CHEYENNE – Playing in its first home playoff game since 2009, third-seeded Cheyenne Central made sure to give its fans a win for the ages Friday night at Riske Field.
Trailing by nine points heading into the fourth quarter, junior running back Carter Lobatos scored a pair of late touchdowns, the last a 48-yard tightrope act down the sideline, and the Indians’ defense came up with a late interception to seal a 20-16 victory over sixth-seeded Rock Springs in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Central (7-3), which defeated Rock Springs in the regular season as well, will play second-seeded Sheridan (9-1) in the semifinals.
“Our kids hung in, and they’ve done that all year,” Central coach Mike Apodaca said. “(I’m) extremely proud of them.”
Lobatos had 248 total yards, 213 of those on the ground, and scored all three Central touchdowns.
“It really shows what we’re capable of, what we can do offensively and defensively,” Lobatos said. “It’s just a great feeling.”
While Lobatos scored the game’s first touchdown, a 46-yard run in the first quarter, the Indians’ offense struggled for much of the game. Quarterback Dawson Macleary, the second-leading passer in 4A, was held without a touchdown pass for the first time all season and threw two interceptions.
An offense averaging better than 31 points per game was, at times, stagnant Friday.
Rock Springs scored 16 points during the second quarter, including a 99-yard touchdown catch from receiver Favor Okere, and seized any apparent momentum on a pair of Justis Reese interceptions.
Apodaca gathered his team before the fourth quarter and sent a message that was clearly received.
“You came here. This is what you asked for. You play to win this thing,” Apodaca said. “This is what you asked for. Now go finish it.”
And finish it the Indians did.
Lobatos gave Central life on a 4-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth that cut the Rock Springs lead to just 16-14. Four minutes later, Lobatos made the play of the Indians’ season.
After breaking through the line of scrimmage, Lobatos made his way down the sideline and was nearly pushed out by a Tigers defender. Lobatos kept his balance, broke a tackle and gave Central a lead.
“He has turned into such a great player,” Macleary said. “He is a workhorse and he loves the game more than anyone I know. I love him to death.”
While the fans in the Central stands went crazy following the go-ahead score, there was still the matter of stopping Rock Springs one last time.
Okere took a 36-yard pass from quarterback Seth Hymas and brought the Tigers down to the Central 17-yard line. With their backs against the wall for four downs, the Indians came through, intercepting Hymas’ final heave toward the end zone on fourth-and-nine that allowed Macleary to set up in the victory formation.
Central’s defense intercepted Hymas three times on the night and held running back Collin Madsen, a key cog in the Tigers’ third-ranked rush offense, to just 67 rushing yards.
“I had a ton of faith (in the defense),” Apodaca said. “In terms of what we talked about, you give me all 48 minutes. That’s all I asked and, win or lose, we’ll go from there. And they gave me all 48. I’m really proud of their effort.”
Okere caught four passes for 199 yards and a touchdown in the game. Hymas threw for 246 yards and a touchdown.
Following the victory, Macleary was emotional.
No, he didn’t have his best game through the air. But to see his team rally, fight back and win a home playoff game for the first time in 10 years moved him. He looked more like a proud father than quarterback after the clock hit zero.
“Your heart’s beating a million miles an hour,” Macleary said.
“At the end, it’s who’s going to make that big play that we made. I’m so emotional and I’m so happy for this team. We put in so much work for this, and we’re ready. We’re coming.”
CENTRAL 20, ROCK SPRINGS 16
Rock Springs…… 0 16 0 0 – 16
Cheyenne Central…… 7 0 0 13 – 20
CC: Lobatos 46 run (Tippets kick), 4:20.
RS: Toth 3 run (Madsen kick) 10:43
RS: Safety 10:26
RS: Okere 98 TD from Hymas (Madsen kick) 5:30
CC: Lobatos 4 run (Tippets kick), 7:44
CC: Lobatos 48 run (2 no good), 3:16
Rock Springs: Madsen 16-67, Toth 3-7, Petty 1-1, Hymas 7-(minus-15). Cheyenne Central: Lobatos 28-213, Johnson 3-4, Macleary 2-0
Rock Springs: Hymas 10-28-4 246. Cheyenne Central: Maclaery 17-33-2 215
Rock Springs: Okere 4-199, Reese 2-9, Schoenfeild 2-23, Shaklee 1-15, Madsen 1-0. Cheyenne Central: Lobatos 3-35, Bro. Storebo 6-38, Bra. Storebo 6-96, Johnson 1-15, Talich 1-34.