On a Night 10 when every PRCA world championship was still up for grabs, perhaps nothing better exemplified the excitement of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo than the race for the steer wrestling gold buckle.
A full year of chasing steers came down to the final head in the final round of the final rodeo of the year. And it ended up being thisclose!
Tyler Pearson claimed his first world championship, finishing the season with $265,457, including $155,538 over the past 10 days at the Thomas & Mack Center. A big chunk of that came from Pearson’s second-place finish in the average – his combined total time of 45.90 seconds on 10 head, which was worth $54,577.
Ty Erickson finished second in the world with $263,267, less than $2,200 behind Pearson. How close is that? Well, Erickson took fourth in the 10th go-round, clocking 4.50 seconds to earn $11,000. If he’d gone 4.2 seconds, certainly within his capabilities, Erickson would have taken third in the round, which was worth $15,654. And he’d be the world champion today.
So an entire year literally came down to three-tenths of a second.
“It’s unbelievable,” Pearson said. “I didn’t even know I won it. I didn’t have a clue what I had to do. I thought Ty won, and I was so proud. I was pumped for him. When they said I won, I was pretty excited. It’s just one of them deals that was meant to be.”
It was just one of them deals for several other contestants, as well, on an electric Saturday night to close out the Wrangler NFR’s 33rd year in Las Vegas. So let’s wrap this puppy up!
- Ryder Wright, the 19-year-old saddle bronc prodigy with the strong family lineage in the event, claimed his first world title in just his second season on the PRCA tour. Wright cashed in eight of the 10-go rounds, including four first-place efforts, to pocket $185,577 over 10 days. That pushed his full-season earnings to a first-place total of $284,938.
That was just enough to edge Brody Cress for the crown. Cress, who won the average to collect $67,269, finished with $282,287. So that race was almost as close as the steer wrestling.
Wright’s victory led to a special moment on the arena floor with his dad, two-time saddle bronc world champ Cody Wright.
“He’s the one who handed me the buckle” Ryder said. “It’s pretty special. He’s the reason I want to do this. I just try to do everything my dad’s done.”
And how did the proud papa handle handing over that gold buckle?
“He said, ‘I could just cry for you.’”
- Barrel racing was pretty much a three-way chase by Saturday night, between leader Tiany Schuster, red-hot Wrangler NFR rookie Hailey Kinsel and super-steady Nellie Miller.
Miller didn’t place in the money Saturday night, but her solid 13.85-second run kept her at first in the average, for a $67,269 check that allowed her to leapfrog Kinsel and Schuster and grab her first gold buckle.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Miller, a former UNLV rodeo standout.
“I have a lot of history in Vegas, so it’s nice to be here doing this right now,” Miller said amid a media throng in the press room. “It’s a big deal. Obviously, I’ve never had this happen, so there are almost no words to describe it. You never know where life is gonna take you. This is huge for me and my family.”
- Sage Kimzey made some more history Saturday night, wrapping up his fourth consecutive bull riding world title. And since he’s only been on the PRCA tour for four years, well, he’s never not won the bull riding gold buckle.
“Ever since I was a little kid, this is what I wanted to do,” a beaming Kimzey said. “It was all I’d eat, sleep and breathe since I was 4 years old.”
Kimzey finished out the Wrangler NFR in style with an 88-point ride which not only gave him a first-place check of $28,890, but also secured the average title for another $67,269. That gave Kimzey a whopping season total of $434,479.
- Tim O’Connell was another repeat winner, again tearing it up for 10 days in bareback riding to claim his second gold buckle. He covered all 10 horses and cashed in seven rounds – winning the third go – which allowed him to earn the average title for $67,269. That bumped his season total to $371,415.
No other rider even approached $300,000.
“I didn’t show up here to get on nine. I showed up to get on all 10, win the average and make a statement with a second world title,” O’Connell said.
That statement was heard, loud and clear.
- Tuf Cooper had a great week of tie-down roping, which led to his first all-around cowboy world championship. But for these past 10 days, and therefore for the season overall, nobody roped better than Marcos Costa.
Costa won the Top Gun Award as the contestant with the most Wrangler NFR earnings, piling up $195,519 over 10 days. He cashed in seven of 10 go-rounds, won the average ($67,269) and finished the season with $317,421 to hold off Cooper ($301,983) for the tie-down gold buckle.
The Brazilian also won the final go-round, and that $26,231 check proved the difference in overtaking Cooper.
“I was thinking about just go rope that calf and try and win the title,” Costa said. “God is great to me. I’m the happiest man in the world.”
- Team roping was yet another race that came down to the wire. Header Erich Rogers and heeler Cory Petska took fifth in Saturday’s final go to pocket $6,769, but more important, they finished second in the average for a healthy $54,577 payout apiece.
That gave each roper $265,417 for the year, enough to best second-place tandem Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira by about $10,000.
“That’s the exciting thing about the 10th round. You never know which way it’s gonna go,” Petska said as both he and Rogers snared their first gold buckles. “This is a dream come true. I don’t know when it’s gonna sink in.”