BILLINGS – Dakota Louis certainly has a flair for the dramatic.
When the Professional Bull Riders Cooper Tires Invitational began Friday night at First Interstate Arena, the Browning cowboy was on the outside looking in at qualifying for the PBR World Finals.
He was 39th in the world standings and the top 35 would qualify. Louis also had an chance of competing at the PBR World Finals, May 13-22 in Fort Worth, Texas with a strong showing at the upcoming Velocity Tour Finals.
But Billings was the final event, his last opportunity, on the PBR’s Unleash the Beast tour.
By early Sunday evening, Louis had more than qualified for his second PBR World Finals.
He won the first top-tier event of his PBR career that began in 2011 the same year he graduated high school.
Louis delivered a monster 91-point ride aboard the bull Drago in the championship round for the victory.
He posted rides of 88.5, 85.75 and 91 points for 265.25 points and the biggest win of his professional career. The 91 points was his first 90-point ride of the season and fourth of his career.
Louis earned 134 points to rocket from 39th the 22nd in the world standings. He earned $47,411 in Billings.
“This has been a lifelong goal and to achieve this … “ said a happy Louis, his voice trailing off. “You know, this has been a long time coming.
“It goes to show, it doesn’t matter where come from, if you want it bad enough, it’s possible. This is huge.”
Matt Triplett, formerly of Columbia Falls, finished 16th at Billings and qualified 27th for the PBR World Finals.
Louis becomes the third cowboy from Montana to win the state’s premier bull riding event. Clint Branger won the inaugural NILE Invitational in 1993 before it was sanctioned by the PBR and Jess Lockwood won in 2016.
Louis opened the weekend with an 88.5-point ride to share first place with Kaique Pacheco, the 2018 PBR world champion. The first round was not decided until Saturday night. Louis and 20 other competitors were in Grand Forks, North Dakota for a Velocity Tour event.
Louis had trouble with his own truck Friday, taking it to the shop for repairs. Borrowing Matt Triplett’s vehicle, Louis along with bull riders Silvano Alves and Conner Halverson left Billings at 5 a.m. on Saturday for Grand Forks.
“We split the driving,” he said. “Connor and I drove the speed limit. I fell asleep and about two and half hours out, I heard Connor yelling at Silvano, ‘You don’t have to go 100 miles an hour.’ “
Louis was bucked off at Grand Forks. The trio departed at 10:30 p.m. after the event and pulled back into Billings at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.
“It was definitely not worth it,” Louis said with a big smile. “I got bucked off. I would have rather been in the stands Saturday night watching in Billings.”
The opening round victory was enough to get Louis into the top 35. He qualified for his first PBR World Finals in 2020.
The three-time Indian National Finals Rodeo champion, followed with a ride of 85.5 points in the second round. He was ruled initially to have touched the bull at 5.66 seconds but the decision was waved off, bringing a big smile from the competitor.
With the first pick for the championship round, Louis selected WSM’s Trail of Tears. He was fouled at the gate and bucked off at 5.53 second. He earned the re-ride opportunity on Drago.
“With the bull riders here and the bulls we had, you definitely had to bring you’re A game,” Louis said.
Lucas Divino of Brazil went 92 points – the high-mark ride of the event – to take the overall lead in the final round.
Louis was the final rider of the event. Everyone in the building was standing.
“You have to let the pressure play to your advantage,” he explained. “I came here with the mindset to win first.”
He used a basketball analogy for his biggest moment.
“As an athlete, it’s all you can ask for. To have the ball in your hands in the fourth quarter,” he finished.
Louis hit the game-winning ride. The dramatic victory drew a flurry of cowboy hats tossed into the arena by his peers and a handful poured over the bucking chutes to join Louis in his celebration.
Louis and Divino were the only two riders to cover all three bulls.
“It’s such a crazy time,” said Louis, pausing to greet a growing line of well-wishers. “I am truly blessed for sure.”
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