SHERIDAN — Hype. Overload.
The anticipation leading up to Friday’s matchup between the Sheridan Broncs and Natrona Mustangs broke the measuring stick.
A state championship rematch, the state’s No. 1 and No. 2 ranked 4A squads, high-powered offenses and bruising defenses. The teaser had it all.
So did the game.
Sheridan and Natrona traded blows for 48 minutes and added a few more before Parker Christensen dove into the corner of the end zone and earned the Broncs a 37-34 overtime victory.
“We’ve literally been working on that all week,” Christensen said of the game’s final play, a short pass from quarterback Aaron Woodward past the blitzing Natrona linebackers. “It obviously came into play. Our receivers blocked well, everybody blocked well. I dove in; everybody came out. It was great.”
Christensen’s game-winner came after the Broncs held the Mustangs to a field goal on the first overtime possession, and that only came after Natrona scored two touchdowns in the final minute of regulation to tie the game.
Sheridan, clinging to a 7-point lead with four minutes to go, forced a Natrona punt, and Kyle Custis returned the ball 87 yards, weaving in and out of defenders and blockers for a touchdown.
The score gave Sheridan a 31-17 lead with 3:55 left on the clock, and it looked as if the game had finally blown open.
“Finally we get that kick return and get that two-score lead, and you think, one team got a break here and got a big play and created a little bit of separation,” Sheridan head coach Don Julian said of Custis’ return. “But then in the end, it wasn’t enough.”
Natrona never folded, and just as it had all game, the momentum quickly shifted.
The Mustangs marched down the field with quick hitters and made it to the red zone rather quickly. They set up with a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. The Sheridan defense held and forced a fourth-and-4, do-or-die situation, but Natrona quarterback Jesse Harshman connected with Ben Acres to make it 31-24 with a minute to go.
Natrona kicked an onside kick that took a couple big hops, including one off a Sheridan player’s helmet, and the Mustangs recovered. They once again marched down the field, and with two seconds left in the game, Harshman faked a spike and found a receiver for the game-tying touchdown.
But the big plays never stopped coming for the Broncs.
The third time was the charm for Sheridan’s redzone defense, and only one play of offense was needed for the Broncs to keep their undefeated title-defense alive.
“We just flat got after it,” Christensen said about his team’s resiliency down the stretch. “Our coach always tells us, ‘Trust the process,’ and we did that. If we fall behind our coach and just keep going, keep fighting, we’ll make it out there. We trust each other and have a really strong brotherhood.”
Christensen’s score was just one of many big-time plays for the Broncs Friday night. Both teams handed out and received plenty of punches, but most of Sheridan’s came in major ways as crucial times.
Sheridan’s first touchdown — trailing 7-0 — came on a drive where Woodward connected with Aaron Sessions in traffic on third-and-9. Christensen followed with a 23-yard rush and later a 17-yard score.
In the second quarter, after Custis fumbled the football trying to plow through for extra yardage, Bryce Taylor picked off Harshman in the end zone to hold Natrona scoreless. Woodward later found Sessions for a 70-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds to go in the first half, giving Sheridan a 14-10 halftime lead.
And a Sessions fourth-quarter interception stalled a Natrona drive and setup Custis for a 3-yard touchdown.
“A lot of that is confidence,” Julian said about the big plays. “A lot of that is success over time, I think, breeds a lot of that and a belief in each other that, hey, someone’s going to make a play, and we’re going to keep coming. We’ve been very fortunate in that aspect.”
The sour taste surely heightened for the Mustangs after Friday’s loss, and Julian didn’t hesitate to point that out in the postgame huddle. The Broncs will quickly get back to work in preparation for any potential rematch down the road with their Casper rival and all the opponents leading up to it.
Friday night, though, the Broncs celebrated. They made the necessary plays and gritted out a win under the lights at Homer Scott Field.
Sheridan finished the game with 111 rushing yards — Christensen had 84 and Custis had 46. Woodward finished with 206 passing yards, and led all receivers with 93 yards.
Natrona’s Brett Brenton ran for 139 yards, and Harshman passed 36 times for 302 yards and three touchdowns.
Natrona…….7 3 7 14 (3 OT) — 34
Sheridan……7 7 0 17 (6 OT) — 37