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Chase Dougherty

Chase Dougherty records an 89.5 during the eighth round of bull riding at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas on Thursday. 

LAS VEGAS — Chase Dougherty liked everything about attending Montana State University.

He enjoyed his classes, the campus, the community, his coaches, and making new friends with his fellow members of the rodeo program.

And there was an added bonus.

“I got to ride two bulls a week,” said the long cowboy from Canby, Oregon.

But as much as he savored his experience at MSU, he craved more.

Dougherty had a goal, a dream that dominated his thoughts every day.

Dougherty wanted to be a world champion bull rider.

And to accomplish that, he had to become a full-time professional rodeo cowboy.

“The only reason I’m still not there was to chase this dream,” Dougherty said of MSU. “I loved Bozeman. My time there was awesome.”

The 20-year-old is getting closer to making his dream a reality with each passing year.

Dougherty was a Bobcat for a year and a half, attending school from 2016-17 while majoring in accounting before leaving to hit the rodeo road. He finished 19th in the world standings in 2017.

This year, he’s announced himself among the PRCA’s elite, qualifying for his first National Finals Rodeo and having won the most money among the bull riders through the first eight rounds of the National Finals.

Through Thursday night, Dougherty had ridden five bulls, including back-to-back wins in rounds seven and eight. He’s earned $114,429 at The Thomas and Mack Center and was just two points behind Joe Frost, of Randlett, Utah in the high-paying average.

“That was my goal, to win the average,” Dougherty said. “I wanted to get the average and ride at least half the bulls I got on. It’s all falling together now.”

He and Frost had matching 89.5-point rides in the eighth round. The 89.5 points is his high-mark ride of the NFR.

“I got my hand stuck and scared myself into staying on,” Dougherty joked of his second straight round victory. “I had no choice but to hang on and ride.

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“It doesn’t matter what I get on, I got here for a reason and there’s no reason not to ride what’s under me.”

The 5-foot-11 Dougherty was also second in the second and sixth rounds, along with placing sixth in the opening round. The money won has lifted him to third in the world standings behind four-time world champion Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Oklahoma, and Edgar’s Parker Breding.

Dougherty came to his first NFR fifth in the world standings. His regular-season wins included Denver, Salinas, California, and the Columbia River Circuit Finals title to jump-start his 2018.

He also competed at the PRCA NILE in Billings in October and stuck around to hang out with his MSU buddies. Along with his friends, Dougherty still keeps in contact with MSU rodeo coach Andy Bolich.

“I talked to him today,” Dougherty said Thursday. “When I left school, he supported my decision. He understood what I needed to do.”

And while he’s got a handle on the bull riding, riding horseback for the nightly grand entry has tested his skill set.

“I’m not super horse savvy, but I get by,” he said with a smile. “But it’s cool because I get to carry the flag representing Oregon.”

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Email Joe Kusek at joe.kusek@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJoe

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