The Kemmerer Rangers beat the Pinedale Wranglers 14-7 on Sept. 14. The Rangers are 3-0 on the season. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Michelle Tibbetts)
Last season, or even the season before that, Ranger fans wouldn’t have pictured Kemmerer football going to Pinedale and picking up a win.
After all, Pinedale beat Kemmerer 20–0 last season. But this is a different team, and the Rangers showed it on Friday, Sept. 14, when they took on the Wranglers in Pinedale.
Going into the game, the Rangers were coming off a win against Lyman and Pinedale was looking to recover from a loss against Jackson.
Kemmerer returned last season’s favor and beat the Wranglers 14–7. The win against Pinedale gave the Rangers a 3-0 record on the season — best in the 2A West conference. Pinedale dropped to 1–2.
Kemmerer is now ranked No. 4 in 2A by WyoPreps — a first ranking for the Rangers since 2009. The Kemmerer Rangers travel to take on the Big Piney Punchers on Friday, Sept. 21.
The Rangers started off strong against Pinedale in the 1st quarter. Sophomore wingback AQ Martinez, senior wingback Josh Thatcher and junior quarterback Dawson Schramm kept the ball moving in small increments to gain first downs, with the first Ranger possession lasting well over seven minutes.
Pinedale’s defense came out fighting in the first quarter, but Kemmerer was working that much harder to move the ball. The referees doled out several offside penalties and false starts to Pinedale, which Kemmerer was all too happy to take advantage of when they had the ball.
“I was impressed by our offense’s ability to sustain drives,” head coach Bart Jernigan told the Gazette after practice on Monday. “I would like to see us finish on more of those drives, but when you can eat up the clock and control the ball like that, it’s great.”
Schramm pitched the ball to Martinez, who was taken down inside the 5-yard line. On the next play, with 5:23 left in the 1st quarter, Schramm ran in for a touchdown. The kick was good from senior Hayden Walker, and the Rangers found themselves up 7–0 against Pinedale.
Jernigan discussed the Rangers offense change from last season. Kemmerer plays a double-wing offense, which proved successful against Pinedale on Friday.
“Over the offseason, we took a look at our kids, some of whom really fit the profile of a running back, and we couldn’t justify sitting them on the sidelines,” Jernigan said. “We’re giving more kids the ball. There’s a sense of selflessness on this team. They don’t care who scores the touchdown, they just care if we’re winning.”
Kemmerer’s first shot on defense against Pinedale looked a little shaky to start, but the Rangers quickly found a rhythm and forced a Pinedale turnover — giving the Rangers the lead at the end of the first quarter.
“I loved our defense’s stops in key situations in the game,” Jernigan said. “Our kids really rose to the occasion. That being said, there were a few defensive misalignments we need to clean up.”
The second quarter started with just as much Ranger power as the first. Pinedale is a physical team, but the Rangers didn’t let themselves get pushed around.
Martinez and Thatcher continued to weave in and out of Pinedale’s defense to gain yards for the Rangers. Martinez is only a sophomore, but he fits well with the Ranger seniors, especially in their double-wing offense.
Kemmerer lost some control of the game to Pinedale after Thatcher got the ball and threw an interception. With Pinedale in possession with 28 seconds left in the first half, the Wranglers had an easy run through Kemmerer’s defense for a touchdown, bringing the score going into the locker room at 7–7.
“It’s exciting to see that we won against Pinedale even though we didn’t do particularly well in all facets of the game,” Jernigan said. “We did do some great things in certain parts.”
In the third quarter, Schramm continued to show he could have a strong game on both sides of the ball by securing a few first downs for the Rangers on offense and making good tackles on defense.
Because of the similar offenses of Pinedale and Kemmerer, the game wasn’t a competition between quarterbacks, but it came down to the whole offensive line making quick decisions.
Kemmerer’s offense seemed to lose a little of that first-half momentum, but Pinedale struggled to convert on a fourth down, so the end of the third quarter remained all tied up at 7–7.
The Ranger offense decided to make things happen in the 4th quarter.
With about 9 minutes left in the game, Schramm pitched the ball to Martinez, who ran straight through a gaping hole in Pinedale’s defense to the end zone for a touchdown. Another kick from Walker, and the Rangers were up 14–7.
Looking a little desperate, Pinedale changed up their offense with six minutes left in the game. Wrangler quarterback Sam Lopeman decided to throw the ball more, but the Rangers were ready.
Walker and fellow senior Carson Carlson showed up well on defense. Walker broke up a pass from Pinedale quarterback Sam Lopeman to stop a big Wrangler play, and Carlson intercepted the ball and had a big run to practically seal the fate of the game. Zach Malone also intercepted a Pinedale pass to give the ball back to Kemmerer again.
With the ball safely in the Rangers’ hands, Kemmerer took a knee and ran out the clock — something the Rangers haven’t had the privilege of doing the past few seasons. The final score was Kemmerer 14, Pinedale 7; a heartbreaking Homecoming loss for the Wranglers, but another exciting win for the Rangers.
“We love having the record we have, but we want to win a couple more and really shock some teams,” Jernigan said.
What do the Rangers think?
The Gazette spoke to a few Kemmerer Ranger football players after Monday’s practice. Seniors Hayden Walker, Jeydon Boyd and Josh Thatcher were joined by junior Dawson Schramm and freshman AQ Martinez to talk about Friday’s game against Pinedale and why the Rangers are 3–0.
“It’s all about attitude,” Walker said.
“For us seniors, it’s been four years of preparation,” Thatcher said. “We’re playing the same offense we grew up playing, so it’s just like old times.”
The Rangers don’t have a huge roster, so most boys are playing both offense and defense. They may have to quickly change their mindsets, but it doesn’t seem to bother them.
“You just learn to be aggressive 24/7 and do what you have to do,” Boyd said. “We have great coaches.”
The players were excited to talk about why they love football.
“This team is a family,” Schramm said. “We like coming to practice now. It’s really a team effort, and we feel the change this season.”
“Being out here with these guys is the best,” Martinez said.
Most of the Ranger starters were starting as freshmen, so this year’s early success has been rewarding. Last season, the Rangers broke a 36-game losing-streak, but didn’t win another game until this season.
“This team is tough, but humble,” Walker said. “Now we’ve learned that we’ve got a whole team behind us, and no one player is doing this by themselves.”
The Rangers agreed that the support of their friends and families has meant a lot this season.
“These people went through hard times with us, and now it’s great that we’re all proud of what we’re doing,” Walker said.
“People used to look at Kemmerer and kind of think we were a joke, but now they look at us and see a football team,” Martinez said.
Jernigan said he keeps his team focused by creating productive practices, especially as the team was excited, and maybe a little distracted, by Friday’s win.
“I heard from an old coach that you should avoid laps, lines and lectures,” Jernigan said. “We’re not really doing anything different in practice than we have for the past couple of years, and we keep the pace moving.”
“Some days — like Mondays — we know it’s going to be tough to stay focused,” Jernigan said. “Players would rather relive highlights than work on mistakes. But we have to be careful that we’re not just going through the motions.”
The Kemmerer Rangers travel to take on the Big Piney Punchers on Friday, Sept. 21, at 2:00 p.m. Big Piney is 1-2 on the season. The Punchers are coming off a 26-18 loss to Greybull.
In 2A, Kemmerer is second to Glenrock in rushing yards for the season (232), second to Mountain View in rushing defense and second to Mountain View in team defense.
AQ Martinez is 5th in rushing yards per game (105.3), and Josh Thatcher is 8th (82.7). Martinez is 8th in points per game on the season (8.7).
Against Pinedale on Sept. 14, Martinez rushed for 112 yards, and Thatcher rushed for 119.
Lowell Ellis leads the Rangers in average tackles per game (6). Walker and Jeydon aren't far behind with an average of 5.7 tackles per game.