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Late comebacks make for close event finishes on final night of National Finals Rodeo

The final go-round provided plenty of late comebacks as the 10-day National Finals Rodeo wrapped up at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday night.

Here’s a look at the winners:

ALL-AROUND

CHAMPION: Junior Nogueira

Nogueira, who entered the NFR in first place, edged back into first on the last night, jumping over Dustin Bird, Clayton Hass and Russell Cardoza.

Nogueira and his partner, Kaleb Driggers, finished sixth on Saturday and fourth in the aggregate standings to push him over the edge.

TOP THREE: 1. Junior Nogueira, $231,728.33; 2. Clayton Hass, at $228,107.76 3; Clay Smith at $215,923.94

BAREBACK RIDING

WORLD CHAMPION: Tim O’Connell

NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Tim O’Connell

10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: R.C. Landingham

O’Connell has been steadily rising to the top since finishing as the Rookie of the Year in 2013. In 2014, he moved up to eighth place and last year, fourth.

On Saturday, he became a world champion, sealing his first gold buckle while also taking first in the aggregate standings.

“It puts my mark down that this was my year, and I didn’t leave any doubt about it,” he said. “But that takes nothing away from those other 14 bareback riders because this is the best group of bareback riders that has ever hit this building.

STEER WRESTLING

WORLD CHAMPION: Tyler Waguespack

NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Tyler Waguespack

10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: J.D. Struxness

Like O’Connell, Waguespack became a first-time gold buckle winner on Saturday, capping a successful second NFR.

“This is something I’ve worked for since I was a little kid. Every day when I came home from school, my dad and I got in the practice pen, and all the long hours and all the years of practice finally did pay off,” Waguespack said.

TEAM ROPING

WORLD CHAMPION: Levi Simpson, Jeremy Buhler

NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Levi Simpson, Jeremy Buhler

10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: Zac Small/Wesley Thorp and Levi Simpson/Jeremy Buhler

Simpson and Buhler were the first all-Canadian roping team coming into this year’s NFR.

Now they’re the first all-Canadian roping team to leave Las Vegas with a gold buckle.

The pair made up significant ground over the 10 days, overtaking leaders Luke Brown and Jake Long on the last night of competition.

“We knew there was a mathematical chance, but with the guys roping behind us, we figured we’d win some money and that was it,” Simpson said. “Then we won the average and I was jumping for joy.”

SADDLE BRONC RIDING

WORLD CHAMPION: Zeke Thurston

NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Zeke Thurston

10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: Cody Wright

Thurston, a 22-year-old, notched a come-from-behind victory on Saturday, overtaking world leader Jacobs Crawley on the last day.

Thurston finished first in the aggregate standings, while Crawley finished in a tie for fifth, allowing Thurston to edge him out by $2831.39 to take the gold buckle.

TIE-DOWN ROPING

WORLD CHAMPION: Tyson Durfey

NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Riley Pruitt

10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: Caleb Smidt

Durfey won out in another tight, exciting battle, overtaking leader Marcos Costa on the final night.

Only $6,872.52 separated Durfey from third-place finisher Hunter Herrin.

Durfey, meanwhile, came into the competition in 14th and jumped all the way to first.

BARREL RACING

WORLD CHAMPION: Mary Burger

NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Lisa Lockhart

10TH GO-ROUND WINNER:

Burger, the oldest NFR qualifier at 68, held down the big lead she came in with, winning the gold buckle on Saturday.

Amberleigh Moore, who finished second in the aggregate standings, challenged her over the 10 days and finished just $10,793.24 behind her but Burger’s sizable lead helped her take first.

BULL RIDING

WORLD CHAMPION: Sage Kimzey

NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Shane Proctor

10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: Garrett Smith

Kimzey couldn’t have started his career in a much better way, finishing his third season with his third gold buckle.

Kimzey came in with the lead and held off strong NFR performances from Proctor and Brennon Eldred, who both bucked off on Saturday.

Contact Betsy Helfand at bhelfand@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BetsyHelfand on Twitter.

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