Jake Long will rope at his 12th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo come December, entering rodeo’s fourth quarter second in the PRCA World Standings with $119,807.66.
But the pressure is still on in a big way, as the Coffeyville, Kansas heeler has to stay hooked to guarantee his header, two-time World Champion Clay Smith, a spot in Las Vegas.
On Sunday, September 4, Smith and Long got the win in Ellensburg, Washington, worth $8,495 a man with a short-round and first-round win in addition to their 14.9-on-three average W.
“That was a big moment for us,” Long said. “We dang sure needed to catch that steer and do good. Winning first place wasn’t necessarily on our minds, but we knew we needed to catch and place top three or four. But, if you don’t have a little bit of nerves, you’re not telling the truth.”
That jumped Smith from 20th to 14th in the PRCA World Standings, the first time he’d been within the top 15 since mid-July following the neck-rope accident that broke two bones in his lower leg in Prescott, Arizona in late June.
“When the new week starts, it’s like you take a deep breath and we’re all back to square one again,” Smith said. “It makes me breathe a little easier, but I know it’s not even close to being over. It’s nice to be back even again with everybody. Now I don’t have to run over the top of myself. I just need to do my job. I’m real thankful I’ve even got a chance to do this, because I didn’t know. I was hoping to do good but you don’t know how it will go until you do it. I’m grateful it’s gone as good as it has, but I haven’t roped that good. Things went right, and Jake’s roped really good for me. I’m ready for it to be over with.”
Smith and Long followed that up with splitting the win in Blackfoot, Idaho, at the Gem State ProRodeo Sept. 7 with a 5.2-second run, worth $1,545 a man. Smith is 14th with $78,327.54 won.
Smith and Long will rope at the $1-million Cinch Playoff at Puyallup this weekend, hoping to get to this year’s predicted magic safe number of $85,000 to secure Smith’s spot in the Thomas & Mack alongside his partner.
“Ultimately you’re just going to have to rope good,” Long said. “It’s coming down to the end and we have to do good. But it comes down to making good runs and doing good at the rodeos.”
Smith and Long don’t have to worry about the 75-rodeo limit that many other team ropers are facing, so they’re entered up through the end of September.
“It feels like down to 20th has a really good chance still. But we’re prepared to do whatever it takes at this point. I think to give ourselves a finishing point, if we can get to $85,000, that should be enough. I don’t remember at the past everybody at the bottom winning like this. You think someone is slipping too far, and they win $6,000 or $7,000, and they’re right back in it. It’s probably as deep a field as I’ve seen in these last three weeks. Part of that is that there are three veterans at the bottom with Clay, Erich Rogers and Aaron Tsinigine too. They’ve been there and done that, and it makes it tougher.”