SHERIDAN — Win and you’re set.
Easier said than done.
Still in control of their own destiny, the Broncs host 4A defending champ Natrona Friday night as they take another step toward securing the No. 2 seed for the 4A playoffs.
Friday has the look of another classic fight atop 4A football, something Sheridan and Natrona have been known for lately. Teams are 4-4 in their matchups since 2007, during Broncs coach Don Julian’s tenure.
Last year, in an early season No. 1-No. 2 matchup, the Broncs fell 38-13 in Sheridan.
This go-round, the stakes are a little higher as teams scramble for the postseason.
“We’ve had a good week,” Julian said, his team hot off a 47-7 win in Cheyenne over Central. “It was a great Friday last Friday and I think that’s carried over into practices this week. It’s been a good week so far.”
The Broncs anticipated this three-week stretch — Gillette, Central and Natrona — as the grinding test in their eight-week regular season schedule, and Julian said the squad is about where they were a week ago health-wise as they enter what should be another battle.
Friday, they meet a Natrona team whose state-title defense hasn’t gone as they might have planned.
Perhaps beyond unlucky this season, the Mustangs lost 42-41 in triple overtime on a botched snap to East in week 2, then 24-23 to Gillette in overtime in week 4 before losing the Oil Bowl to Kelly Walsh 21-20 in overtime two weeks ago.
“They’re very dangerous — they’re three points away from being undefeated, as everybody knows,” Julian said. “They’ve got good personnel and they are a very physical team, and they pride themselves on that. Again, it will be a very physical ball game, a very physical Friday night. We have to match that.”
The Broncs have worked hard at holding their own against big teams like Natrona, preaching physical play at the line of scrimmage.
Their run-run-pass explosive potential will key that mindset Friday, while their defense goes in with a goal of winning the battle in the trenches.
“They’ve got a nice scat back, he’s leading the state this week in overall yardage, a couple of good-sized receivers,” Julian said.
Stevann Brown is averaging 101.1 yards per game for the Mustangs, with seven touchdowns and 708 total yards in 2013. Dan Sessions closely trails Brown with 99.9 yards per game and eight scores. The Mustangs quarterback, Sam Turner, is behind only Sheridan’s Kameron Eckard in 4A yards. Eckard has thrown 11 TDs to 6 picks, where Turner has thrown 12 and 4.
But Julian knows the run game dictates everything.
“They like to run the ball first,” he said. “So that’s a real big emphasis area for us, to try to slow that run game. They’ve got some good-sized linemen that are good blockers, so we’ve got to defeat blocks with our linebackers.”
A win Friday would put the Broncs in a good position, entering their final game against winless Cheyenne South next week. Having defeated Cheyenne East (6-1) the Broncs hold the tie-breaker in the case that Gillette (7-0) wins out. The Camels play Laramie before closing against Cheyenne East next weekend.
Sheridan could fall to the No. 3 seed if they lose this week, and East beats Gillette next Friday.
The magnitude Friday’s implications speaks for itself.
“We’re happy to be at home after being on the road for a couple of weeks, we’ve put a lot of prep into this game. It’s an important game for both teams in the way of seeding.”
“I think we’re a fairly confident football team, we’re still focused on being more physical on both sides of the ball, but executing on offense,” he said.
“We did a better job of sustaining drives and executing last week.”
Sheridan and Natrona kick at 7 p.m. Friday. Past and present military members get into Friday’s game for free, and they will be honored at halftime of the game. The school hopes to make the military appreciation night an annual event.
By the numbers:
Sheridan has a -2 turnover ratio this season, compared to the Mustangs +8. Natrona has 9 fumble recoveries an 12 interceptions this season, but has allowed the most passing yards of any 4A school, 1,249. Sheridan has allowed 892 (7th).
The two teams lead 4A in passing, ranked first and second. Eckard has attempted 93 passes this season, far ahead of any other 4A QB, but has completed 64 percent of those, better than Natrona’s Turner, ranked second, at 58 percent.