The PRCA's team roping world title race got a whole lot more interesting after Round 9, and the world title will be decided by a one-header between a handful of teams in Round 10.
If the world title race ended after Round 9, and average money were calculated in as it stands, Clay Smith would be the projected world champion on the head side with $247,666.06. Chase Tryan would be the projected world champion on the heel side with $230,248.94.
Here's how we got there: Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira won the ninth round with a 3.6-second run, worth $26,230.77 each. One team later, standings leaders Smith and Jade Corkill took a no-time with a miss on the heel side, putting their driver's seat position in jeopardy. Average leaders Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp won fourth in the round with a 4.5-second run, winning fourth worth $11,000 each. Brenten Hall and Tryan made a third-place, 4.4-second running, jumping them from fifth in the average all the way up to second. Chad Masters and Joseph Harrison won second with a 4.0-second run, jumping from sixth to fourth in the average race.
"I watched the round," Driggers, riding Yahtzee again, said. "I knew exactly what our game plan was, so I was just watching the barrier seeing what was going on. I talked to Riley and Riley said to let him step first, and I didn't. That was the game plan to let him step first, but I went right with him. I kind of got inside a little bit, and I seen the horns so I threw."
Nogueira, who roped a leg in Round 7 but who has otherwise been perfect in the Thomas & Mack in 2019, pulled off a Junior-esque shot for the win.
"I knew we had a great steer, so I really wanted to make sure I didn't push him left, but also I wanted to make sure to go around him," Nogueira said. "Timon, he held his spot good, and he wanted to get inside so I just pick him up just a little bit, and then he goes. When he went, that was perfect but I get, just a little, delay I'd say around him and I couldn't really see him. Then when I come back, he was leaving. When I saw him, I threw a long ways. He just went, and I just let it go. What else we going to do?"
The Round 9 winners aren't willing to let the pressure of Round 10 get to them, and they don't plan to spend time making calculations about what they have to do in Round 10. The PRCA's projected world standings have them at fifth in the world if the event ended after Round 9, winning no average money. Their only choice will be to go for the day money and see how the chips fall.
"We talked about it before; this rodeo, it's like a game," Nogueira said. "It's not over until the 10th round. And in the 10th round anything can happen."
Driggers has been in this position a lot in recent years, having won Round 9 five times in his eight trips to Las Vegas.
"We've been blessed, just like tomorrow you could have a perfect scenario drawn up right now and it can change 10 times with the average and the rounds and everything else," Driggers said. "There's 90-something-thousand to be won tomorrow for first place in both (the average and the go-round) so you don't know... Weird stuff happens in the 10th round that you don't see coming. It's just kind of crazy...In the past, you'll get home and you won't be thinking about it in the moment, but when you get home and you kind of run some numbers or whatever, there's small stuff that you don't think about, where if so-and-so ropes two feet instead of a leg in this spot, or you know... If you're just sitting there watching not paying attention, you don't really pay attention to who does what or whatever. But it's happened to us two different years that, you know, somebody has roped a leg when we needed them to rope two feet, it's always plagued us."
With teams out of the average going for the day money, any one of them could play spoilers in Round 10.
In the all-around race, bull rider Stetson Wright pulled further ahead of Smith by winning fifth in the go-round, moving his all-around earnings to $275,076.41. Smith has $252,171.57, and tie-down roper Tuf Cooper has $222,640.18.
1. Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, 3.6 $26,230.77 each
2. Chad Masters and Joseph Harrison, 4.0, $20,730.77 each
3. Brenten Hall and Chase Tryan, 4.4, $15,653.85 each
4. Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp, 4.5, $11,000 each
5. Tate Kirchenschlager and Tyler Worley, 4.6, $6,769.23 each
6. Riley and Brady Minor, 4.8, $4,230.77 each