DECATUR, Texas – Jess Lockwood, still gnawing on his mouthpiece, grabbed his bull rope and briskly walked out of the arena to a dark corner of the Wise County Fairgrounds.
Even the blackness behind the grandstands couldn’t cover the blood rushing to his cheeks as he tried to contain the rage building inside him after being bucked off by SweetPro’s Bruiser.
Meanwhile, seconds later, Derek Kolbaba hung his head low and took his rope to the same dark corner where the two standout rookies had prepared their ropes earlier in the evening with the highest of expectations for the Young Guns Challenge at the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge BlueDEF Tour event.
There was no questioning the talent or try of the two 2016 Rookie of the Year contenders Saturday night, but they were unable to conquer two of the strongest beasts the PBR has to offer just yet in their budding careers.
Lockwood appeared poised for a winning ride, handling Bruiser’s initial couple of lengthy jumps and turns with the poise of a veteran. Then at the 6.57-second mark, Bruiser gave a friendly reminder that Jared Allen’s Air Time and SweetPro’s Long John aren’t the only two bulls with the ability to switch into high-gear in a millisecond and heaved the 130-pound rider into the Decatur dust.
“He was good. That is Bruiser,” Lockwood said shaking his head toward the ground. “He is going to go one way and switch it up the other. He let me know he was going the other way and I was ready. I was just a tick out of there and just missed the corner by a bit. I tried to cut loose and Cody Lambert said I missed the front by just half an inch. From there, if you are not going front you are going back and that’s what happened.”
Lambert felt that Lockwood would have earned at least a 94-point ride. It was just last summer when 2015 Rookie of the Year Kaique Pacheco made one of the best rides of the year in Guymon, Oklahoma with 94 points on Bruiser.
There was no memorable ride score in Decatur, though. Instead, it was Bruiser taking high-marked bull honors with 46.5 points.
Bruiser leads the PBR with four bull scores of 46 points or higher at all levels of competition.
“I don’t think there has ever been a better bull in PBR history than Bruiser,” D&H Cattle Company stock contractor H.D. Page said Friday. “That is just what I think. I am not going to say he is the rankest bull in the arena, but I don’t think there has ever been one better.”
Air Time and Long John were marked 45.5 points in Decatur and each have two scores of 46 points or higher this year.
Air Time throttled Young Guns Challenge winner Cooper Davis in 2.58 seconds during the $50,000 bounty showdown, while Long John used a series of endless high kicks to dismantle Kolbaba in 4.75 seconds.
“Well, Air Time and Bruiser and Long John all did great,” Lambert said.
Kolbaba did a good job in the opening seconds climbing to the front of Long John as the defending World Champion Bull came out of the chute strong and honest. The Walla Walla, Washington, bull rider simply ran out of arm as Long John kept coming at him with kick after kick.
“Shoot, he gets pretty steep when he kicks and I just needed to get sat down a little more and set up my base a little better than I did,” Kolbaba said. “When I didn’t, my feet come up pretty quick and it all went to hell and a handbasket.”
As impressive as the bovine talent was in the Young Guns Challenge, the BlueDEF Tour event also had its share of bull power that saw only one qualified ride against the ABBI Classic bulls, but Lambert was more excited about the effort he saw from the group of kids in the bonus round.
“Those guys are really good. It is so exciting,” Lambert said. “They are as good as we hoped they would be. The thing is, Derek will pick Long John again and he will ride Long John. Jess will pick Bruiser and he will ride Bruiser over and over again. He is going to win a lot of money on that bull. He is a little disappointed now because he let it get away, but I expect those guys to go off on those big bulls and Air Time too.”
Following the event, Lockwood and Kolbaba enthusiastically talked about what each other’s opponents did to defeat them under the Texas nighttime sky.
Both already were salivating at the thought of a rematch against the dynamic D&H Cattle Company duo.
“That won’t be the last time I get on that bull, that is for damn sure,” Kolbaba said. “He bucks hard, but he feels good doing it. If I get a chance to pick him, I’m probably going to take him.”
Lockwood has had a rough go of it in his last two events after taking on Air Time at Last Cowboy Standing and Bruiser this weekend.
The 18-year-old laughed about the recent humility the sport has given him since his early season success. Despite the last two events ending in frustration, Lockwood is also thinking about a “dream” rematch.
“That bull really bucks, but he feels really, really good,” he said. “Air Time bucks and he doesn’t feel good. He is strong, but Bruiser is a dream to get on. I can’t wait.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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