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Custer ground attack chews up Pine Ridge

Thorpes still alive for post season at 3-3



Kaleb Wragge of Custer is wrapped up by DJ Vitalis (8) and Jesse Jensen of Pine Ridge.

Kaleb Wragge of Custer is wrapped up by DJ Vitalis (8) and Jesse Jensen of Pine Ridge.

CUSTER—From the first snap, the Custer Wildcat offensive line gave their backfield plenty of running room, and the offense piled up points, kept the Pine Ridge aerial attack on the sidelines, and were the biggest factor in 11-B Custer’s surprisingly easy 48-26 win over the visiting 11-A Thorpes.

Both teams came into the game with 3-2 records, Custer coming off consecutive losses to Stanley County and Hot Springs, and Pine Ridge riding a three-game win streak after faltering badly to open the season against archrival Red Cloud and Lead/ Deadwood. This was a crossroads game, the winner, with a great chance of making the play-offs, the loser, stuck having to run the table just to have an outside shot at the post season.

Last year the Custer Wildcats scored 106 points in eight games. This year they have scored 168 points in just six games, and the defense is giving up one less touchdown a game than in 2017. Head Coach Russ Bailey is pleased with his Wildcats and their impressive turn around: “The difference is mostly, just the weight room. We had our best off-season weight room since I been here. We had twenty kids in the weight room a day and we have thirty-two on the team, that’s pretty good. And now, we are physically strong enough to do what we have been trying to do. You know, last year, we just weren’t physically strong enough.”

 

 

The Custer offensive line opened holes for Daniel Sedlacek and Dathon Elmore, but mostly for 6-0, 170 lbs. junior, Micaiah Grace, who had 148 yards rushing on 16 carries. But the top player on the field Friday night was Elmore, whether running, or throwing the football, or making big tackles on defense, he set the standard for hustle.

“He’s special,” Bailey said about Elmore. “I always say, if I had fifteen Elmore’s, I’d be a state champion. He’s a football player. He loves the game. He’s in the middle of three brothers, the one played quarterback for us a few years back, and the youngest one is playing right guard for us now, so I appreciate dealing with that.”

The Thorpes were without the services of tight end and defensive end Corey Brown, who twisted a knee earlier in the week. They weren’t able to get a running game going against the Wildcats, quarterback Halin Bad Bear getting 47 yards on seven carries, but Bad Bear was able to do considerable damage through the air, going 16-34 for 287 yards, three TDs and three picks. Senior Joe Mousse au led all receivers with three catches for 99 yards, Jesse Jensen had three catches for 89 yards; Jaren Crow, 4 catches for 75 yards, and Greg Sick, seven catches for 35 yards. Bad Bear and his receiving crew mixed it up and impressed Custer Coach Bailey: “I told the boys that, Pine Ridge, they’ve got some flat-out athletes. Anybody that can catch a scramble off a snap over the quarterback’s head, he picks it up, throws it to one kid, and he just turns around and throws it to the next kid, I know it’s illegal, but it was one of the most athletic things I have ever seen kids do. Thirteen is amazing (Jesse Jensen), he is an amazing football player. (Bad Bear), the quarterback, that kid can sling it. And that little number eight (DJ Vitalis), Sam’s got some ballplayers.”

Vitalis hurt his head, and had to leave the game. Not the first time over his career. Bravo said: “We’re gonna keep an eye on him over the weekend. He probably feels good, but we want to get him checked out again.”

Bravo sees the pressure of the rest of the schedule, Belle Fourche, and Sturgis, at home, Little Wound on the road, as something good for his team, because the Thorpes have played best when bouncing back from adversity. The season started with a team in search of identity: “Our leadership really came back. We didn’t have that leadership the first two games and our younger guys started out slow. We take it one game at a time, I tell the boys that every week, and we put this game behind us, and move on.”

Flags have hurt the Thorpes a lot on key plays, but Bravo addresses those flags diplomatically, reasoning the Thorpes must tighten up their play, or that the officials must tighten up theirs: “The offi- cials need a lot of work. They should run jamborees somewhere and have these officials stay on their game.”

With Bad Bear having fought his way back into the quarterback role, Brown and Vitalis returning healthy, and the sure-handed Jensen at receiver, and anchoring the defense, the Thorpes will be able to put a talented team on the field the next few weeks, but they will have to step up their line play, especially in the first quarter. Custer was able to score two quick touchdowns to open the game because their runners ran behind a wall of solid blocking.

Bailey feels his Wildcats must work on their pass defense, given Bad Bear was able to go deep on them for big plays. Next week, they are at Red Cloud, and if Ale Rama is healthy, the Crusaders will test that pass defense. Luckily, the looming showdown with 6-1 Lead/Deadwood, the final game on the Wildcat schedule, is against a running team.

Pine Ridge has Belle Fourche at home next week. They will be a tough test. Sturgis comes to Pine Ridge in two weeks, a big game, given how last year’s game was canceled because of racist invective from a gathering of Sturgis students, days prior to the game.

(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@ msn.com)

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