It didn’t show on the scoreboard when the Laramie High football team, playing with a very depleted varsity roster, put together its best game of the young season so far.
The scoreboard read a 45-0 loss to Natrona County at the end of the third game of the Class 4A season Friday night at Deti Stadium. But the Plainsmen put together several sustained offensive drives with sophomore Ben Malone getting his first start at quarterback and senior receiver Jackson Devine having a breakout game.
The Plainsmen (0-3) entered the contest with 16 players unable to play for a variety of reasons, including injuries, illness and COVID quarantine protocols.
“My hat’s off to our kids. I’m here for one reason and one reason only — our kids and everything I do is for them,” first-year LHS coach Paul Ronga said during the KOWB 1290 AM postgame show. “What they did was phenomenal and I am very proud of all them. We have such an attrition in our locker room and had three guys pulled out of this game. We were playing with virtually 18 people (Friday) going up against one of the best programs in the state.”
Malone and Devine hooked up multiple times for pass-and-catch connections throughout, starting with the second play of the game for 39 yards. Devine finished with 10 catches for 82 yards and seven rushes for 28 yards for 110 total offensive yards.
Malone was 16 of 29 for 196 passing, with three interceptions. Two of those picks were tough to take with him getting hit when he threw the ball and the other when a receiver and him were not on the same page with a route. He also added a team-high of 42 yards on the ground.
Laramie had 268 yards of offense after entering game averaging 99 yards per game. The Plainsmen also extended drives with 13 first downs, well above the average of five first downs in the first two games of the season.
“The other thing that is startling and striking is that (last) Monday it was virtually Day One,” Ronga said. “We reinvented everything, re-scripted everything and re-did everything and had kids playing out of position.
“I wasn’t actually calling plays, I was calling formations, getting the people out on the field and making it up as we went along for who would be able to be out there. It was something I’ve never experienced before. Then on the flip side, I’ve never part of a program that was so undermanned and played so tough and so hard.”
Laramie also came close to scoring its first touchdown of the season when Malone found junior receiver Adrien Calderon for 77 yards, but Calderon fumbled inside the 10-yard line and Natrona recovered it on its own 1.
Natrona (2-1) had a big game from senior running back Luke Spencer, who rumbled for 174 yards on 10 carries. He scored on the Mustangs’ first offensive play of the game from 64 yards out. He also had a 54-yard run for a score midway through the second quarter. He also tallied a touchdown defensively with an 81-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.
Mustangs’ senior quarterback Tyler Hill was 8 of 13 for 148 yards passing, including a touchdown toss of 30 yards to junior receiver Breckin McClintock on the final play of the first quarter. Hill also had a 29-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Kayden Pharr late in the second quarter for a 35-0 halftime lead.
Natrona had 448 total yards of offense, 264 rushing and 184 passing. The one aspect 31-year Mustangs coach Steve Harshman is probably not happy about was 18 penalties for 162 yards.