PINE RIDGE—After Red Cloud jumped out to a 12-0 lead, Pine Ridge took the lead 14-12, a minute into the second quarter, and it seemed this crosstown rivalry must go down to the dogfight wire. But the visiting Crusaders used big plays to reestablish control over a bigger team with a deeper bench, and senior quarterback Ale Rama piled up almost 400 yards of offense to lead his Crusaders to a 48-26 win.
“We came out with that lead there,” Red Cloud Head Coach Duane Big Crow said, “and I was just waiting for them to come back, and they did. We were just in condition, they just got tired.”
Red Cloud has a stout defender in senior Jevon Hacker, but he is out with a leg injury for at least another week. After Hacker, and Rama and receiver/DB Riyen Carlow, Red Cloud must rely on a dozen utility players to stay focused and do their jobs. The only way that happens is if Big Crow and assistants Wade O’Bryan and Billy Scott make it happen. That coaching connection was questionable during the narrow loss to Lead/Deadwood last week, but this week, Big Crow hardly had to yell his players into defensive position from the sideline. They stepped up their game and kept Pine Ridge from mounting a consistent offense.
“We told them, keep your heads straight,” Big Crow said, “(Pine Ridge) is going to have their little run, they’re going to say their things on the field, but stay straight, stay disciplined. We worked on tackling all week long, the linebackers and the lineman, we did some tackling drills with our corners and safety out there, and it showed, and that’s what we’re gonna do again.”
On the other side of the field, Pine Ridge Head Coach Sam Bravo fought his way back to take the lead 14-12. The Thorpes were excited, and ready to take charge of the game. They had the horses to take charge, too: Willie Dubray, Halin Bad Bear, Juwon Garnier, Corey Blacksmith, DJ Vitalis, Dante Bravo and Corey Brown. That’s a solid core to build any football team on, and Red Cloud countered with grit and stamina, the hands of Carlow and the franchise quality contributions of Rama.
The game opened with Carlow having a good kickoff return to the 42-yard line. Rama then took the snap and weaved his way through heavy traffic to outsprint the defense for a 58-yard TD run. Kogen Yamamoto, a 5-8 senior fullback foreign exchange student, failed to convert the 2-pt conversion. The Crusaders would fail to sustain a steady attack the entire game. Instead, they relied on the big play, sometimes from third and long, or from a bad snap, which they turned into points.
After the Thorpes took the 14-12 lead, on touchdown passes from Dubray to Vitalis and Brown, Rama committed himself to taking charge again. He scrambled 31 yards for a TD and then ran in the two-point conversion. Pine Ridge was not going to roll over. They still had plenty of stamina, and Jarren Crow scored on a 58-yard TD pass from Dubray, courtesy of a nifty spin move that left the normally sure handed tackling Rama groping for air. This tied the game at 20-20.
Pine Ridge then forced a Red Cloud punt, and after a 32-yard pass from Dubray to brown, had the ball on the Red Cloud 34. Dubray’s next pass found the 6-3, 260 lbs. Garnier in the flats, and Garnier rumbled up to sideline, bowling over tacklers, until only the 6-1, 180 lbs. Rama remained in his way, at the 20-yard-line.
“He was a big guy,” Rama said. “I didn’t want to tackle him! I was determined to strip him.”
He did more than strip the ball from the physically stronger Garnier; he plucked the ball free, outright stole it, and stopped a sure Pine Ridge TD. With about 2:30 remaining in the first half, Rama then hooked up with JayShaun Morrisette, a 6-3, 180 lbs. freshman, out to midfield. Next, he tossed a pass to Carlow at the 28- yard line. The determined Carlow eluded a host of Thorpe tacklers, eventually flying headlong into the end zone to give the Crusaders a 26-20 lead. The two-point conversion pass fell incomplete. Carlow has a knack for finding an angle, or putting on a move, that allows him to put distance between himself and pursuers, who would probably beat him in a straight up foot race.
The second half would be a dramatic, lop-sided departure from the first. Through most of it, the Thorpes were visibly more tired than the Crusaders, perhaps because this was their first game of the year, and Red Cloud’s second, but mostly because Big Crow is big on coaching stamina and he had his kids believing in it, too.
Although Dubray proved a capable QB, Bad Bear will more than likely return to that position after he transitions into the Thorpe scheme. He had not planned on returning from Michigan this year, and so did not arrive back home in time to practice with the team fully. In this game, Bad Bear threw some passes, but mostly he ran. The Crusader run defense stopped him short of a first down to start the second half.
Two plays later, Rama ran it in from 20 yards out, and tossed the two-point conversion to sophomore Jarron Big Horn. Red Cloud ahead, 34-20.
Although individual players displayed a lot of energy and resolve for Pine Ridge, from this point on the team seemed to have lost both collectively. Three minutes later Rama ran the ball in from 74 yards out to make it 40-20. Three minutes after that, Rama hooked up with Carlow for a 10-yard TD, and the Rama swept right and got the two-point conversion, 48-20.
Crow would have an electrifying 80-yard punt return for Pine Ridge to make it 48-26, but clearly the bigger, stronger, deeper Thorpes ran out of gas too early in the game, and the Crusaders made them pay for it.
Rama ran for 282 yards on 16 carries, or 17.64 yards per carry. He added 112 yards in passing, and was by far the dominant defensive presence on the pitch. If he got tired at any point in the game, he certainly didn’t show it. Brown had nine receptions at tight-end for Pine Ridge, for 122 yards.
With Bad Bear acclimated into the system, and tough Red Cloud transfer Jesse Jensen coming off a one game suspension carry over from last season, the Thorpes will be hard for their next opponent, Lead/Deadwood, to handle. The game is up in Deadwood, and the Diggers have already beaten Red Cloud 19-16, although they got hammered by Upton/Sundance last week, 42-0. Red Cloud visits Cheyenne Eagle/Butte, who beat St Francis, 24-0, in their first game.
Of future opponents, Big Crow says, “They better be ready for our team in the fourth quarter, because our kids are in condition and they don’t give up.”
(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at email@example.com)