By William Billingsley
It was a far cry from their last home game just a few weeks ago, when the final score was a disastrous 46-6 for the Rangers against the Wheatland Bulldogs. Instead, last Friday night’s game saw the Kemmerer Rangers triumph over the Mountain View Buffalos in a bitter 21-20 contest.
“I am so happy for our kids, program, school, and community. This win meant a lot to a whole lot of people, and I am just grateful that I was able to be a part of it. For me and the team, the victory served as validation of a lot of the work that we have put in over the past few years,” said Kemmerer head coach Bart Jernigan.
Jernigan wasn’t kidding when he said that the victory meant a lot to the community — well over fifty people rushed onto the field after the game had ended to listen to his victory speech.
But things didn’t look so rosy from the game’s outset, with Mountain View scoring 14 points in the first quarter alone. Although the Rangers had been victorious just two weeks ago in their away game against Pinedale, they had been defeated in the game before last week’s against Thermopolis. Indeed, a spectator had even mentioned to me in the second quarter that this was just how it always was for the Rangers, and that they would surely be soundly defeated.
Despite this pessimism, Jernigan never lost faith in his team.
“I knew that we could win the game. I also knew that we would need to play tough to pull it off. We preached the idea that this was a game our kids could and should win if they would play up to their potential all week.”
Indeed, the tide began to turn for the Rangers when junior Landon Heaps (LB, OL) read the Mountain View quarterback’s eyes and found himself intercepting the ball in the second quarter, transitioning into a pick six touchdown for the Rangers — a promising start for the Rangers’ counterattack.
Or so it would seem, as the Buffalos returned the favor with their own touchdown, bringing the score to 7-20. “Mountain View's third TD could have left our kids doubting, but we stepped up to stop a big two-point attempt that ended up being the difference in the game,” Jernigan said.
Indeed, the undeterred Rangers deftly moved the ball up the field in a series of plays, culminating in their second touchdown by junior Seth Krell (CB, RB) in the second quarter, resulting in a 14-20 contest.
However, Mountain View was determined to keep up the pressure now that they had the ball again, steadily driving the Rangers further and further back into their own territory. Unfortunately for the Buffalos, sophomore Tyler McKane (DE, RB) helped put an end to their offensive just outside the red zone on their fourth down, turning the ball over just before halftime.
“I knew, based upon the feeling in the locker room at half, that we would figure out a way to win the game. I wasn't sure how it would play out exactly, but there was a certain intangible feeling of focus and confidence that had me certain we'd find a way. Even as Mountain View's offense advanced into our territory on their last drive, I had a feeling that our kids would come up with the stop. Once we got the big fourth-down stop on their last drive, I knew our offense would finish the game with a big drive,” Jernigan said.
The Rangers’ offense didn’t disappoint after the half, with senior Tommy Skidmore (CB, QB) using his speed and cunning to cut his way through and around the Buffalos’ center for a punishing 74-yard blitz, before finally being tackled just shy of the end zone. The Rangers followed his efforts up with a touchdown, which brought the score up to 21-20.
However, it was obvious that both sides had been especially battered as the fourth quarter wore on, with multiple flags and fouls being called on both sides.
“The second half was a testament to our toughness.
After giving up more than our fair share of yards and scores in the first half, our defense, thanks to timely big plays and some great adjustments by coaches Julian and Merritt, kept Mountain View off the score board,” Jernigan said.
Despite the relative stalemate, the Rangers nonetheless proved able to break through with a series of plays, cutting inroads toward the end zone. Before long, the Rangers had arrived just outside the end zone with a minute to spare.
Not willing to take any chances, they decided to run the clock out and secure their hard-fought victory.
Reflecting back on the victory, Jernigan emphasized the team-based aspect of it all: “This was a whole team win, so the list of players that stood out is long. Riggen Walker, Seth Krell, and Tyler McKane ran the ball incredibly hard and made big plays in the run game. Jake Kampman and Tyson McKane made some huge grabs that kept the offense moving. Landon Heaps was clutch with his pick six and made PATs. Defensively, Tyler McKane and Jake Kampman did a great job of containing the edge-run game and making huge stops while our defensive tackles along with Gabe Emery, Karl Haslem, and Tyson McKane did a great job of figuring out a way to help contain the middle run game as the game wore on.”
When asked about what he thought worked well for the Rangers, Jernigan remarked that the team’s conditioning and mental toughness were on point.
“Offensively, we had some timely big plays. Making those chunk plays has been a big point of emphasis for our team this past year. For the defense, we did a good job of playing bend-don't-break football and limited big plays from Mountain View. Special teams did a great job of swinging the game with good returns, big blocks on PATs, and solid coverage on kicks,” Jernigan said.
Despite this, Jernigan noted that there was room for improvement based on what he saw during the game, adding that they needed to clean up their offensive penalties and work on more up-front movement.
“Defensively, finishing our tackles and improving gap integrity will be areas of focus this week. On special teams, we will focus on our open field tackling as well,” he added.
Looking to their next game against Lyman this Friday, Jernigan explained that he was curious to see where the Rangers stood in relation to the (currently) number one ranked team in the state, adding that “they will have the Rangers’ undivided attention.”