SHERIDAN — The Sheridan Broncs scored two goals in the final six minutes of their Friday evening matchup with Cheyenne Central, but the prior 74 minutes went the way of the Indians in a frustrating series of events for Sheridan.
The second-ranked Indians drew first blood on a questionable penalty in the box, and the resulting goal shook the Broncs for the rest of the game. Central went on to take a 3-0 lead, and despite Sheridan’s late-game heroics, the Indians held on for a 3-2 victory.
In the 12th minute, Central pushed the ball ahead of the Sheridan defense, and Broncs keeper Ben Lecholat came off his line to prevent a goal. He slid to deflect the shot, missed, but Gregg Sampson snuck in behind his keeper to punt the ball off the post and out of the net.
While Sampson’s goal-saving kick drew cheers from the Sheridan crowd, the mood quickly shifted to disdain after the referee called a late foul on Lecholat for sliding into the Central striker. Ross Elliott knocked in the resulting penalty kick, and frustration mounted for Lecholat and his teammates.
Central added two more goals in the second half, and the frustration finally boiled over.
In the 63rd minute, Sampson chased Central’s Tommy Swainson on a breakaway and bulled him over with a shoulder check, resulting in an immediate foul. As the referee reached to grab a yellow card out of his pocket, Sampson got up and added a two-handed shove to the mix.
The yellow card turned red, Sampson was sent off the field — with some words for the Central bench on his way out — and the Broncs were forced to play a man down for the final 17 minutes.
“We’re going to own this, own the loss,” Sheridan head coach Matt Johnson said after the game. “We’re not going to blame officials; we’re not going to blame cards or decisions. We’re going to take responsibility for what we did, and what we did was not enough.”
Playing a man down triggered something among the remaining Broncs, though.
After shaking off the tension caused by Sampson’s outburst — the referee dished out multiple warnings for contact on plays immediately following — Sheridan turned the frustration into urgency. The offensive firepower that was missing for much of the night suddenly reared its head.
The Broncs pushed forward and utilized their speed to put pressure on the Central defense. In the 74th minute, Noah Iberlin — who spent most of the day outsprinting the Indians’ back line — was tripped in the box and finally put Sheridan on the board with a penalty kick.
Two minutes later, another foul gave Sheridan a free kick near the midfield line, and Korbyn Averett sent a beautiful ball into a mesh of players in the box. Aaron Sessions, Sheridan’s tallest striker, met the ball at the peak of his jump and headed the ball backward into the net.
Even as the clock rapidly ticked toward zero, the Broncs pushed for an equalizer. Their best shot came in the final minute when it looked like Iberlin would win a header before Central’s keeper snatched it out of the air at the last second.
“That’s (the players’) credit,” Johnson said of the late comeback. “How do I get them to do that? Remind them what it feels like to play like this versus the other 70 minutes.”
Johnson was proud of his team’s late effort, but lack of composure early on is something his team will need to control moving forward. Saturday’s afternoon matchup with Cheyenne East, he said, is a perfect chance for the Broncs to put together a complete game, something Johnson noted hasn’t happened yet this year.
“Right now, we haven’t played a tough game where we came out victors and thought, ‘We earned that,’” the coach said. “Tomorrow, when we get that victory, it will show them that, ‘Hey, we can do this. We can play tough games and can win tough games.’”
Central’s two second-half goals came from Aaron Barber on a rebound off a Lecholat deflection in the 50th minute and a free kick from Elliott in the 60th minute.
Sheridan will look to bounce back against East at noon Saturday at Homer Scott Field.
At Homer Scott Field
Cheyenne Central 1 2 — 3
Sheridan 0 2 — 2
First half — 1, Central, Elliott (penalty kick), 12th minute.
Second half — 2, Central, Barber, 50th minute. 3, Central, Elliott, 60th minute. 4, Sheridan, Iberlin (penalty kick), 74th minute. 5, Sheridan, Sessions, 76th minute.