By: Shawn O’Brate
LARAMIE – The whole season boiled down to one game for the Shoshoni Wranglers this year, and it was played on Saturday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium in some surprisingly beautiful weather.
Shoshoni’s football team finished last season as the 1A 9-Man State Champions, winning the title for the first time since 1985, and their entire goal this year was to return to War Memorial Stadium and repeat as champions for the first time in school history. Well, they completed the excruciating task of winning the regular season and reaching the State Title game once again, but on Saturday they could not walk away with the trophy after 48 grueling minutes on the gridiron.
The Wranglers were up against the undefeated Pine Bluffs Hornets, the only team to beat Shoshoni this season when they met way back in week one of the season by a score of 34-26. Pine Bluffs came into the game with the best passing offense in the 9-Man division, averaging over 203 yards through the air every game to help boost their number-one-ranked total offense (429.2 total yards per game).
On the other side, Shoshoni came into the State Title game boasting the number-two-ranked rushing offense (295.3 yards per game) behind the powerhouse running back duo of seniors Pehton Truempler and Cannon Campbell.
Truempler (231 total yards per game) entered the game in Laramie ranked behind only one player in all purpose yardage: Pine Bluffs’ quarterback Stu Lerwick (245.9 ypg). So the gameplans were set in stone for both teams heading into Saturday’s matchup: Shoshoni likes to run the ball, Pine Bluffs likes to pass. But that wasn’t the case in the State Championship game.
“Both defensive coordinators did a good job scheming and taking away the best options and what the other team did well,” Wranglers’ Offensive Coordinator Max Mills said after the game.
Pine Bluffs would end up with more rushing yards at the end of the day (268 yds) than Shoshoni (190) but the Wranglers ended the game with more yards through the air (290) than the pass-heavy Hornets’ offense did (198).
“We knew they were going to plan well for Pehton and Cannon so our game plan was to spread out the offense a little more,” Head Coach Tony Truempler said.
The game started poorly for Shoshoni as Pine Bluffs’ running back Dalton Schaefer ripped off a 61-yard rushing touchdown on the first play of the game, pushing the Wranglers into a comeback mentality right away. They would answer with a score of their own after a 69-yard drive ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Truempler, the 1A 9-Man scoring leader (29 total TDs) heading into the game.
After a 14-play scoring drive the Wranglers’ defense, filled with almost all seniors that also played on offense, forced the Hornets into a three-and-out drive. The same would happen to Shoshoni on their following drive but during the Hornets’ third offensive series the momentum shifted in the Wranglers’ favor as Hornets’ QB Lerwick fumbled the ball on Shoshoni’s 32-yard line.
After senior defensive back Tucker Maddock recovered the ball the Wranglers could do nothing with it and were forced to punt once again. The first quarter ended in a tie, 7-7.
Pine Bluffs scored quickly after the second quarter started, putting the Hornets up 13-7 after another rushing touchdown by Schaefer and a missed extra point.
A beautiful 43-yard pass by Mills to his favorite receiver, senior Trey Fike, set the Wranglers up in great field position right after the Hornets scored, but after a fumble by Shoshoni’s Dom Jarvis the Hornets got the ball back on their own 37-yard line.
The Wranglers would eventually get the ball back on downs just over two minutes later and they capitalized almost instantly with a superb effort by Jarvis on a 70-yard catch-and-run up the sideline to tie the game up at 13-13. Jarvis would immediately be asked to kick and slowly approached the kick, ending in a doink off the field goal post.
Pine Bluffs wasn’t phased much by the quick score as they went run, pass, run, pass, run, pass until they were at the Wranglers’ 17-yard line with the end zone in sight. It was in that end zone, with just under four minutes to go in the first half, that Shoshoni’s Mills would intercept Pine Bluffs’ Lerwick before taking it out of the end zone and out to the 13-yard line.
Shoshoni then went on a methodical mission downfield until there was just under 10 seconds left on the clock. After a successful five-yard pass to Fike the Wranglers needed to rush to the line. It was in this situation that, normally, a spiked ball would stop the clock and give Shoshoni time for one more play but quarterback Alex “High Football IQ” Mills faked the spike and instead threw to an open Jarvis on the border of the end zone for a touchdown as the clock hit 0:00.
“That was such a great, gutsy play,” Coach Mills said. “It comes down to a senior QB with good, high football IQ, that knew if he tried to clock the ball it would’ve timed out and [Mills] just put the ball in his hands … It was a great momentum boost heading into the locker room.”
“We always play around with backyard football plays at practice,” Coach Truempler said about the last-second play. “Alex [Mills] took the ball into his hands … I say to him all the time that if [he] wants to ad-lib he can do it but if it doesn’t work out he’s got to understand he’s going to get an earful. This time he ad-libbed and it worked out pretty well.”
Both coaches were expecting the spike in the situation but couldn’t have been happier with the way their senior QB and senior receiver handled the situation, especially since nobody knew it was coming … even the players on the field.
“I think everyone thought I was going to spike it,” QB Alex Mills said about the play. “I looked at my dad and asked if I looked like Big Ben [Roethlisberger] because he used to fake spikes like that … but shout out to Dom because even he didn’t know pre-snap but his awareness and his ability to make something out of nothing made that play work.”
The Wranglers entered that halftime locker room up 20-13 with the knowledge that they would receive the second-half kickoff as well. Sadly, they would come out of halftime flat and have to punt the ball after a three-and-out, leading to a score by Pine Bluffs on a 77-yard touchdown pass to Hornets’ senior WR Ryan Fornstrom who came into the game leading 1A 9-Man in total receiving yards (977), receiving yards per game (99.7) and receiving touchdowns (15).
But, after a blocked extra point attempt, the Wranglers would still be leading 20-19. Sadly, the next Wranglers’ drive ended in disaster as they would reach the Hornets’ 26-yard line before Mills fumbled the ball behind the line of scrimmage, resulting in Pine Bluffs’ Fornstrom recovering it.
Pine Bluffs would take four minutes to go nearly 70 yards, ending with a 13-yard touchdown run by second-string running back Taylor Beeken and a successful two-point conversion attempt. With four minutes and nineteen seconds left in the third quarter the Wranglers suddenly found themselves looking back up at Pine Bluffs, 27-20.
The next drive by Shoshoni was an excellent foray into the “Truempler Train” offense as 45 of the Wranglers’ 68-yard scoring drive was gained by the legs of the senior running back, ultimately ending in a 5-yard touchdown run – Truempler’s second of the day.
With a full quarter remaining the Wranglers tied up the game 27-27. Pine Bluffs and Shoshoni both followed with stalled drives, the Hornets’ ending in a punt and the Wranglers’ ending in a failed fourth-down attempt. Then the Hornets finally put it all together, scoring on another 13-yard run, this time in the arms of Schaefer as the clock ticked down to just under one minute left.
The Wranglers would regain the ball with 44 seconds left in the game, instantly receiving their fourth illegal formation penalty of the game which was something Coach Truempler was upset about at the end of the game:
“A couple mistakes really changed the outcome of the game. Those four illegal formation calls were weird … we had four in one game when we had zero all season. Things just weren’t going our way.”
Mills would complete a 25-yard pass to Fike before calling a timeout with 31 seconds left. After they came out of the timeout Mills would throw three straight incompletions, one of which going right through the hands of Campbell who was streaking across the field 30 yards into the Hornets’ secondary.
That drop came with just over 14 seconds left, meaning the Wranglers still had 66 yards to go. An 11-yard completion to Campbell, a penalty on Shoshoni, and a 41-yard catch-and-run by Campbell followed before the clock hit 0:00 and the Hornets were officially State Champions for the first time since 2017.
Pine Bluffs finished the season 11-0, including two victories over the 2021 State Champion Wranglers, while Shoshoni (9-2) finished as runner ups after a tumultuous regular season schedule.
“Getting there again is a difficult thing to do, especially after you have a pretty big target on your back,” Coach Mills said about his team. “You got to prepare differently every week and luckily this big group of seniors were up to the challenge.”
That group of seniors includes 12 Wrangler players, almost all finishing their high school career as starters.
“Coaching them was like the perfect storm. I may never coach any team like this again … it was a once in a lifetime opportunity because everybody roots for everyone, nobody is selfish, all these seniors knew the goal in mind and did not mind how they got there as long as they finished the season in Laramie,” Coach Truempler said.
“The loss sucked, obviously, but the emotion of knowing it was all over and this team wouldn’t take the field together again, that was the hardest thing,” Coach Truempler continued.
“It was heartbreaking honestly,” senior RB Pehton Truempler said after the game. “With it being my last game ever I had to really sit back and realize like, I’m done playing high school football with these guys.”
Now the focus of the coaching staff is on other sports, like Coach Truempler’s wrestling team or Coach Mills’ Lady Wranglers’ basketball team, as well as on next year’s football team that will be looking for their third-straight State Championship appearance.
“Rebuilding? I don’t think so,” Coach Truempler said confidently. “We have to fill some holes on the line, this year’s offensive line was the best I’ve ever coached … but I definitely think we still have weapons. Our younger kids are just going to have to step it up.”
“These kids set the foundation for the team aspect we have … the big aspect of our seniors is nobody cared who got credit, nobody tried to be superstars, everybody played within their roles. It was so cool,” Coach Mills said.
Congratulations to the Shoshoni Wranglers for another stellar season that only came up six points short, something that everybody on the team should still be extremely proud of.