CASPER — Special teams miscues and turnovers were too much to overcome for the Laramie High School football team Friday in Casper.
The Plainsmen needed to play as clean of a game as possible against No. 1-ranked Casper Natrona, but came up on the wrong side of a 37-14 contest at Cheney Alumni Field.
“We had some mental breakdowns early in the first quarter,” said Laramie coach Clint Reed during the KOWB 1290 AM postgame show. “I’m very proud of our guys for competing and our defense played amazing in the first half. You just can’t give them 20-yard drives.
“Reality was — that’s on me. I’ve got to sit down with the coaches and figure out how to clean some stuff up. The attitude and effort was great by the kids, but we have to figure out how to be accountable, disciplined and cut down on those situation so they can be successful.”
Natrona’s Johnathon True had back-to-back blocked punts when he pressured up the middle to disrupt the flight of the ball from the foot of Laramie’s punter Ethan Sell.
The first block set the Mustangs (4-0) up at the Laramie 39-yard line. But the Plainsmen defense denied a score when Chris Zepeda sacked Natrona quarterback Kade Stoner on 4th-and-6 after being initially pressured by Benjamin Kruzich. It was the first of four sacks in the game by Laramie.
True’s second block set Natrona up at the Laramie 17-yard line. The Mustangs cashed in this time with a 5-yard touchdown run by Wyatt Yetter for a 7-0 lead after the first quarter.
Turnovers became an issue for Laramie (2-2) when a fumble off a bad snap was recovered by Natrona’s Hunter Brandt at the Laramie 19. Again, the Plainsmen defense kept the damage to a minimum by forcing a 30-yard field goal by Natrona kicker Jhett George.
Another critical fumble by Laramie late the second quarter led to a defensive score by Natrona when the Plainsmen were backed up on their own 3-yard line. Plainsman quarterback Jason Upton received a low snap and fumbled the ball that was recovered in the end zone by Natrona’s Corey Rizzo. Kruzich blocked the point-after kick by George.
Laramie was down 16-0 at halftime, but it could’ve been much worse if not for a stingy Plainsmen defense. Natrona — albeit working mostly with short fields — had just 86 yards of offense at the half.
“They were amazing,” said Reed on the Laramie defense. “They were flying around and doing some good things against a very talented and well-coached team.
“We talked to the kids and tried to rally them on the sideline in the first half by saying: ‘I give Natrona all the respect in the world, but right now Laramie is beating Laramie.’ It wasn’t Natrona beating Laramie with all the mistakes we were making early in the game.”
Laramie — going against Natrona’s No. 1 run defense in Class 4A giving up just 20 yards per game — couldn’t get anything going in the first half with a minus-16 yards of total offense after factoring in the yardage losses from the blocked punts and turnovers.
Natrona didn’t waste time to increase its lead when Isaac Palomo returned the kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to open the second half with a 23-0 lead.
Laramie’s two best drives came in the second half. First, Upton went to the air to march the Plainsmen down the field with passes of 25 yards to Baxter Tuggle, 13 and 9 yards to Brady Epler and 6 yards to Conner Killpack.
The drive ended with a 14-yard pass to Preston Buszkiewic for a touchdown with 5:47 to go in the third quarter.
The Plainsmen scored again late in the fourth on an Upton pass to Epler from 5 yards out. The keys plays were runs of 33 yards by Tuggle and 14 yards by Upton.
Natrona had 295 yards of total offense, Laramie had 174.
Laramie will next host Cheyenne Central at 7 p.m. next Friday.
MUSTANGS 37, PLAINSMEN 14
LHS 0 0 7 7 — 14
NHS 7 9 21 0 — 37
NHS — Yetter 5 run (George kick), 2:28
NHS — George 30 field goal, 8:20
NHS — Rizzi fumble recovery in end zone (kick blocked), 4:34
NHS — Palomo 99 kickoff return (George kick), 14:45
NHS — Bertagnole 44 pass from Stoner (George kick), 8:29
LHS — Buszkiewic 14 pass from Upton (Tangeman kick), 5:47
NHS — Wallace 27 run (George kick), 3:14
LHS — Epler 9 pass from Upton (Tangeman kick), 1:59
RUSHING: Laramie — Tuggle 15-58; Upton 9-10; Killpack 1-(minus 3); Nunn 1-3; E. Sell 2-(minus 30). Natrona — Wallace 9-59; Stoner 12-24; Pickett 4-16; Yetter 5-25; Jackson 6-34; Miller 1-7; Williams 1-7; Sorensen 1-(minus 1)
PASSING: Laramie — Upton 11-19-1 103. Natrona — Stoner 9-14-95; Sorensen 1-1-0 29
RECEIVING: Laramie — Epler 5-49; Gamboa 1-10; Killpack 1-6; Gomez 1-6; Tuggle 3-24, Buszkiewic 1-14. Natrona — Bertagnole 6-77; Clymer 1-29; Pickett 1-9; Quig 1-7; Wallace 1-5