The Kelly Walsh Trojans walked off the field of Harry Geldien Stadium and into the embrace of their homecoming crowd Friday knowing they came up short. They had just tested one-loss Thunder Basin through three quarters and only after a disastrous fourth quarter did they finally bow in defeat.
Thunder Basin punted early in the fourth quarter of a 17-all tie. Then came the muffed punt return where the tide changed. The Bolts took over at the KW 9 and scored. That sparked a 16-0 run and Thunder Basin survived an upset scare for a 33-17 win.
Now the Trojans face a staunch reality: one game remains. And if the current five-game losing streak extends to six and Cheyenne South beats Cheyenne Central, the season is over.
Kelly Walsh closes the regular season on the road at Gillette this Friday. The Camels are on a 17-game losing streak of their own, dating back to the semifinals of the 2016 playoffs. A win against the hapless Camels would clinch a playoff spot for the Trojans. And despite being so close to knocking off Thunder Basin, the Trojans have already turned their attention to all 48 minutes of the regular season’s ultimate game.
“That was great for my last home game at Kelly Walsh, but a disappointing ending for us,” senior Tyler Whitley said. “Wish it would have changed, but you just have to accept it and move on to next week.”
The Trojans take confidence and improved play into the final regular season game. They were once considered a top-four team in Class 4A but injuries, upsets and missed opportunities sent them into irrelevance. After Friday, however, there’s hope once more for the green and yellow.
Class 4A’s most explosive offense (434 yards per game) was held to just 262. Mason Hamilton, the classification’s top passer with 268.9 yards per game and a 64.8 percentage rate, was just 8-of-26 for 60 yards. He also threw his fifth interception of the season, which Whitley read perfectly.
Whitley covered Blaine Allen, the state’s top receiver, and limited him to just 24 yards on two catches, well below his 91.6-yard average. Hamilton was unsettled by pressure and his go-to deep threat was blanketed throughout most of the game. In the first half Allen had no catches and Hamilton was 2-of-14 with an interception.
“Film study helped, I saw him run a lot of posts and verticals, slants,” Whitley said. “That helped me with his moves and helped me succeed against him.”
By comparison, Hamilton was eclipsed by Kelly Walsh sophomore Esias Spillaine. Spillaine earned his first career start because second-string quarterback Sage Coventry missed multiple days of practice with flu-like symptoms and made big throws in the second half. A slant route to Whitley went for 43 yards and Emory Yoosook caught multiple passes of 22 yards or more. Spillaine finished 10-of-22 for 169 yards.
Not until he was forced to dive on a snap over his head into the end zone did Spillaine seem rattled by the circumstances. Yet, that safety essentially signaled the end. It came two drives after the muffed punt led to the Bolts’ go-ahead score and just before running back Tyson Edwards ran for 45 yards to the end zone.
On the flip side, senior running back Brock Spiegelberg was as dependable as ever for the Trojans. He surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the season on his first carry and finished with 201 yards on 31 carries. He’ll look to run through the Camels, who allow an average of 229 yards on the ground and have conceded 28 rushing touchdowns. Spiegelberg, who did not play in the loss to Cheyenne Central earlier this season due to a hip injury, appears to be as healthy as ever and ready for the playoff push.
“We’ve been all over the map with injuries and things like that,” head coach Jon Vance said. “It’s been a lot. Kids have been stepping up and battling. They’ve just got to believe that they’re not too far out of this fight, they’ve just got go to show up and keep going.”
Gillette gave Cheyenne South a scare on Friday night before losing 28-21. That puts both South and Kelly Walsh at 2-6 going into the final week. Gillette has already been eliminated. Since one of the Trojans’ two wins came against South, they can advance to the postseason even with a loss so long as South loses too. But being the first team to lose to Gillette in 18 games would somehow send the season into a different dimension.
So the Trojans focus on consistency. Positives shown on Friday night need to continue. As far as they’re concerned it’s now a one-game season. And this upcoming season means building momentum going forward. Because the Trojans can still be that team that led Cheyenne East on the road in the fourth quarter. They can still compete with the best in the state. It comes down to playing a complete game.
“Little mistakes hurt us again,” senior Davion McAdam said. “Dropped passes, muffed punts, so we’ve just got to clean those up. We’ve got to stay mentally strong for 48 minutes, not 46, or else we win that football game.”
The Trojans pushed two of the three teams tied at the top of the standings this season. If not for fourth-quarter collapses, those losses may have become wins and this season wouldn’t have spiraled like it has. So for one game, regardless of the opponent, the Trojans focus on the whole 48 minutes.
“Next week we’ve got to finish and see where we land,” Vance said. “Then from there just come out and wherever we play, play a good game. Because from there it’s one game each week and you’ve got to pour it all out there for 48 minutes.”