The mentality of “Buffalo tough” had started well before Buffalo’s fourth game of the season when junior running back Rowen Ruby broke his thumb against Glenrock. Ruby said that injury became a part of him. He wouldn’t be taken off the field for long, so he embraced it.
So, obviously, toughness had been well-established before Ruby suffered a small gash below his right eye during Saturday’s 43-18 win over Mountain View in the 2018 Wyoming State High School Class 2A Football Championship. Ruby, still sporting a heavily wrapped left hand, powered Buffalo with 217 rushing yards and three touchdowns to win the program’s first state championship since 2005.
“I don’t know, just football,” Ruby said of how he got the gash. “Same goes for my broken thumb. You just have to play through it. It’s a physical sport. Sometimes you’ve got to get hit, and sometimes you’ve got to deal it right back.”
Months before that culminating moment of the Buffalo Bison’s season, the football team knew it had to be tough. The Bison had high hopes regardless of what classification they were in, and the drop to Class 2A certainly gave them added confidence. Then came a tragedy that hit close to home.
Former Buffalo football player Mike Burtenshaw, who went on to rodeo at Sheridan College, was involved in a rodeo wreck while saddle bronc riding at the Wind River PRCA Rodeo Roundup in Riverton on July 31. The horse stepped on his head. He was taken by life flight to Casper Medical Center, where he spent 10 days in the intensive care unit with major brain trauma. Then he was transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver, where he spent the first four weeks on his road to recovery.
Mike’s little brother, Joe, was a sophomore lineman on this year’s Buffalo football team. The Bison, along with their community, rallied around Joe and the Burtenshaw family. Mike graduated the year before any member of the state championship team was in high school, but his legend remained alive in the memory of coaches and older siblings.
“He resembles everything that the Bison program represents,” senior Aaron Thiele said. “He’s worked hard. He maybe didn’t get the fame and everything, but he worked hard.”
During Burtenshaw’s playing days, no one at Buffalo really earned fame. The Bison finished 1-7 for the first of two consecutive seasons in his senior year. He had just four assisted tackles that year. But this wasn’t about statistics or recognition. It was about being a leader and a lightning rod for work ethic.
The team elected to wear “MB” stickers on their helmets for the season’s duration. He was in Denver, participating in grueling physical therapy, in mid-August when his little brother strapped on the same uniform.
“He’s actually doing really well now,” Thiele said, “but we wanted to do this as a way to honor him because he resembles what Buffalo football is all about: toughness.”
With one final game left, and an opportunity to end a community’s ache for football glory once again, Buffalo relied on its toughness. A mix of runs up the middle and to the outside brought the Bison early success against returning Class 2A champion Mountain View. Buffalo held a confident 29-0 lead just before halftime.
Then came the charge of the athletic Mountain View offense. The returning champions scored three straight touchdowns out of the second half and closed the gap to 29-18. It was time for Buffalo to be tough once again.
“We had a great first half, Rowen Ruby, Cody Milmine, they ran their asses off, they played hard,” senior Luke Glassock said. “And then the second half we sputtered a little bit, but then coach came over and was like, ‘You’ve got to man up and get a stop here.’ And that’s what we did.”
The speedy, finesse receivers blocked the cracking Mountain View linebackers and defensive backs to open running lanes, leading to Ruby’s touchdown runs of 67, 35 and 22 yards. They weren’t the biggest guys and those blocks wouldn’t appear on the stat sheets but the receivers knew that’s what they had to do. They had to be tough.
Mountain View’s late rally eventually puttered out with an interception by Ruby. He jumped the route over the middle and returned the ball 14 yards to the Mountain View 35, heavily wrapped hand and all. He had scored two drives earlier, effectively putting the game out of reach. The Buffalo crowd rose in the War Memorial Stadium bleachers.
For all that the town, the program and the team had been through, they’d conquered it to become state champions.
“I’ve dreamed about this my entire life, and now it’s here and I couldn’t be happier,” Ruby said. “Especially not doing it with anyone else. I love these guys.”