Photos by Kirt Steinke
Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira have had a tame week for the dynamic duo who amassed $122,000 in earnings in just four short months in ProRodeo, but that changed when they made the fastest run of the rodeo in Round 5 with a 4.0. Canadians Levi Simpson and Jeremy Buhler would tie that 4.0 four teams later to give each man $23,480.77.
"We've had kind of a slow start," Driggers said. "We made some good runs, but just been on the bottom of them a little bit. Bigger steers, you can't rope them as fast. Last night we had one that wasn't the favorite, and he fought the chute really bad, and I ended up just having to take him. Unfortunately I missed. So we went back and regrouped today, tried to clear our minds and not worry about anything."
When Driggers and Nogueira backed into the box as the seventh team out, Clay Smith's and Paul Eaves' 5.5 was the only smooth run. The smaller, snappier steer they drew in Round Four let things happen quickly, and with Nogueira back on his grey mare, Hali, the flag fell in 4.0 seconds.
Four teams later, Levi Simpson and Jeremy Buhler opted to stay aggressive and go at their steer, tying Driggers' and Nogueira's mark.
"I watched the round but when I rode in the box I didn't know what happened," Simpson said. "We wanted to go at every one."
"Our steer was real good," Buhler added. "Levi did an awesome job, got out of the barrier real good and roped him real fast. He's done awesome the first five rounds. I let a couple get away there that I probably should have roped two feet on. But here every night is so good that it's pretty hard to stay down when you get another real good chance for a lot of money."
This is Nogueira's first go-round win in his three trips to the WNFR, coming despite a sports hernia that's affected his signature ability to ride and throw farther out of his saddle than most heelers.
"We went to a jackpot after Pasadena, and they were slow steers," Nogueira said. "We weren't going fast. I heeled one and pulled my slack and felt everything pull in my leg and up into my stomach. We ran four more steers, loaded everything up and drove back to his house four hours. I couldn't get out of the truck. I had hernia surgery a long time ago on the same side. I went to the doctor and he said I tore a muscle in my groin and stretched muscles in my belly. I went to jackpots before the USTRC Finals, and then took a couple days off. It didn't heal up and I had to get to practicing before the Finals. I've been going to Justin Sports Medicine and they've been working on me twice a day."
Despite a leg in Round 5, Luke Brown and Jake Long remain in the lead in the average with a 28.60 on five. Simpson and Buhler are second with a 31.70 on five, and Erich Rogers and Cory Petska are third with a 33.20 on five. Driggers and Nogueira are the fastest on four with 19.00 on four head for fourth in the average, and they're sitting second in the PRCA's world standings with $173,591.66 behind Brown's $178,935.76 and Long's $175,591.16.
Nogueira also made a big jump in the all-around race, moving ahead of Dustin Bird to the number-one spot with $175,036.02. Bird missed his fifth-round steer to keep his total to $167,924.63.
1/2. Driggers/Nogueira and Simpson/Buhler, 4.0, $23,480.77
3. Rogers/Petska, 4.2, $15,653.85
4. Sherwood/Kesler, 4.3, $11,000
5. Smith/Eaves, 5.5, $6,769.23
6. Wade/Kirchenschlager, 9.4, $4,230.77