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Cougars erase Saratoga lead, win 14-13
Wind River�s Ward Gordon moved the ball in a home game. The Cougars beat Saratoga 14-13 on Friday night. Photo by Randy Tucker

Cougars erase Saratoga lead, win 14-13

Sep 30, 2012 - By Randy Tucker, Sports Writer

PAVILLION -- Wind River avenged a one-point loss in Carbon County a season ago that kept the Cougars out of the playoffs with a come-from-behind, 14-13 win over Saratoga Friday night.

The win lifts the Cougars to 2-3 overall and 2-2 in the West 1-A conference.

The Cougars travel to Burlington Friday afternoon for a key contest with the conference co-leading Huskies.

Saratoga took an immediate lead Friday with a 91-yard kickoff return by Kyle Bartlett. Rodrigo Escobido's kick gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead just seconds into the game, and that score remained until the half.

The first and second periods broke into a defensive struggle, with the Cougars limiting Saratoga to just 27 total yards in the opening half.

The Cougars suffered a major setback when senior Ward Gordon left the field with a knee injury after being tackled at the end of a long run.

Tthe Cougars also played without Zac Noffsinger, Brodie Miller and Shep Campbell and had several players forced to play out of position.

"We are so depleted, we had four starters out and our entire backfield was out. The first half was the whole season in a microcosm," Wind River Head Coach Cullen Noffsinger said. "Missed opportunities, mental mistakes and injuries."

Wind River regrouped in the second half with a nice mix of running and passing plays. Zac Lindstadt hit Roger Wagon for 20 -yard gain that moved the ball inside the 10. Two plays later Dylan Lookingbill cashed in for the Cougars on a two-yard run. Wind River went for the 2-point conversion, but the Panthers stuffed the run. The Cougars trailed 7-6 early in the third.

On the ensuing kick, Wind River's coverage broke down again, and Bartlett returned the ball to near midfield. On a third-and-short play, Mike Merlo broke into the Cougar secondary and raced 45 yards for the score. Joe Lupher broke through the Panther blocking to block Escobido's kick, and the Cougars remained just seven points down.

Wind River drove deep a couple of times but stalled inside the 20 each time. Wind River's offensive line did an excellent job of setting up blocking schemes in the second half.

"Kaden Koenig did a nice job of calling line blocking for us," Noffsinger said.

Lightning struck for Wind River with about six minutes remaining in the game, when speedster Tyler Rupe broke open on a reverse and scampered 60-yards for the score.

Noffsinger went to a bit of trickery on the ensuing 2-point conversion ,with Cole Bossert throwing his first pass of the season on a halfback sweep to a wide-open Ryan Weliever in the end zone.

"The second half the mental mistakes went away, it was probably our best-executed half of the season," Noffsinger said.

Saratoga converted just two first downs in the final half, and Bossert had another big play breaking a 34-yard run to set up a final kneel-down by the Cougars.

Wind River didn't execute the victory formation very well and fumbled the ball back to Saratoga with 17 seconds left in the game.

The Panthers threw two screen passes in the final seconds picking up 20 yards on the first play but Jack Noe read the second pass well and crushed the Panther receiver to end the game.

"That was as proud a game as I've ever had with a group of kids," Noffsinger said.

"Not a lot of people thought we would play that well once we lost Ward, but the kids stepped up and picked up for a fallen teammate."

WIND RIVER 0 0 7 8 -- 14

SARATOGA 7 0 6 0 -- 13

First Quarter

SAR - Kyle Bartlett 91-yard kickoff return (Rodrigo Escobido kick )

Third Quarter

WR - Dylan Lookingbill 2 run (run failed)

SAR - Mike Merlo 45 run (kick blocked)

Fourth Quarter

WR - Tyler Rupe 60 run (Ryan Weliever from Cole Bossert)

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Wind River, Cougars