BIG HORN — The Big Horn Rams season is finishing the same way it began — in the dark.
Even as a state of the art turf facility, there are no lights at Jack Dow Memorial Field at Big Horn High School.
That didn’t stop Big Horn second-year head coach Michael McGuire from scheduling the first practice of the season as a “Midnight Mayhem” session, the pitch-black field half-lit with two raised industrial flood lights on a Sunday back in August as the Rams ran conditioning stations.
Months later, as the Rams kept winning football games deep into November the sun again refused to cooperate with Ram practice times. The dimming light puts the Rams into the film room around 5:20 every night. By this time in the year, or 2A state championship week, Big Horn’s on-field time likely means less than mental preparation with things like film study and game plan adhesion.
Their 2A title game opponent, Mountain View, brings a similar offensive attack, that, like the Rams, carry is unique to the 2A class and it should display an entertaining pass-heavy affair Friday afternoon when the Rams and Buffalos kick off the five state title games across the Wyoming prep football landscape, all culminating on Jonah Field this weekend in Laramie.
“They are similar to us in what they do offensively,” McGuire said. “They will try and spread the field and make you defend sideline to sideline. They do a good job of being balanced, which makes them tougher to defend. We will have to be very sound in our alignment and assignment to put ourselves in positions to be successful.”
Mountain View lost consecutive games to Lovell and Pinedale this year. The Rams have won their last seven, and the Buffalos have won five entering Friday.
As is the case with any big game, avoiding mistakes will be key. The Rams do that at an alarming rate, posting a +17 turnover ratio and taking advantage of their foe’s mistakes at every chance. Their 34 takewaways this season is first in the state ahead of 4A title berth team Natrona with 33.
“We must take care of the ball and win the field position battles,” McGuire said of the most important thing in Friday’s game. “Those always seem to be very important in big games.”
Pressure hasn’t been a deterrent for the Rams this year. All their toughest games were played on the road — and after they lost the first one of those, they haven’t fallen since. The mental toughness Big Horn gained through tough road wins was cemented in a semifinal victory last week in Lovell.
“Football is always a mental game,” McGuire said. “Our road schedule was difficult this year and being able to go on the road in the playoffs and be successful has made us a better team. We’ve been through the battles and responded well.”
Big Horn and Mountain View were both No. 2 seeds out of their respective conferences. The Rams carry the class’s top-ranked offense, posting more than 40 points per contest.
Seven seniors and a host of underclassmen no doubt remember how last season ended when Lovell topped the favorite Rams in the 2A semifinals.
Senior Colter Carzoli insisted that while getting past Lovell was a nice feeling, Friday their goals are in Laramie.
“A lot of it is mental, but it’s kind of how the person takes it,” Carzoli said of this week. “You can take it just like another game or you can take it as a state championship. I know we’re going down to play at War Memorial but you can still take that and say it’s another game, and not think anything of it.”
This year Big Horn has thrived somewhat outside the spotlight, fulfilling their coach’s request of week-by-week gains not only as a football team, but as a family.
“This football team has really matured over the course of the season,” McGuire said.
“You see most of the benefits of our maturation on gamedays but the biggest improvement for us has been in our daily and weekly preparation.
“Some of our younger or less experienced kids have learned what it takes during the week to be successful on Fridays and our leaders have done a good job of showing them the right way to prepare.”
Kickoff is noon Friday in Laramie.