Mustangs jump for joy after 5-0 start
Natrona County seniors Kyle Vinich, left, and Jake Tuft celebrate another touchdown against Green River on Friday night in Casper. (Tim Kupsick/Star-Tribune)

Natrona County scored early and often Friday night at Cheney Alumni Field as the top-ranked Mustangs remained unbeaten with a 51-12 victory over Green River.

“We played really crisp, I thought … special teams, offense and defense,” NC coach Steve Harshman said. “We looked fast and executed well. It was good to see them just come out and play really well.”

Green River (0-5) attempted an onside kick to start the game, but the Mustangs recovered at their own 43 and quickly found the end zone.

Cole Montgomery picked up 14 yards on the ground and Jim Shellenberger went 3-for-3 for 38 yards, finishing off the drive with a 16-yard scoring toss to Jake Tuft.

Following a Green River punt – the NC defense forced six Wolves' punts – Shellenberger went to work running the ball. The senior quarterback carried the ball three times for 31 yards and strolled in from four yards out for a 13-0 NC lead with 6 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

The drive started at the Green River 34 following 25-yard punt return by Montgomery.

“That’s what I like doing,” Montgomery said. “I like being out in the open, making a move and making people miss.”

Montgomery, who finished with 157 yards on 15 carries in the first half, did just that midway through the second quarter when he got to the outside and outraced the Wolves secondary into the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown to make it 37-0.

NC (5-0) led 51-0 at the half.

“When Cole busted out on that big sweep, I just watched him,” NC center Zach D’Amico said. “I didn’t even run down because I knew he was gone.”

Montgomery wasn’t the only one who broke off a big play for the Mustangs.

Late in the first quarter with the ball at the NC 20, Shellenberger dropped back and found Kyle Vinich behind the Green River secondary at the NC 45. Vinich caught the pass in stride and went untouched for the 80-yard TD.

“[The coaches] saw that the [Green River] corners were pressing really tight,” Vinich said, “so they just told Jimmy to throw it up, and that’s what he did.”

As impressive as the offense was – Montgomery added two more touchdown runs and Clay Brownell scored on a three-yard run – the NC defense came close to posting its third consecutive shutout.

The Wolves finally scored with 9:40 remaining in the game when Colter Hamel connected with Riley Hix on an 11-yard scoring pass against the Mustangs’ reserves. NC hadn’t allowed a touchdown in 10 quarters and even with the two late Wolves’ scores has given up just 31 points on the season.

“That’s a great football team,” Green River coach Darren Howard said. “They’re clicking on all cylinders right now.”

While the Mustangs wrapped up a spot in the playoffs with the win, Harshman knows the final four weeks of the regular season will be a tough stretch for his team.

“We’re headed into the meat of our schedule,” he said. “This is a good win, though. We’ll enjoy it for the weekend, humble ourselves and get back to work.”

Contact sports reporter Jack Nowlin at (307) 266-0528 or jack.nowlin@trib.com. Check out his blog at tribtown.trib.com/JackNowlin/blog

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