Along with the uniting goal of raising funds for the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Saturday afternoon’s 2019 Shrine Bowl Game held a different purpose for multiple participants. Some entered the game simply to enjoy the moment while others marched onto Cheney Alumni Field with a landmark victory in mind. Not all of them accomplished what they set out to do.
A few Laramie-bound athletes waved a hard farewell to their high school careers with yet another landmark game. Sheridan’s Parker Christensen didn’t carry the ball until late in the second quarter when he torpedoed through the South defense and helped spark the North’s scoring drive just before half. That’s why Craig Bohl and his Wyoming Cowboys staff wanted him. Buffalo graduate Luke Glassock engineered the North’s overpowering offense by throwing for nearly 200 yards. Some of those yards can be attributed to his pocket presence, eluding the encroaching defenders to prolong plays and find his receivers deep just like a current Buffalo Bills quarterback did during his time in Laramie. According to Glassock’s coach, that’s why Bohl offered the Bison a walk-on spot.
“He’s slippery back there and I still don’t know how he gets out of those things,” Buffalo and North head coach Rob Hammond said of Glassock. “He’s just a crafty kid, he makes plays. He’s just the kind of kid where he’s going to make something positive and I think that’s why Laramie wanted him. He doesn’t cave under pressure.”
Glassock attributed some of that success to his weapons. First he mentioned Kade VanDyken, the Big Horn gradaute who set a Shrine Bowl record for receiving yards and the game’s Offensive MVP. Then he credited the North’s stellar backfield.
“We had some great backs,” Glassock said. “Parker ran the ball hard, Kade Eisele ran the ball hard. You couldn’t ask for a better backfield than that.”
Another product bound for Laramie as a walk-on, Natrona County graduate Jordan Bertagnole, walked off Cheney Alumni Field in pads for the last time. He, along with former Mustang teammates Trevon Smith, Tehl Campbell, Chase Brachtenbach and Yahav Schraiber all enjoyed one final game on their old stomping grounds. Mustangs head coach Steve Harshman gave Bertagnole a few final words of encouragement before the soon-to-be Cowboy walked away for good.
“It’s awesome,” Bertagnole said. “I’m super glad I got to end my high school career on our field. It’s really cool.”
For Brachtenbach, the reigning Super 25 Defensive Player of the Year, the 29-19 win for the North was his last on turf. Instead of following a lineage of Natrona County linebackers going on to play college ball (Logan Wilson, Tom Robitaille, etc.), he’s done with the game. He’ll join his friends in Laramie but only for the classroom. At least he “couldn’t be happier” suiting up in his home locker room one final time.
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Big Horn graduate Kade Eisele had a similar moment while taking in the post-game scenes of the Shrine Bowl. His athletics career, at the time of the game, had come to a close. But a friendly face in former Rams head coach and now offensive coordinator at Dickinson State, Michael McGuire, didn’t want Saturday’s game to be his old running back’s last.
“Coach McGuire just told me if I want to continue on then I can just give him a call,” Eisele said. “That phone’s always there. But right now (leaving football) is my plan, yes.”
Then there’s the South head coach, Aaron Makelky, who energized his selected team with thoughts of pulling off the upset. He wanted to inspire the South to its first victory in seven attempts. And it initially worked after the team scored the game’s opening touchdown. The South rose again in the fourth quarter to complete back-to-back touchdown drives and cut the North’s lead to 3.
“We told our kids that they think it’s not going to be a battle,” Makelky said. “And you know that their kids, after the first drive, will think that, ‘We were supposed to beat them by 100. That’s what everyone told us.’”
While he enjoyed the honor of coaching in the Shrine Bowl, Saturday was a symbolic goodbye for Makelky as well. In the past weeks he’s had to pack his classroom in Big Piney and attempt to sell his home there so his family can transition to Casper and his new job as Kelly Walsh head coach. Hours after the Shrine Bowl ended he had to make four phone calls, telling assistant coaches they had a job and to meet him the following night to go over preparations for the summer camp that started the following morning.
With eyes fully committed forward he finally took a moment to wave back at the place he’s leaving behind.
“As far as Big Piney goes,” Makelkey said, “everybody says bittersweet, but the last month has been mostly bitter.”