LARAMIE — The Camels led the state in offense throughout the season, but Gillette was able to only generate 162 total yards in the state championship football game in Laramie on Saturday night.
As a result, Casper Natrona won the 2012 Class 4A title in a lopsided 35-7 victory.
With a winter storm moving through the area earlier Saturday, temperatures fell to a bone-chilling 5 degrees with the windchill in the last of five state championship games hosted by the University of Wyoming over the weekend.
Gillette’s offense seemed even more frozen against the state’s top defense.
“We played tight,” said Camels coach Vic Wilkerson. “We had our chances early and if we had made those plays, it might have been different.”
It’s been four years since the Camels won a state title football games. It was a new experience for every player suiting up. And it showed on the field.
“Coming in, we knew this would be our last game, no matter what,” said senior Jace Jacob, a 206-pound offensive lineman.
“It was frustrating,” added senior Austin Zigray, who came up with a fumble recovery on the Natrona 24 in the first quarter that would have evened the game if the Camels could have scored.
“We really didn’t capitalize on that,” he said. “I think we lacked focus at times. But we played hard every down. We left it on the field.”
There are, Zigray added, times when you can’t win a game, when it wasn’t meant to be, no matter how hard you want it.
That showed the maturity the Camels gained with a painful loss.
Kneeling on the turf War Memorial Stadium at the end of the game, shivering in the cold of the end zone the Camels had visited only once before in the game, that is what coaches and other seniors touted as they concluded their season.
“They faced so many challenges this season,” Wilkerson said. “By the grace of God, they’ve grown from boys to young men.”
The team overcame the death of a former teammate during the season and the death of the mother of Kris Adams, a senior, the week before the title game.
But Adams came to every practice during the week. It was a refuge, just as it was for many of the Camels throughout the season.
“It’s hard to believe it’s all over,” he said. “When it happened, I didn’t come to school on Monday, but I came to practice to see my friends. I came all week.”
The Camels are a family, and that was obvious as they concluded the season together, supporting each other as tears fell,
“I couldn’t be prouder of you,” Wilkerson said. “What defines you as a team and as players is your character. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Always hold your heads high.”
By the numbers
How bad was it? The Camels offense hasn’t had a game like this all season long.
Thomas Myler, a senior 186-pound running back rushed for 184 yards against the Camels. That was more than the total offense Gillette generated in the game.
Austin Fort, a junior quarterback, completed just seven of his 33 passes for 41 yards. He is Wyoming’s leading quarterback in Class 4A, averaging 191 yards per game. “They (Natrona) brought a lot of pressure,” Fort said after the game.
Natrona had possession of the ball almost twice as long as Gillette in the game. The Mustangs scored on five of seven drives from the 20 yard line in. The Camels were 0-for-1 in the red zone and had the ball for just 17 minutes. Natrona, up 21-0 at halftime, scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and held the ball for almost 31 minutes.
Putting a cap on the season
The Camels were frustrated all game long, but stubbornly scored on a tantalizing 89-yard touchdown drive with just 8 seconds left in the game.
That was the team Gillette fans have seen all season long, a quick-strike offense that averaged 429 yards per game this season.
But Natrona has the state’s top defense and held Gillette to just 162 total yards. Twelve offensive drives ended with punts, on downs and an interception before junior quarterback Austin Fort ran down the Natrona sideline for 36 yards to end the Mustangs’ bid for a shutout.
“That last drive was huge to me because it meant it wasn’t a blowout,” Jacobs said. “We proved once again that we had that heart. We have had a lot of adversity this season and that was huge. It was our last game, the last time on the field for many seniors.”That touchdown was monumental for Wilkerson, too.“I was so very proud. That showed their character and the heart they possess,” he said. That game was not an indicator of how they played all season. But they wouldn’t give up.“You can’t take that away from them. This group has been so special.”