Blake Knowles at NFR

Heppner cowboy Blake Knowles (right) slides down onto his steer during the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Knowles finished third at the NFR in steer wrestling and ninth in the world standings. At left is hazer Matt Reeves.

It’s been a year to remember for Heppner’s Blake Knowles.

Fresh off a third-place finish in the steer wrestling at the National Finals Rodeo, Knowles said he enjoyed every minute of his time in Las Vegas.

“We had a fun time,” said Knowles, who was competing in his fourth NFR. “There is never a guy down there who appreciates it more than me. I will meet with fans, sign autographs. You are excited for the opportunity to compete — it’s a sense of accomplishment.”

Knowles, 33, placed in two rounds at the NFR, and finishing third, he pocketed a nice chunk of change. When it was all said and done, he finished ninth in the world standings with a career-high in earnings of $162,669.

“I’m happy. It turned out pretty well,” said Knowles, who also qualified for the NFR in 2009, 2011 and 2015. “I was fortunate to have good year. Now, you pick it apart to see where you could have done better. You can always make it better.”

Knowles started his run at the NFR with a 3.8-second performance in the first round at Thomas & Mack Center — good enough for second place and a check for $20,730.

In the fourth round, he split third and fourth place with Blake Mindemann, good for $13,326.

In the seventh round, he broke the barrier. If not, his time of 3.7 seconds would have landed him in a tie for third/fourth and another nice payday.

He was fifth overall after eight rounds, but runs of 5.3 and 8.3 seconds in the final two rounds bumped him up to third.

“There is an opportunity to win each night,” Knowles said. “It’s a pretty good crown for the guy who wins the average. I was hoping to scratch out a little bit more, but consistency is what you strive for. I broke the barrier at 3.7 and that hurt pretty bad. Sometimes you have hiccups along the way.”

Louisiana cowboy Tyler Waguespack won the NFR steer wrestling title, winning two rounds, placing second in another, and third/fourth in Round 7.

Knowles got a helping hand along the way in Las Vegas from Dakota Eldridge, who let Knowles borrow his horse Rusty. He also got veteran Matt Reeves to be his hazer.

In both cases, Knowles paid them a percentage of his earnings.

“He was awesome. I was fortunate to get to ride that horse,” Knowles said. “Luke Branquinho rode Rusty for a (NFR) win or two, and Matt has hazed for that horse several times. The guy who placed second (Bridger Chambers) rode that horse. Says so much about that horse. Shows how awesome he is. They won Pendleton on him, and they have won the NFR on him several times.”

“It’s like getting to the Super Bowl, then calling the Patriots to borrow Tom Brady.”

Knowles said he received tons of support from Eastern Oregon on social media during his time at the NFR, and it was much appreciated.

“We don’t take that for granted,” he said. “With special media, you are available on Facebook and they text you. It’s amazing how much support there is out there. The NFR is huge in Eastern Oregon.”

Trevor Brazile, who before the NFR said he was going to scale back his rodeo appearances in 2019, won his PRCA-record 14th all-round title. His win in Round 10 of the tie-down roping gave him enough money to surpass his brother-in-law Tuf Cooper.

“What a wonderful ending to a great story,” Knowles said of Brazile. “When the spotlight shines the brightest, he is at his best.”

Caleb Smidt won the NFR tie-down title by nearly 5 seconds on 10 runs over Rhen Richard.

In bull riding, Sage Kimzey became the first competitor in the NFR era to win five consecutive world championships. Jim Shoulders won six in a row (1954-59), but that was before the NFR.

Chase Dougherty won the NFR bull riding title with 167 more points than runner-up Joe Frost.

Tim O’Connell split the NFR aggregate in bareback riding with Steven Dent, and won his third consecutive world title.

Coburn Bradshaw won the NFR title in the saddle bronc, while Wade Sundell won the world title.

Aaron Tsinigine (header) and Trey Yates (heeler) won the team roping title in Las Vegas by a wide margin, while Carman Pozzobon won the barrel racing.

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