Saturday, December 09, 2006

Timed events provide last-day drama at NFR

LAS VEGAS -- With several world titles already decided going into today's final round of the National Finals, it was up to the timed-event contestants to provide the excitement on the last day in front of a record crowd of 18,224 fans at the Thomas & Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Joe Beaver of Huntsville, Texas, had no way to catch Trevor Brazile of Decatur, Texas, for the world all-around cowboy title, but he didn't slow down in the final round and came away with the all-around title for the 2006 Wrangler National Finals.

Beaver and his partner Cole Bigbee of Stephenville, Texas, won the 10th round in the team roping with a time of 3.9 seconds today. Beaver and Bigbee also tied for first in Friday's 9th round and won money in five of the 10 rounds in the event.

The NFR all-around race was tight going into today between Beaver and Brazile, the only two two-event cowboys in this year's National Finals. Brazile and his partner Rich Skelton of Llano, Texas, had also won money in five of the 10 rounds but never place higher than third in a round. In today's final round they recorded a no time, leaving the door open for Beaver.

Beaver closed the door on Brazile in the calf roping. Beaver roped his calf in 8.2 seconds to place fifth in the round, the seventh round in which Beaver placed in the money, including one go-round win in round one.. Brazile's time of 8.6 was good enough for sixth place in the round, and won money in five rounds. Beaver also finished higher in the average in the calf roping, which earned him even more money.

Cody Ohl of Hico, Texas, preserved his first place spot in the average by tying for the win in the round with a run of 7.5 seconds. Scott Kormos of Teague, Texas, also had a 7.5-second time. Ohl had already wrapped up the world title and just missed setting a new average record for the NFR in the event.

In the team roping Chad Masters of Clarksville, Tenn., and Allen Bach of Weatherford, Texas, needed three loops to preserve their top spot in the average with a 20.9-second run. It wasn't pretty but the average money, two round wins and placing in five rounds gave Bach the world title as a heel roper. It wasn't enough to lift Masters to a title spot though, and the team roping world champions were members of different teams for the first time this year. The world champion header is Matt Sherwood of Queen Creek, Ariz. He and his partner, Walt Woodard of Stockton, Calif., turned in a 4.1-second run today to place fourth in the round and place fifth in the average.

In the steer wrestling, Luke Branquinho of Los Alamos, Calif., was leading the world standings by nearly $12,000 before today's round, but that wasn't enough. Dean Gorsuch of Gering, Neb., placed second in the round with a 3.6-second run behind K.C. Jones round-winning time of 3.5 seconds. That $12,662 payday would have been enough to win the title, but Branquinho split third and fourth place money with a run of 3.9 seconds.

However, Gorsuch also won the average title, which added another $41,000 to his winnings, which pushed him past Branquinho for the world title too.

In the barrel racing, Brittany Pozzi of Victoria, Texas, was the biggest money winner in the regular season, and was the picture of consistency in the NFR with 10 penalty-free runs to win the average title. However, she only won money in two rounds. And that was not enough to overcome a run by Mary Burger of Pauls Valley, Okla., who finished third in the average and day-monied the rest of the field to death to earn a world title in her first trip to the NFR.

Burger won money in nine of the 10 rounds, including a second place finish today with a 13.75-second run, her best finish of the NFR.

Burger was also able to hold off a run by Kelly Maben of Spur, Texas, who won five of the 10 rounds, including today's final round, which she won with a time of 13.67 seconds. Maben place in seven of the 10 rounds, but she knocked down barrels in three other rounds, which added 5 seconds onto her times in each of those rounds.

In the saddle bronc event, Jesse Bail of Camp Crook, S.D. and Bryce Miller of Buffalo, S.D., tied for the 10th round win with scored of 89 today. J.J. Elshere took the average title and Chad Ferley punctuated this world title run by scoring 87 points to place third. Cody DeMoss, who was injured two nights ago, did not ride in the final round.

In the bareback riding, three riders split first in the round with 85.5-point scores. They are Bobby Mote of Culver, Ore.; Forest Bramwell of Pagosa Springs, Colo.; and Kelly Timberman of Mills, Wyo. But it was the guy who placed fourth in the round that took home both the average and world titles. Will Lowe of Canyon, Texas, scored the big hardware in the event and 85 points in the round.

In the bull riding, B.J. Schumacher of Hillsboro, Wis., was again one of the few bright spots in the round on his way to the average and world titles. Schumacher had one of only two qualified rides with a spectacular 92.5-point ride on appropriately named bull Cash Prize from Growney Brothers. In an event plagued by injuries with three cowboys out and buckoffs round after round, Schumacher had eight qualified rides out of the 10 rounds. The next closest cowboy was Bobby Welsh of Gillette, Wyo., with five scores.

Fred Boettcher of Rice Lake, Wis., had the only other qualified ride of the day with an 84.5-point score on the bull Biloxi Blues from Southwick Robertson Wilson.


I'm not quite sure when I became a rodeo fan, but early on, when I was covering rodeos (namely the Pendleton Round-Up) as a photographer, my favorite events were the rough stock events. They made the most spectacular pictures and you could get closest to the action, to take those photos, although not without some peril due to the unpredictability of where the animals may go.

But over the years, I've come to appreciate the timed events more. Maybe that's because I've aged, and those are events that the more veteran cowboys can still be competitive in. Guys like Allen Bach, who won a world title this year at age 49 and has qualified for the NFR 24 times, can compete with those young guys.

I've also grown to appreciate the barrel racing too. In some of my early trips to the NFR, the barrel racing was my cue to get up and go to the restroom or get another beer. But this year, the barrel racers provided some of the best excitement of the NFR. They set two new arena records. You had a tight race for the title and some amazingly fast times. I feel kind of bad for Kelly Maben, who was far and away the fasted run after run over the 10 days. But for penalties in three runs, she would undoubtedly be the average and world champion. But you have to feel good for Mary Burger, who at 58 was making her first trip to the NFR and earns a world title to boot.

It's been a memorable NFR. Thanks for letting me share some of my thoughts and observations on the last few days with you.

My traveling companions, mostly farmers and ranchers from Umatilla County in Oregon, will be heading back home tomorrow. Since we're traveling with a group, the hotel staff where we are staying is going to start picking out bags up at 4:45 a.m. in the morning, and we'll be loading onto a bus about 6 a.m. So now, the last big question of my Vegas trip is whether to pull an all nighter and sleep on the plane trip home, or catch a little shut eye.

Prudence dictates sleep. But who practices prudence in Las Vegas?

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