Kelly Walsh came into Friday night’s Oil Bowl knowing that Natrona County wanted to run the ball. But knowing what was coming and being able to stop it proved to be two different things for the Trojans.
The Mustangs won their fourth consecutive Oil Bowl and their fifth in a row against the Trojans with a 35-14 victory at KW’s Harry Geldien Stadium.
Natrona County finished with more than 400 yards rushing as senior quarterback Harrison Taubert and senior running back Braxton Bundy gashed the Kelly Walsh defense repeatedly. Bundy carried the ball 30 times for 234 yards and three touchdowns and Taubert had 155 yards and two scores on 22 carries.
“Our offensive line just dominated the line of scrimmage all night,” Bundy said.
Kelly Walsh struck first when Trenton Walker connected with Dom Jahr on a 77-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. It was the second time this season the Trojans scored the first time they touched the ball.
Natrona County answered with a methodical 13-play, 70-yard drive capped by Harrison Taubert’s 1-yard run. The Mustangs missed the extra point, however. Natrona County attempted just one pass on the drive — a 5-yarder to Kody Kelly that went for a first down.
The Mustangs took advantage of a short field on their next possession after Kaeden Wilcox’s 26-yard punt return gave them the ball at the KW 39. With Taubert and running back Braxton Bundy doing the heavy lifting, Natrona County took the lead on Taubert’s 7-yard scoring run. He then found Matthew Barrett on the 2-point conversion to give the Mustangs a 14-7 advantage late in the opening quarter.
After the Trojans turned the ball over on downs in NC territory, the Mustangs went back to the ground game. They drove 56 yards in 10 plays, all runs, with Bundy capping the drive with a 3-yard burst up the middle. Ben Hoppens’ extra point made it a 21-7 game with 6 minutes, 38 seconds to play in the half.
Kelly Walsh found itself in Natrona County territory after Cameron Burkett returned the kickoff 50 yards to the Mustangs’ 37. After a 15-yard pass to Colin Boroz on first down, the drive stalled and Kelly Walsh came up empty when Brandon Nelson blocked Erich Hulshizer’s 40-yard field goal attempt.
The Trojans forced a three-and-out in the final minutes of the first half and drove to the Natrona County 26 with 50 seconds remaining before halftime. But Walker’s 4th-down pass to Jahr in the end zone was intercepted by Kelly and the Mustangs were content to run out the clock and take the 21-7 lead into the locker room.
After failing to move the ball on its opening possession of the second half, Natrona County went back to work on the ground. Taubert carried 3 times for 27 yards and Bundy toted the rock 6 times for 70 yards — the Mustangs had a 10-yard holding penalty — and pushed the advantage to 28-7 with a 6-yard run right up the gut.
The Trojans answered on their next possession with Burkett gaining 17 yards on a pitch, Korven Kaufmann hauling in a 31-yard pass and Walker covering the final 35 yards on two runs, finding the end zone from 21 yards out after breaking out of the pocket.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff pinned the Mustangs back at their own 14 and there was still some life in the Kelly Walsh crowd as the defense took the field. The intensity grew after two rushing attempts by Bundy left NC with a 3rd-and-2 at its own 22. A 10-yard run by Taubert for a first down was followed by a 9-yarder by Bundy, a 9-yard reception from Noah Valdez on a swing pass and a 12-yard run from Bundy to put the ball at the Kelly Walsh 38. Bundy then took the handoff from Taubert, made a jab step at the line of scrimmage and raced virtually untouched to the end zone for a 35-14 lead with 9:11 on the clock.
Natrona County leads the all-time Oil Bowl series 42-14. The Mustangs host Rock Springs next week while Kelly Walsh heads south to take on Laramie.
Natrona County 14 7 7
Kelly Walsh 7 0 7
KW: Dom Jahr 77 pass from Trenton Walker (Erich Hulshizer kick), 11:44
NC: Harrison Taubert 1 run (kick missed), 6:03
NC: Taubert 7 run (Matthew Barrett pass from Taubert), 1:43
NC: Braxton Bundy 3 run (Ben Hoppens kick), 6:38