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1A Football Championship

Big Horn's Kade VanDyken (25) celebrates with teammate Carson Bates after scoring a touchdown during the Wyoming State High School Class 1A/11-man State Football Championship on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

The Big Horn offense was nearly unstoppable all season.

The Rams, who set an 11-man state record by averaging 52.5 points per game, according to wyoming-football.com, capped their undefeated season with a 56-3 victory over Cokeville in the Wyoming State High School Class 1A/11-man Football Championship this past Saturday.

Big Horn’s quick-strike, big-play offense was on full display at War Memorial Stadium. The Rams’ eight touchdown drives took an average of just 2 minutes, 27 seconds and they had nine plays of at least 20 yards, including Carson Bates’ 48-yard touchdown run and Kade Eisele’s 79-yard scoring run. Eisele, who finished with 346 all-purpose yards, got things started by taking the opening kickoff 91 yards to the house.

“It was a team effort,” first-year Big Horn head coach Kirk McLaughlin said. “It took all the coaches, all the kids doing their part.”

As impressive as the Rams were offensively, they were just as formidable on the other side of the ball.

Cokeville entered the game averaging 40.7 points per game, but finished with their lowest point total since a 26-0 shutout loss to Rocky Mountain on Sept. 23, 2016. The Panthers finished with a season-low 142 yards of total offense and senior quarterback Bentley Johnson finished 0-for-8 with two interceptions.

“It’s a proud moment anytime we hold a great team like that to three points,” McLaughlin said. “I’m proud of the way our kids came out and dominated.”

Just how dominant was the Big Horn defense? Consider these numbers:

  • Cokeville didn’t pick up a first down until its fourth drive. By that time, Big Horn led 21-0.
  • The Panthers gained fewer than six yards on 38 of their 45 rushing attempts.
  • Cokeville had just four rushes of 10-plus yards, with their longest being a 16-yarder by Johnson. By contrast, Big Horn had nine plays of at least 21 yards.
  • Three times in the first half Cokeville started a drive in Big Horn territory thanks to Rams’ turnovers. The Panthers came away empty each time.

“Our defense is very disciplined,” Eisele said. “We just out-matched them today.”

Big Horn’s most impressive defensive stand came after a fumbled punt return gave Cokeville the ball at the Rams’ 24 late in the first half. After getting a first-and-goal at the 3, the Panthers next four plays went for 0, 1, -1 and 2 yards. The drive, and the half, ended with Big Horn senior defensive lineman Jaxon Parker stopping Johnson at the 1. Cokeville finished 1 of 4 on fourth-down attempts.

“Our goal was to show everyone that we have the best offense, the best defense and the best special teams in the state,” said 6-foot-4, 280 pound Big Horn senior lineman Seth Mullinax. “I think we proved a point with those fourth-down stops.”

The Rams’ defense made its point all season, with its starters allowing just 17 points.

“I feel like our defense was overlooked all season,” Big Horn junior linebacker Cutler Bradshaw said. “Everything we do revolves around our defense.”

Bradshaw led the Rams’ defensive charge, finishing with 15 tackles. Mullinax added 13, including a tackle for loss and a forced fumble; with Eisele and Parker adding 10 each.

The victory evened Big Horn’s record to 3-3 on the University of Wyoming’s Jonah Field turf. And it allowed the Rams to celebrate in the south end zone, which is where the state championship teams receive their trophies. Last year, after losing to Pine Bluffs in the championship game, the Rams received their runner-up trophy in the north end zone.

“After every practice this year we would either finish on the south end or the north end,” Eisele said. “If we had a good practice we would finish on the south end. That’s where we wanted to be and that’s where we are now so I couldn’t be happier.”

Added Mullinax: “That was almost our motto all season: South end. South end.”

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Sports Editor

Jack Nowlin returned to the Star-Tribune in 2007 after eight years covering Michigan State University athletics. A Wyoming native, and a graduate of Jeffrey City High School and the University of Wyoming, Jack serves as the Star-Tribune’s sports editor.

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