LARAMIE — It took eight minutes for the Big Horn Rams to get their hands on the football, but when they did, they were off and running their first state title in almost a decade.
Haughty defense and a monster day Friday from junior Christian Mayer lifted the Rams to a 47-22 win over the Mountain View Buffaloes on Jonah Field in Laramie.
After the Buffaloes held onto the ball for the first 10 minutes of the contest, scoring on a 1-yard run from quarterback Austin Housekeeper, Mayer’s 76-yard kick return regained a 7-6 lead Big Horn would never relinquish.
“This means everything,” Mayer said, all smiles, swarmed by media in the end zone after the Rams were presented their trophy Friday afternoon. “We’ve worked so hard throughout the season and we’ve wanted this so bad. After Burns we knew we were going to have to bounce back and come together closer as a team. We did that and got to this together. Now we’re here.”
The Rams’ one loss this year was at Burns in week three, but since then they’ve showed resolve in road wins, flexing their muscle at home all the way to Laramie.
Mayer’s day spoke for itself. He caught a first-half touchdown pass after his kick return, he took back a 90-yard interception back for a score in the third quarter and added a touchdown run and catch in the fourth to seal a 243 all purpose yard day.
“I’m just speechless,” Mayer said, humbly when prompted about the way things ended for the team.
And a 10-1 season, polished with state title bragging rights, comes with plenty of help. The Rams total team progression from a young squad to champions was stated in the easiest way to understand Friday.
Senior quarterback Connor McCafferty showed no nerves in being his usual efficient self, hitting for 147 yards on 8-9 passing with four touchdowns. He hit Ryan Kobielusz to expand the Rams lead in the second quarter after finding Seth Kite in the first quarter, running the scoreboard at a pace the Buffaloes couldn’t seem to keep up with.
And then there was the defense.
While the first drive Mountain View no doubt left restless the lively bunch of Big Horn fans smattering the grandstands at War Memorial, Big Horn was preventing big plays and doing what their coaches wanted them to.
“We felt like if we didn’t give up big plays and made them go yard by yard, eventually either they’d make a mistake or we’d get a stop,” McGuire said. He and his staff challenged the team to be physical prior to kickoff against a Mountain View team that played the likes of Lovell and Lyman and perhaps didn’t see the Rams for their defensive prowess.
“Our kids did a great job of executing our gameplan,” McGuire said.
McCafferty said the first drive, even stuck on defense, helped them build confidence amid the pressures of a championship game.
“I guess it just helped us to know that if we could play good on defense when we got on offense we could go at them,” McCafferty said. “That was the best drive they had that whole game in that first quarter. We knew we were better than that and we could shut them down.”
McCafferty finishes 2013 with 32 touchdown passes and two interceptions, his coach telling the crowd of reporters after the game that he “wouldn’t trade him for any quarterback in the state.”
Known for spreading his throws around and finding the open space on the field, McCafferty was impressed with Mayer’s performance.
“Christian is awesome, he’s just an all around athlete, probably the fastest guy in the state,” McCafferty said, quickly crediting his teammates in the accomplishment.
“This year’s team and last year’s team were a lot different,” McCafferty said. “Last year we had so many seniors and this year all those guys left and we had to start over. It’s good to get this win.”
As it happens sometimes in culminating events, the Buffaloes went for the desperate, came out and recovered an onside kick first thing out of the locker room in the third quarter. But the Ram defense pushed back, holding on fourth down at their own 12 and keeping the score 27-6.
The teams traded punts and Mayer came up with the electrifying pick-six.
“Special performance,” McGuire said in regard to the junior’s stellar game. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better performance from a young man in a championship game. It was truly special. He’s a great player and we’re pretty happy to have him back next year.”
Mountian View’s Cade Covington scored a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter after a Housekeeper 1-yard run, and the Buffaloes closed the gap to 40-22 with just under nine minutes to go in the game. Still, Big Horn had the momentum as Mountain View’s plays were hard-earned through a strong Ram front.
“We knew they’d try and keep the ball away from us, that’s kind of how a lot of teams have played us all year,” McGuire said. “To be able to get that kick off return to get points on the board right away I think really gave the momentum back to us, and our kids did a great job defensively of starting to settle into what they were trying to do and make some plays defensively. And then our offense was something else. They just really executed at a high level and made some big plays.”
The Rams were one yard below their season average of rushing yards totaling 221 Friday, with senior running back Colter Carzoli led the team with 90 yards on the ground. Carzoli led his team defensively with 11 solo tackles and a sack. Garrett Allen and Deven Ibach each got through for a sack as well.
Surely not sunk in yet was the magnitude of their accomplishment Friday, in between the embraces with family and friends Ram players carried the wide smiles and near shock that comes with a state football championship on the state of Wyoming’s biggest football stage.
“I’m going to watch some more football with my team,” Mayer said on how he planned to celebrate. “We’re like a family. It’s been a great year.”
“It’s still pretty awesome,” McCafferty said. “Haven’t even had a chance to think about it.”
Big Horn is bringing home their first state championship trophy in nine years, and its fourth in school history.
“It’s big for this team, and I’m really proud of our kids,” McGuire said. “I’m really happy for our program. I’m really happy for our school and our community as a whole. There has been a lot of teams come and go, really good teams and it’s great to be able to bring this championship back to the community.”
Total team BH-MV
First downs 13-21
Net rushing yards 221-174
Rushing TDs 1-3
Yards gained 228-204
Yards lost 7-29
Net yards passing 8/9/0-12/23/1
Passing TDs 4-0
Total offense 368-354
Total plays 37-71
Carzoli 16-90, McCafferty 7-72, Mayer 2-57-1TD, Stanley 2-5
McCafferty 8-9-4TD-0INT 147 yds; Housekeeper 12-23-1INT 180 yds sacked 3 times
Kite 3-94-1TD, Mayer 2-20-2TD, Kobielusz 1-15-1TD, Staley 1-14, Carzoli 1-4