CASPER – The first thing everyone wanted to talk about following Saturday’s 46th annual Shrine Bowl wasn’t the game. It was the trip to Salt Lake City, Utah and the Shriners Hospital.
“I enjoyed this week. Going and seeing the kids at the Shriners Hospital was really fun. Everything about this week was fun,” Scotty Woodruff said.
It was a moving experience for all the players and coaches involved.
“It’s really eye opening and (you) realize that you have it good,” Brandon Bennick said. “Whenever I think I’m sore at practice, I think about those kids, and realize that I have it really good right now. I have to be thankful for that.”
Lingle-Fort Laramie and South assistant coach Matt Cornelius added, “Just like everyone said, the highlight of the week was the trip to the Shriners Hospital, and it was. It was life changing for me and also for the kids to change their mindset about what we are really doing here and what the purpose really is.”
During the 800 mile plus round trip to Utah, it also gave the participants a chance to bond.
“You really get to know the guys that gave us trouble this year,” Bennick said. “It was nice to get to know each other and see what they are all about.”
Many of the players had played against each other over the last four years, and it gave them a chance to get to know them off the field.
“I got to bound with everyone,” Josh Kingsley said. “No one was alone. Everyone became friends with everyone on the first night. There was so much bonding.”
For Woodruff, Bennick and Kingsley, the trio may have played their last high school football game on June 8, but they aren’t through playing football together.
All three are bound to play at Dickinson State University next fall.
“It was the greatest feeling in the world,” Kingsley said. “I would play with them my whole life. I grew up them. They are my brothers. To play one more high school game, the feeling, I couldn’t describe it.”
“I’m going to college with Brandon and JK, and I’ll be lining up next to Brandon for the next five years, hopefully,” Woodruff said.
For many, the Shrine Bowl was the last football game of their career.
“Everyone knew this was our last game before we go on to the next level or whatever we are doing with our lives. We had to make it count,” Kingsley said.
And make it count they did.
The South squad, losers of six straight, came out and showed they had intentions of ending the streak.
“Everyone thought the South was going to come in and get blown out for the seventh year in a row. We came out and punched them in the mouth at the start,” Bennick said. “We got up early and gave them a fight.”
After North received the opening kick. The South limited the North to a quick three-and-out series.
On the first offensive possession of the day, Cokeville quarterback Bentley Johnson connected with Glenrock running back Ian Arnold on a 3-yard pass to give the South the early advantage with 7:17 left in the opening quarter.
It was a lead which the South held until the North broke the shutout with under 10 minutes left before halftime.
The South looked to regain the lead with three and a half minutes left in the half, but the North’s defense held on a fourth-and-goal at the 4-yard line.
The North drove down the field and capped off a drive with a 4-yard scoring run with 13 seconds left.
The South would score two more times in the second half.
Douglas receiver Dylon Case hauled in a 12-yard pass from Wheatland quarterback Colton Caves, while Evanston running back Tyus Cornia drew his team back within three with 8:07 left in the game.
“The kids came out and gave us every opportunity to win,” former Torrington head coach and South offensive coordinator Mark Lenhardt said. “We got stopped on a couple short fourth downs in their territory. You have to give the North a lot credit. Our guys battled.”
Trailing 22-19, the South was unable to get a stop defensively and the North added the dagger score with 4:16 left in the game.
“At the end of the day, they played a little better than we did,” Lenhardt said. “Scoring first helped to get some momentum for us. I thought Colten Caves played a great game. Bentley Johnson threw a touchdown. There were some good things out there from everybody.”
Despite the 29-19 loss, it was an experience everyone would want to have again if given the opportunity.
“I would do this again if I could,” Kingsley said.
“It was an amazing experience to coach these athletes at such a high level,” Cornelius added. “If I ever have the opportunity to do this again, I will jump at the chance. I learned a massive amount about coaching football but coaching in general. It was an invaluable experience.”