TORRINGTON – In the first meeting between the two teams, it was a tale of two halves for the Torrington Blazers and the Cokeville Panthers.
Trailing 14-7 midway through the second quarter, Torrington scored 27 unanswered points to move to the Class 2A semifinal round of the playoffs with a 34-14 victory.
The momentum shift came as the Blazers were able to get the running game going in the second half and do a better job of keying on Cokeville star running back and linebacker Nate Barnes.
“We grinded the ball on the ground. We were able to pick up first downs,” coach Russell Stienmetz said. “The o-line came up with some huge blocks, and defensively, we were able to get to Nate Barnes and kept him walled off so he couldn’t make all the plays.”
Torrington held Cokeville to a quick three-and-out on the Panther’s opening drive, and it didn’t take long for junior quarterback Beau Bivens to connect with junior receiver Chase Miller on a 54-yard pass to go in front, 7-0.
Over the next 14 minutes of game time, Barnes put his team on his back and carried the Panthers to a 14-7 lead with six minutes remaining in the half.
Barnes scored on runs of six and 10 yards to give the visitors a one score advantage.
“That is a great team. Well coached,” Stienmetz said. “We knew they weren’t going to beat themselves, and we beat ourselves a couple times with some costly face masks and stuff like that. Once we cleaned that up, it was a better half for us.”
Momentum began to slowly shift late in the second half when Miller booted a 40-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10 at the half.
The third quarter began much the same way it began the game for the Blazers – with a touchdown pass.
Bivens connected with senior receiver Aiden Hull on a 58-yard pass to go back in front 17-14 with only a minute off the clock in the quarter.
Five minutes later, the Bivens found a leaping Keiser Wolfe in the end zone for a 19-yard score to take a 24-14 lead.
The score remained the same until Miller kicked a 25-yard field goal through the up rights, and senior running back Cody Pierce punched in a 6-yard run to push the Torrington lead to 20.
Defensively, the Blazers limited Cokeville to only 20 yards of rushing in the second half compared to 95 yards through the first 24 minutes.
“I know the linebackers were the ones making the tackles for the most part, but those interior d-linemen played a heck of a game so our backers could get to there and make plays,” Stienmetz said.
Five Blazers recorded 20 or more defensive points, led by Pierce with 28. He tallied 16 assisted tackles, three solo stops and two tackles for loss. Junior defensive back Deagan Keith added 24 with 10 assisted tackles, three tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery. Senior Dylan Dreiling added 23 with 13 assisted tackles, one unassisted stop, one tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery.
Offensively, Pierce led the Blazers with 60 yards rushing on 12 attempts, while junior Carson Shultz added 53 yards on 12 tries. Bivens was 9-of-18 passing for 190 yards and three touchdowns. Hull hauled in two passes for 69 yards, while Miller added 54 yards on his only catch.
The Blazers host defending Class 2A state championships, the Mountain View Buffalos, at 6 p.m. Friday at Wiseman Field.
“Mountain View is another well coached team,” They have a very balanced attach – run, pass – and a great defense. We will have to bring our A game. They put up 34 on the Wheatland, and that’s tough to do.”