Natrona County stuns Thunder Basin 28-14

TBHS Football
TBHS senior Caleb Randall has been a big part of the Bolts defense this season. (Photo courtesy of Brian Mitchell)

The Thunder Basin High School football team has figured out Natrona County the last couple of years and beat the Mustangs the last three, including last year in the playoffs on the way to the state title game.

That steak came to an end Friday night in Gillette. For the first time this season, three Bolts were outplayed on both sides of the ball by a much-improved NCHS squad. TBHS never led in a 28-14 costly defeat.

The game was a 4A conference battle between two top-ranked teams – TBHS No. 3 (6-2) and Natrona County No. 5 (5-3). When all was said and done, the Bolts saw their chances of winning the conference and a high playoff seed come to an end. They now must upset Sheridan next week in the season finale in Gillette to have a chance at hosting a playoff game.

The difference in the game was the Bolts’ high-octane offense was stymied by a Mustang defense that has only allowed two touchdowns in their last eight quarters of football, and those two scores were in the final minutes of the game against TBHS. Unfortunately, the game was already out of reach.

The first quarter went about as expected. Both teams struggled for offensive momentum while adjusting to the slick artificial surface. TBHS also benefitted from the stingy defensive work of Caden Randall, Ryan Jordan, Dillon Glick, and Elie Churches to keep things even until the offense got on track.

That never happened.

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After a scoreless first period, Natrona finally put the first points of the game on the scoreboard with the first of three touchdowns by backup quarterback Wyatt Powell on a 4-yard run to make it 7-0.

Thunder Basin was unable to answer. In fact, after a punt and the first of two turnovers, TBHS saw things start to slip away.

Natrona’s Powell struck again with 5:37 left in the half when he busted loose and sprinted his was to a 69-yard touchdown run to give NCHS a 14-0 lead.

The Mustangs were not ready to find the locker room. They converted a late punt into points when Powell scored his third TD with just over two minutes on the clock to make it a stunning 21-0 ballgame at halftime.

The Bolts knew the game was far from over. They overcame the same kind of deficit last year to beat Natrona County.

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This time was different. Natrona County took the third quarter kickoff and owned the clock with a nearly eight-minute drive to keep the state’s No. 1 passing offense off the field.

That drive was a game-changer as TBHS only touched the ball once in the third. To make matters worse, that key drive finally ended with a touchdown by Kaeden Wilcox to put the game away at 28-0.

The Bolts finally found the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Thunder Basin quarterback Ryan Baker found Isaiah Haliburton on a 17-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-7 with 4:41 left in the game.

A Mustang punt later, Thunder Basin made one last trip to the end zone. Baker, who leads the state in TD passes with 23, added one more on a 35-yard pass to Jordan in the final minute to cut the deficit in half at 28-14.