A long drought for the Campbell County High School football team ended Friday when the Camels scored its first win since the 2016 season.
The program’s 21-game losing streak dated back to the 2016 state championship game and had included the last two seasons since Thunder Basin High School opened in Gillette.
For a fan base that had been accustomed contending for a state title every season, the more than two years of losing seemed to already have faded after beating Laramie (0-3) 48-41 in overtime Friday in the Camels home opener.
The significance of the victory couldn’t have been more clear than the team’s game-sealing stop in overtime. The crowd went from chanting “one more play” to rushing the field seconds after Desmond Medina intercepted a Laramie pass on the goal line.
It was a celebration worthy of a championship, with tears flowing freely from players and parents, and an avalanche of hugs throughout the sidelines and crowd.
“It feels like we won the Super Bowl,” junior quarterback Kaden Race said. “This is awesome. … I’m so proud of these guys. This just means everything right now. … I’m just riding this high.”
The overtime period arrived as dramatically as it ended. After Campbell County (1-2) failed to run the clock out with less than 2 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Plainsmen found themselves behind 41-34 with one more chance.
Laramie only had 10 seconds to cover 35 yards, but somehow found the end zone on the final play of regulation. Quarterback Garrett Dodd threw it up for grabs near the goal line and Janson Adair made an athletic catch for the tying touchdown as time expired.
High school overtime rules give each team a possession from the 10-yard line, until someone breaks the tie. The Camels had first crack at it and Race came up clutch, bootlegging to the right on third and 11 and leaping into the end zone between two defenders.
It was the CCHS quarterback’s third touchdown of the game and second on the ground to go with a big interception on defense.
“During the game, I was stressed beyond belief,” CCHS coach Andrew Rose said. “But looking back on it and the outcome, I don’t think we could’ve done it any other way. We had to add a little drama.”
The frantic nature of the game wasn’t just reserved for overtime as the Plainsmen kept making big plays to stay in the game.
The Camels built a 27-20 lead following a nearly 8-minute drive to start the third quarter. Vijay Pitter capped it with one of his four touchdowns on the night.
The Plainsmen answered with a well-executed touchdown pass to tie the game early in the fourth quarter, then recovered a fumble in the end zone after CCHS snapped the ball over its punter’s head.
The two scores came just 1 minute, 12 seconds apart to shock the crowd and put the Camels behind 34-27. CCHS responded with two touchdowns of its own, however.
The first was a 63-yard pass from Race, who hit Zach Wilcox 20 yards down the field. The senior receiver shed a tackle and then tight-roped down the sideline for the score.
The next was the fourth touchdown for Pitter. He took a handoff straight up the gut from 6 yards out and dragged three Plainsmen defenders into the end zone to give CCHS a 41-34 lead with 4:30 remaining.
Pitter was one of the players who was noticeably emotional after the streak-ending win. His performance spoke volumes, but his message after the game was simple.
“The Camels are back, baby,” he said.
Moving forward, Campbell County has one of the deadliest weapons in high school sports — confidence.
“We knew we had a chance coming into this game. We can hang with anybody if we play just like that,” Race said. “We’re going to be a team to be reckoned with here pretty soon.”
Rose had high praise for Pitter and Race following the game. Despite one bad interception, he thought Race grew up a lot in the win and did a great job leading his team.
As for Pitter, Rose called him “an absolute tank.” Especially on Gillette’s 8-minute drive to start the second half, he said Laramie just couldn’t stop the run. Pitter finished with 37 rushes for 226 yards and the four TDs.
Rushing the field
Rose has seen the CCHS football field rushed before during his time playing and coaching for the Camels. But his players hadn’t.
Race said that he’s been watching Campbell County football all his life, but this was a first-time experience that will stick with him for a long time.
“I haven’t seen the crowd do this even when we were winning like 59-0 six years ago. It’s awesome,” he said. “This is a first and it’s special. Ever since I grew up here, I’ve never seen this.
Rose has been a part of some great years at CCHS and now some bad ones, but he said the Camel fans never gave up on the team.
“Our fan base is different than others. They’re wholesome, they love the kids and the team,” he said. “When they rush the field, it’s not a gaudy, cheesy ‘let’s rush the field.’ It’s, ‘Let’s rush the field because we’re family.’”
Cleaning up mistakes
The huge victory overshadowed a couple problem areas for the Camels, the largest being special teams play.
The first instance came after CCHS took a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, only to surrender a 90-yard kickoff return by Adair on the next play. The LHS senior also had a long interception return for a touchdown earlier to close the gap to 14-7 and the game-tying TD reception.
The Camels also snapped the ball over their punter’s head twice. Both resulted in Laramie touchdowns. One was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown and the other gave the Plainsmen great field position at the CCHS 15 yard line.
Another small detail that almost bit the Camels was extra points. They missed on two, but Laramie missed one as well and Pitter made up for the other with a 2-point conversion.
Another area of concern was penalties. CCHS had a couple big runs called back for holding, but the most costly penalties came on its final drive of regulation.
The Camels had a first down with less than 2 minutes to play. Another few plays with no penalties would’ve sealed the win. But two penalties stopped the clock and ultimately gave Laramie the chance it needed to force overtime.
Coach Rose and the Camels have no intention of letting off the gas pedal. They head to Cheyenne Central next Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.