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Cougars let halftime lead slip, fall 18-17 in Basin

Oct 21, 2012 - By Randy Tucker, Sports Writer

It was the season in a microcosm the final five minutes of play Friday night for the Wind River Cougars. Wind River has suffered through a bizarre season laden with injuries, mysterious calls and inopportune mistakes and their final two series were like a bad highlight reel of the entire year.

In Basin, the Cougars fell 18-17 to the Riverside Rebels to conclude their season at 2-6.

"We were a good team for all but the last five minutes," Wind River head coach Cullen Noffsinger said. The Cougars scored on their opening drive via a three-yard plunge by Zac Noffsinger with Juan Buitrago adding the point-after kick.

Wind River fumbled the ball inside the 10 on its second series then couldn't capitalize on a blocked Riverside punt on the third possession and stalled at the 10. The patchwork Cougar defense did a solid job of shutting down the Rebels in spite of many players forced to play out of position.

Ryan Weliever tallied a second Wind River touchdown on a 30-yard tight end reverse, with Buitrago again adding the conversion kick. With less than a minute remaining in the half, Riverside scored on a long pass to cut the margin to 14-6, but the Cougars weren't quite finished.

Joe Lupher moved over from defense to fullback for this game and broke a 50-yard run to the Riverside 1-yard line, but a personal foul penalty on Wind River sent the ball back to the 30-yard line.

A pass interference call on Riverside gave the Cougars half the distance to the goal, and Buitrago hit a 32-yard field goal with seven seconds left to end the half with the Cougars up by 11.

A scoreless third period didn't change anything. The Cougars had a chance for another score with four minutes left but couldn't score on four straight runs from inside the 10.

Riverside didn't waste any time and hit another long pass a few seconds after taking the ball on downs to close the gap to 17-12.

Wind River recovered the ensuing onside kick and Noffsinger carried the ball on five straight plays, picking up first downs in the process. But in another strange quirk, an inadvertent whistle sounded. Wind River was flagged for a procedure penalty which changed a third-and-four into a third-and-nine situation, and the Cougars weren't able to convert.

The game changer came when the punt snap intended for Weliever sailed over his head, and Riverside recovered it at the 10 with 36 seconds left in the game.

The Rebels scored 10 seconds later to take the game 18-17.

"We played this game without seven starters," Noffsinger said. "If something could go wrong, it did go wrong this season. Wind River finished the year with wins over Wyoming Indian and Saratoga.

"Our backs carried the ball well, and our line blocked well except the last five minutes," Noffsinger said. "We just need to find ways to win football games. The red zone still haunts us. We were full strength for about a half of one game this entire season. It was a disappointing season and some of that has to come back on the coach."

WIND RIVER 7 10 0 0 -- 17

RIVERSIDE 0 6 0 12 -- 18

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Wind River, Cougars