Erich Rogers and Cory Petska are in the driver's seat heading into Rounds 9 and 10 of the 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, but Luke Brown and Jake Long are doing everything they can to make it a fight to the end.
Brown and Long split the go-round with Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill tonight, both with 4.1-second runs worth $23,480.77 a man.
Tryan and Corkill roped seventh out, with Dustin Egusquiza and Kory Koontz's 4.2-second run winning the rodeo. Tryan stole a start, got it on him fast, and Corkill was there to clean it up.
"I took a bull-dogging start," Tryan said. "I don't know how I got out the barrier but I did."
"I was a little early," Corkill said. "When Petska and them had him, he didn't go left. Since he did, I got more of a jump on him."
Two teams later, Riley and Brady Minor, who were second in the average heading into the round, went out with a miss on the head side, opening the door for Brown and Long even further. And Brown, who studies the projected world standings put out nightly by the PRCA, knew it.
"Tonight I actually didn't like our steer," Brown said. "I was just trying not to mess up but got a good enough go, and it worked out."
The flag fell in 4.1 for Brown and Long's third go round win of the week.
"Luke turns every steer really, really fast," Long said. "I've got more faith in Luke than anybody. I never expect him to mess up and he barely ever does."
Long doesn't look at the standings like his partner does, a lesson he learned in 2016.
"I personally haven't looked at anything this year," Long said. "Last year I was pretty on top of what I needed to do, so my approach this year has been to win as much as we possibly can. Hopefully we'll be in a spot to at least have a throw for it, and I'm going to try to go as fast as I can and get it done this time."
Brown and Long have earned $98,846.15 a man this week and have $210,457.43 and $201,928.64 won, respectively, on the year. They're 36.20 seconds on seven head, putting them third in the average behind Rogers and Petska and Chad Masters and Travis Graves. At present, that puts Brown first in the world ahead of Erich Rogers, and Long second behind Cory Petska. But, when average money is added in as if the rodeo ended tonight, Rogers and Petska would be the world champs.
"I've missed to win it a couple times, and it didn't change my life the next day," Brown, who has three WNFR average titles, said. "But it would be nice to go through the whole week and feel like I did a good job. If I can finish out turning all my steers, that would probably mean more to me than actually winning it."
Rogers and Petska are 45.60 seconds on eight head, and tied for third and fourth in the ninth round with a 4.2-second run. They've won $70,358.96 a man this WNFR, and have $204,070.58 a man on the year.
Round 8 was another tough go for Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, who were 11.6 including a leg. When Nogueira dallied, he cut both his thumb and his ring finger on his right hand.
1./2. Luke Brown and Jake Long and Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, 4.1, $23,480.77 each
3./4. Erich Rogers and Cory Petska and Dustin Egusquiza and Kory Koontz, 4.2, $13,326.92 each
5. Chad Masters and Travis Graves, 4.3, $6,769.23 each
6. Garrett Rogers and Jake Minor, 4.7, $4,230.77 each