HERALD PHOTO/Mark Madia
CASPER — The Natrona County Mustangs lived up to their billing. The number one-ranked team in 4A all season kept their undefeated streak intact with a 51-7 homecoming victory over the Evanston Red Devils.
There were some positive signs for the visiting team, such as the Red Devils holding the Mustangs to a three-and-out in their first possession, coming away injury-free and Evanston’s ability to move the ball at times. But Natrona County is all they’re advertised to be.
The Red Devils took over from their own 24, following the three-and-out, but were unable to establish any offense themselves. The Red Devils punted back to the Mustangs with 9:33 left in the first quarter. A good return set put Natrona County up to the Red Devils’ 24.
Three plays later, the Mustangs would have their first score on a three-yard Josh Flanagan touchdown run. The point after touchdown kick was no good, and Natrona led 6-0 at the 8:20 mark of quarter number one.
The Red Devils again began from their own 24. Another three-and-out had them punting at the seven-minute mark.
The Mustangs began from their own 24, and put together a good drive, but had to settle for a 27-yard field goal. With 3:17 left in the first, NC led 9-0.
Logan Wilson thwarted the ensuing Red Devils drive, picking off a Kyler Wagstaff pass and setting the Mustangs up at the Red Devils’ 31. Two plays later, quarterback Brecken Biggs scored from 16 yards out on a quarterback draw. With 1:17 left in the first, the Mustangs were pitching a 16-0 shutout.
The Red Devils’ lone score came on the next drive. On the first play of the second quarter, Wagstaff delivered a perfect pass to a streaking Brayton Sanders, catching him in stride, who took it to the house on an 80-yard passing connection. Devian Kurete’s kick was true, and the scoreboard showed a 16-7 ballgame. The Red Devils’ score may have awakened a sleeping giant, however.
The Mustangs started their next drive from their own 24, with 11:41 remaining in the second quarter, and capped a seven-play scoring drive with a six-yard Biggs-to-Austin Ducello touchdown pass, set up by a 33-yard catch by Dan Reese. With 8:42 left in the second, Natrona was up 23-7.
Holding the Red Devils to a three-and-out, the Mustangs quickly struck again on a 32-yard Biggs-to-Brady Dalen 32-yard touchdown toss, and NC led 30-7 with 7:22 remaining in the half.
Evanston’s next drive started from their own 12, with 7:17 left, and resulted in a punt with 5:42 remaining in the second quarter.
The Mustangs had the ball at the Red Devils’ 39, and advanced to the Devils’ red zone. The Evanston defense stiffened and forced a loss of two yards from their 20 to the 22, eventually resulting in the Mustangs giving up on downs with 2:54 left to go at the Evanston 7.
Evanston could not establish any offense deep in their own territory, and were forced to punt. The long snap was mishandled, and Kurete scooped up the ball in the end zone, scrambling before attempting a pass near the Evanston 5, which Ducello intercepted and ran in for another Mustangs score. It was 37-7 with less than two minutes to go in the half.
Due to a penalty against Natrona, the Mustangs were forced to kick off from their own the 25-yard line. A return of 15 yards by Nathan Chandler to the Red Devils 46 gave the Red Devils their best starting field position of the night.
Evanston went to the air and had some passes close to being caught, but were just missed or caught out of bounds. They achieved a first down at the Natrona 39 on a catch by Sanders, but an intentional grounding penalty set Evanston back. Another 15-yard gain on a Wagstaff-to-Bruce Lester pass sustained the drive, as Evanston used timeouts to set up plays they thought would work, hoping for a score before the half expired.
University of Wyoming-bound Ryan Anaya sacked Wagstaff, and the Mustangs took over on downs at the Evanston 35. Three plays later, Biggs found Luke Wilson in the end zone for a six-yard scoring strike. The PAT was good, and the Mustangs were up 44-7 with 16 seconds remaining in the half.
Evanston began from their own 12, with Hyrum Peterson busting out for a gain of 16 to the 28 before the half expired.
Evanston was playing without the services of their leading ground gainer, Tanner Anthos, who was out with a separated shoulder. And Wagstaff’s receivers would be the first to say they dropped balls that should have been caught, as the junior signal-caller delivered some well-thrown balls in both halves. Not that either factor would have ultimately resulted in a different outcome, but it could have made the score less lopsided.
Evanston received the opening kickoff of the second half, starting from their own 20 on the touchback. The Red Devils could not obtain a first down and punted, and Natrona started their first drive of the second half with 10:26 left in third from the Red Devils 49.
Natrona moved to the Red Devils’ 36. The pressure of Wyatt Day and Austin Bowen forced an intentional grounding penalty and a subsequent punt by Natrona.
The Red Devils began from their own 34. The big play of the drive was a 25-yard run by Will Kishpaugh, moving the ball into Mustang territory. Wagstaff found Matt Johnson on a fourth-and-12, but it was just short of a first down, near the Mustang 20.
The only score of the second half for the Mustangs came on the next play, when Biggs called his own number and ran 80 yards for paydirt. With 4:39 left to play in the third quarter, the Mustangs were comfortably ahead, 51-7.
Evanston began with 4:34 left in the third from their own 19, but lost yardage to the 16. Peterson then carried to the 33 for a first down. Wagstaff hit Sanders for a gain of 28 for another first down to the Mustang 41. The Red Devils reached the 39 on a Tyler Stout run, and got to the 34 on subsequent runs from Peterson and Kishpaugh before NC’s Wilson would collect his second interception.
After reaching the Evanston 16, the Mustangs fumbled twice, but retained possession. A 40-yard field goal attempt was unsuccessful, and the Red Devils took over from their own 20, with 8:08 remaining in regulation.
Evanston picked up a first down, but ended up punting the ball away with 5:40 remaining, as penalties hurt the drive.
Natrona started from the Red Devils’ 39, but a fumble and a loss put the ball back to their own 48 on a tackle by Alek Johnson. Johnson had another tackle for loss back to the 40. The Mustangs then punted back to the Red Devils, who began from the Evanston 29 with 3:01 left. The Red Devils moved the ball until a fumble occurred with 2:14 left.
The Mustangs got a first down at the Red Devils’ 10, and ran to the Evanston 6. The Mustangs then took a knee and allowed the clock to run out, with their victory well in hand.
The win drops the Red Devils’ record to 2-5, while a perfect season is still possible for the 7-0 Mustangs. Evanston will host Cheyenne East Oct. 12 and finish on the road at Laramie on Oct. 19. The Mustangs will travel to Laramie to finish the regular season hosting Campbell County.
Unofficially, the Red Devils rushed for 74 yards against the Mustangs, with Peterson and Kishpaugh leading the way with 36 and 28 yards, respectively. On average, the Mustangs have held teams to 22 yards on the ground and 93 total yards per game. Evanston ended with 140 yards passing for 214 total. The Mustangs ran for 188 and passed for 178, for a game total of 376.
Elsewhere in the 4A division, number two Campbell County remains unbeaten, with a 21-7 homecoming win over number five Cheyenne Central. Number three Sheridan defeated the Plainsmen, 49-6, in Laramie. Number four Cheyenne East defeated the visiting Rock Springs Tigers by a similar score, 49-7. The Kelly Walsh Trojans broke open a close two-point game at halftime to win 57-22 over South in Cheyenne.
The mystique of a rivalry didn’t factor into the Bridger Valley Bowl, as number one Lyman ran past their arch-rival, the Buffalos of Mountain View, 54-0. The Buffs were in scoring position near the end of the game, when Cisco Taylor intercepted a pass five yards deep in the end zone, and ran 105 yards for the final Lyman score.
In the number one versus number three showdown at Rich County, the top-ranked Eagles of Duchesne remain unbeaten, handing the Rebels their second loss on the season, 40-8.