National Finals Rodeo: It’s a wrap
LAS VEGAS – Team ropers split the world championship.
The outcome simply wasn’t the one that appeared most likely.
The possibility of a header from one team winning the world championship with a heeler from another partnership became more and more real as the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo wore on, but in a final-round stunner, heeler Jade Corkill came from behind to capture his first gold buckle along with Chad Masters, who won a world championship for the second time.
“I’ve been here five times with a chance to win this, and there have been times I thought I roped good, but things didn’t go my way,” said an emotional Corkill, who heels for Kaleb Driggers. “I guess why it’s hard for me right now is because I’m thinking about if it was supposed to be one guy on our team to be here right now, it should be Kaleb. He roped so good all year, and I know I missed more steers this year than I ever have.”
If the NFR had ended after nine rounds, a split championship would have occurred between Masters and Patrick Smith. However, Driggers and Corkill put together a 4.0-second run that put the pressure on Masters and Clay O’Brien Cooper and Trevor Brazile and Smith.
Masters and Cooper roped their final-round steer in 5.2 seconds, good enough to place fifth in the round, and Driggers and Corkill’s round-winning run held up when Brazile and Smith posted a time of 10.0 seconds.
The result? Masters, thanks to a first-place result in the average, finished with $196,099, topping Driggers by $1,211. And Corkill put $34,159 in his pocket on the final night of the NFR to finish with $190,797, topping Cooper by $1,131.
“It’s kind of like my first (world title) in a way, because I’m not here with my partner,” said Masters, who won ProRodeo’s last split team roping championship in 2007, when Walt Woodard won the heeling gold buckle. “Without Clay O’Brien Cooper, I would never have won this – and not just the roping, but the frame of mind and everything that goes into all of it. It’s great to win it, but I wish he was here sharing it with me.”
While the team roping was tight, no race was closer than the saddle bronc riding.
Cody DeMoss was the only cowboy to ride all 10 horses. He won the 10th round with an 86-point trip aboard Smith, Harper & Morgan Rodeo’s Painted Feather, winning the average with 798.5 points on 10.
But Milford, UT, cowboy Jesse Wright tied for fourth in the round and finished sixth in average, hanging on to win his first gold buckle by just $796.93.
“This is better than what I ever thought it would feel like,” Wright said. “It hasn’t come close to sinking in yet and I can’t comprehend it.
“I didn’t have that great of a Finals, but to come down to the end of it and to ride my horses and win the world title, without being high up in the average, feels outstanding.”
Three of ProRodeo’s world champions from 2011 pulled off a repeat just one year later as steer wrestler Luke Branquinho won his fourth gold buckle and bareback rider Kaycee Feild and tie-down Tuf Cooper each backed up their first.
Branquinho had a steer fall on him in the week leading up to the NFR, then couldn’t get down from his horse, taking a no-time in the very first round.
None of it mattered in the end as the Los Alamos, CA, cowboy cashed in seven of the final nine rounds, including a Round 4 victory, to win the world by $13,898 over Casey Martin.
“That first steer kind of got in front of my hazer and I wasn’t able to get down. The way my knee was feeling, I didn’t feel like I needed to try to double-jump him and possibly injure myself worse,” Branquinho said. “The way it worked out, I’m glad I didn’t. I ended up placing in the average and holding on. Once I placed on that second steer, my knee felt good and I just kind of rolled into it after that.”
Branquinho became the first bulldogger to successfully defend his world championship since Ote Berry in 1990-91 and joined Berry and Jim Bynum in second place all-time with four steer wrestling world titles.
His hazer and friend Les Shepperson won the average with a total of 48.6 seconds on 10 head, rising from 11th to third over the course of 10 days.
No cowboy in any event was more dominant in Las Vegas than Feild.
The Payson, UT, bareback rider placed in eight of 10 rounds, won at least a share of a first-place check in three and finished with $276,850 in season earnings – topping Will Lowe by more than $56,000.
“I’m friends with a lot of past world champions, and they always say the second one is a little more tough than the first one,” Feild said. “I don’t know why, but I found that to be true. To come here and stay on top the whole time in Vegas and stay strong was tough.”
Bobby Mote, who finished third in the average and the world standings this year, was the last bareback rider to win back-to-back world championships in 2009-10. Feild’s father, Lewis, also accomplished the feat in 1985-86.
Cooper joined his father in the club of cowboys who have successfully defended world titles, as well. Roy Cooper won six gold buckles in tie-down roping.
After Justin Maass posted a 13.2-second run, Cooper knew a workman-like run would help him capture another title, and his 7.9-second effort took second in the round and moved him to second in the average.
Cooper finished with $232,885 in 2012, topping Maass by more than $35,000.
“I came in from behind this year and had to rope my way up,” the 22-year-old said. “There’s really nothing that compares to winning the first one. This year, Cody (Ohl) really gave me a run for my money.
“(And) we got to see Justin come a long ways in his roping.”
Bull rider Cody Teel came to his first NFR atop the world standings and he left in the same fashion, though he had to fight tooth and nail, while losing hold of that lead, to get there.
Teel battled with three-time World Champion J.W. Harris over the entire 10 days, with the two of them combining to ride seven bulls. Neither made the eight-second whistle in Round 10, but Teel’s sixth-place finish – Harris finished seventh – in the average made the difference.
Teel edged Harris by $1,056.
“This is what you work all year to do and I think right now that it doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you get the job done,” Teel said. “It’s my first gold buckle and I just couldn’t stop staring at it when they handed it to me.”
While Feild was the top earner among all cowboys, it was barrel racer Mary Walker who captured the Ram Truck Top Gun Award, given to the top earner in a single event at the NFR.
The 53-year-old looked like anything but the NFR rookie that she was, winning $146,941 over 10 days and leaping from third to first in the world standings. Walker won the gold buckle by nearly $70,000 over Carlee Pierce.
Team roper and tie-down roper Trevor Brazile clinched his 17th career gold buckle earlier in the week when he wrapped up his tenth all-around championship. He set a record by winning his seventh straight all-around gold buckle. He finished with $298,626, topping Bobby Mote by more than $88,000. F