard blast. While Caldera was denied on the conversion, NCHS advanced to their first state championship game since 2014 in the 52-35 victory.
“Those onside kicks in the first quarter weren’t called but they worked out,” said head coach Ryan Nelson. “They swung the momentum in our favor and the defense did a nice job of bend don’t break attitude – outside of the two lucky long plays.”
The victory sets up another rematch from the regular season, as the Tigers return to Teeters Memorial Field in Yoder. The Cyclones won 35-16 during week seven, but a state championship is up for grabs this time. Kickoff is set for Friday at 5 p.m., and WHSAA admission prices and restrictions will be in place.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
NCHS 24 0 8 20 – 52
RMHS 6 15 0 14 – 35
NCHS: Passing 4/6, 37 yds. Rushing 75 atts/469 yds. 23 First Downs. 2 Turnovers.
RMHS: Passing 8/14, 242 yds. Rushing 23/179. 11 First Downs. 3 Turnovers.
NCHS PLAYER STATS: Passing – Kupke 4/6, 37 yds, TD. Rushing – Lamp 36/281, 4 TDs; Caldera 21/77, TD; Molzahn 12/58, TD; Applegarth 4/58; Kupke 2/-5. Receiving – Aric Eaton 1 catch/19 yds; Applegarth 1/9; Wells 1/5, TD; Lamp 1/ 4. Defensive points – Dayne Lamp 27; Caldera 24; Molzahn 12; Applegarth 8; Jayce Cummins 5; Miles Ashurst 4; Eaton 3; Kupke 2; Riley Blackburn 2; David West 1; Stanton Ricketts 1; Cody Taylor 1.