TORRINGTON – After leading for two and a half quarters of action, the Cokeville Panthers found themselves on the losing end of the scoreboard for the first time.
The No. 4-seeded team from the 2A West Conference wasn’t going to roll over for the Torrington Blazers.
With 4:20 left in the game, Torrington was forced to punt, leading 21-14. Cokeville put together a drive, taking the Panthers down to the Blazer 5-yard line with only 17.5 seconds left on the clock.
In one last attempt to reach the end zone on a fourth-and-goal from the five, senior linebacker Beau Bivens and junior defensive end Ryan Baker stuffed Cokeville quarterback Landon Walker behind the line of scrimmage for a sack, securing the seven-point victory for the Blazers.
“The third quarter was key driving all the way down,” THS coach Russell Stienmetz said. “Kieser coming up with two big picks. It was a full-team effort tonight.”
Prior to that, it was all Cokeville in the early going.
The Panthers took the opening drive 70 yards in a four minute-plus drive to grab the early 7-0 lead.
The game became a back-and-forth battle with 10:10 left in the second quarter, Torrington went for it on a fourth-and-6 from the Cokeville 35-yard line and turned the ball over on downs.
Cokeville responded with a near five-minute drive chewing up 65 yards before an 11-yard touchdown pass put the Panthers in front 14-0.
“I thought we were missing assignments early on, but we got our eyes a little bit better in the second half,” Stienmetz said. “From there, our tackling got better in the open field.”
It wasn’t long after when the momentum began to swing back in Torrington’s favor.
A personal foul and an offsides penalty moved the ball into Panther territory for the third time in the game. This time, it paid off as sophomore running back Byrce Hager punched his way into the endzone with 1:41 left before halftime.
Stienmetz said it was at that drive when Cokeville was pushed back on its heels.
“It kind of seemed like that. That’s when they seemed to go back on the heels and we were able to keep going with throttle,” he said.
Following the point after from Chase Miller, the Blazers had cut the Cokeville lead in half.
On the next Cokeville drive, the Panthers went to the air, and Torrington senior defensive back Kieser Wolfe intercepted the pass with 41.3 seconds left before halftime.
With the Blazers getting the ball back in the offenses’ hands to start the third quarter, Torrington took a page out of the Cokeville playbook with a long drive of its own.
Torrington used a methodical eight-minute drive, converting on two fourth downs plays.
The second conversion Bivens found Wolfe in the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14 apiece.
As time expired on the third, Wolfe picked off his second pass of the game, and the interception set up what proved to be the go-ahead score.
With 8:08 left in the game, Bivens connected with Miller for a 21-yard touchdown pass to give the Blazers their first lead of the game.
The remainder of the game went back-and-forth until Cokeville made one last attempt at an upset.
Much like the Torrington drive, the Panthers managed to convert on one fourth down conversion with 1:28 left to keep the drive alive, but the visitors weren’t able to convert on their second attempt and was snuffed out by Bivens and Baker.
Bivens was 20-for-30 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns. Miller was the top target with six receptions on 81 yards, while Wolve had seven catches for 54 yards. Senior receiver Deagan Keith had six catches for 43 yards.
In the running game, Bivens and Hager each ran the ball for 30 yards. Senior running back Cole Parriott added 19 yards.
The Blazers (8-2) host Lovell (8-1) at 6 p.m. in the semifinal round of the Wyoming Class 2A State Playoffs.
“They are big. They are physical. They are well coached,” Stienmetz said. “We’ll have to be ready to stop the run, and we’ll have to be ready to defend the pass when they pass it.”