Jason Ferguson

The losing streak is over. The monkey is officially off the back.
Powered by a strong performance on both sides of the ball by senior Ryder Bailey, the Custer High School football team snapped the program’s 15-game losing streak last Friday evening at Wildcat Field, defeating Lead-Deadwood 29-19 and allowing the entire program to take a deep breath and release a sigh of relief.
“It feels good for these guys,” Custer head coach Russ Bailey said of the team snapping the losing streak. “As a coach, I love to win games, but I love to win games for kids. I like it when kids win games.”
Coach Bailey said after the team’s 14-0 loss to Vermillion changes would be in store to get the offense going, and the most obvious change was moving to a double wing and making Ryder Bailey the main ball carrier, which paid off in spades as Bailey carried the ball 22 times for 146 yards and three touchdowns.
It’s a change Ryder Bailey was all for.
“I loved it. It was amazing,” he said of the game plan. “It turned out great.”
When he wasn’t leading the team in rushing, Bailey was also leading the team in tackles from his linebacker position with 11 stops.
Coach Bailey said it would have been easy for Ryder to “check it in” and focus on wrestling this year considering how things have gone for the football program in recent years.
“He didn’t. He stuck with it and it’s paid off. Thank goodness he stuck with it, because he had a heck of a game,” he said.
Coach Bailey said Ryder  is also an example younger players can look to as to what can be achieved when they work hard during the offseason.
“This is what happens when you go to the weight room and you work your butt off in the weight room,” he said. “You can play football on his level. He has worked his way into earning what he has got going on right now.”
Ryder had an ear-to-ear grin after the win, grateful to finally come up on the right side of the scoreboard.
“It’s what I’ve been waiting for all along,” he said. “We got our offense going. Our defense has been pretty solid. The offense finally came to play.”
It was Bailey who got the team on the scoreboard first, as he ran untouched around the left side for a 12-yard score and a 7-0 Wildcat lead with 3:22 left in the first quarter after a Bohdan Pesicka extra point.
On the ensuing kickoff the Goldiggers returner was stripped by—you guessed it—Bailey, and the Wildcats recovered to gain possession again from the ’Digger 21. This time the touchdown came from Danny Immormino, who raced around the same left side for a 10-yard score.
The Golddiggers scored on the ensuing possession, as after keeping their drive alive with a first down on a fake punt the ’Diggers connected for a long pass play down the far sideline deep into Wildcat territory. Moments later the ’Diggers were in the end zone, courtesy of a four-yard jaunt by Tyrel Seaman. The score remained 14-7 into the half.
The fourth quarter is when most of the fireworks happened, as one play after the Wildcats were short on a  39-yard field goal attempt the Golddiggers’ Sam Kooima broke loose and raced up the middle for an 80-yard touchdown. The extra point was blocked, leaving the score 14-13 in favor of the Wildcats.
Custer’s very next play resulted in a fumble the Golddiggers recovered, as the ’Diggers began to combat the Wildcat run game with run blitzes and stacked boxes that had eight or nine men.
“They were blitzing up the middle and we weren’t handling it,” Coach Bailey said.
After the recovery the Golddiggers gave the ball to Kooima, who had 163 yards rushing in the game, early and often, riding him down the field until he took a pitch and threw a halfback pass to Mekhi Hayes for a five-yard score.
Coach Bailey said on Custer’s next possession, which was set up with great field position thanks to a 45-yard kick return from Immormino, the Wildcats focused on getting the ball to the perimeter to combat the Lead run blitzes.
“We had to get outside on them and we were blocking better on the outside,” he said.
Ryder Bailey said after the Golddiggers took the lead he knew it was “go time.”
“We had to go. There was no way we were letting that happen,” he said.
Bailey backed up his words and carried the ball twice, the first time for 29 yards and then again 21 yards for a touchdown. A Roland Sedlacek to Kyle Virtue pass for two points put Custer back on top 22-19.
Coach Bailey lauded Sedlacek’s performance in the game, saying the junior quarterback was playing while sick.
“I’m surpised he hung in there as long as he did,” he said. “That was a feat right there.”
The Golddiggers fumbled the ensuing kick return, and once again Ryder Bailey was Johnny on the spot, falling on the ball Virtue had stripped form the returner and setting Custer up with a first and 10 on the ’Digger 29.
The Wildcats used both the run game and some passing to gain the 29 yards, which culminated with the game-clinching one-yard touchdown plunge by Ryder Bailey.
Sedlacek finished the game seven of 13 passing for 59 yards and two interceptions. Virtue was on the receiving end of five of those passes for 47 yards. In addition to Bailey’s 11 tackles, the Wildcats had nine tackles from Brady Virtue and eight stops from Kyle Virtue, who also had a sack.
The Wildcats will now look to build a winning streak when they head 12 miles north to tangle with Hill City Friday evening, with kickoff set for 6 p.m.
The Rangers, who shut out the Wildcats 20-0 a year ago, sit at 3-3 on the season and feature dual-threat quarterback Devin Buehler.
“It’s another game we have to move the ball. The more we have the ball, the less likely he (Buehler) is to break one,” Coach Bailey said. “He’s going to get his plays. Hopefully we can limit him to two or three. We might have to score with them touchdown for touchdown.”

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