- Neal Reid
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Steer wrestler Dean Gorsuch didn't sleep well the night of Dec. 8, and who could blame him? He was locked in a battle with friend Luke Branquinho, the 2004 World Champion, for the gold buckle, and a single run would determine the outcome.
Branquinho (Los Alamos, Calif.) had been red-hot in Las Vegas and led the world standings entering Round 10, but Gorsuch had a firm grip on the average lead. A solid run by Gorsuch would seal the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo average for him and, as a result, would also give Gorsuch a gold buckle to compare to Branquinho's.
Gorsuch closed the door with a 3.6-second run that put him in second place behind K.C. Jones, while Branquinho fought hard with a 3.9-second effort that left him just short. In the end, it was Gorsuch taking the average and world titles, a sweep that left him overwhelmed with pride.
"It means a lot. I've always wanted it since I was a little kid, so it's awesome," said Gorsuch, who finished the season with $194,268. "I felt like I bulldogged well. It's just so easy here (Wrangler NFR) to have things go wrong, and everything went well this week. It felt good all week long, and I just praise the Lord that it went this well."
Gorsuch, who placed in five rounds, won the fifth round with a 3.9-second run. He had the benefit of riding three-time PRCA/AQHA Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year Zan, owned by Jim Burks.
"That horse is the most amazing horse I've ever ridden, and he just makes my job a lot easier," Gorsuch said. "He just lets you go out and do your job and is never going to get in your way. That horse always works the same every time, whether you screw up or not."
Gorsuch (Gering, Neb.) didn't make many gaffs in his second trip to the Wrangler NFR, but it was Branquinho who thrilled the crowd throughout the week. The California cowboy, who missed last year's Wrangler NFR after tearing a pectoral muscle, won the first round with a 3.7-second run, the third with a run of 3.5 seconds, a share of the sixth with a 3.7-second run and the seventh with a time of 3.9 seconds. Branquinho won $95,612 in Las Vegas to finish the season with $180,308.
That put the heat on Gorsuch, who came into the 10-day event atop the world standings and with a target on his back. Gorsuch said that mental pressure was harder to deal with than the physical strain of the event.
"It was more mental than physically because we bulldog a lot," Gorsuch said. "It's not the physical part, we know how to do that. You've got to be on the top of your game mentally, and that's your biggest deal there. You've got to get over the mental part because you can beat yourself just as easily as anything.
"You've got to run at it because they're going to run at you. So, if you don't do something, those guys are going to run at it to try and beat you. The 15th guy wants to win a world title too."
Gorsuch, who won $83,209 at the Finals, said winning the world title after 10 tough days battling his friends made the triumph even more special.
"It feels really good," Gorsuch said of winning his new gold buckle. "That's why it means a lot. We're all good friends, and that's what means more to me than anything. I'm rodeoing with guys who are my idols. Luke and I rodeoed all year and are like best friends, and it's amazing that we can be as close as we are."
If you look up "friendly competition" in the dictionary, you might find a photo of steer wrestlers Dean Gorsuch and Luke Branquinho.