BIG HORN — Coming off its best win of the season, the Big Horn football team faces another formidable foe this week.
After a 53-13 drubbing of Upton-Sundance, the Rams now take on one of the best 2A teams in the state, the Big Piney Punchers.
From the outside, the teams look similar. Both are ranked third in the state, with a 4-1 conference record and 5-1 overall mark. They are both second in their respective conferences, and their only losses had the exact same score, 22-21. Big Piney fell to top-ranked Mountain View in Week 2, while the Rams lost in Week 3 to Pine Bluffs.
But statistics alone don’t always tell the quality of a team. Upton-Sundance and Big Horn looked relatively even on paper, but the Rams dominated on the field.
Big Horn head coach Michael McGuire said Big Piney seems to be a complete, well-coached team. He said the Punchers have the best skill-position players of any team the Rams have faced so far this year.
“That’s probably the most concerning thing about them,” McGuire said. “You can do everything right, and those guys are still going to make a play.”
Being one of the top-ranked teams in the state is nothing new for the Rams, but it certainly is for Big Piney. Before this year, the team had six-straight losing seasons. The Punchers are a senior-heavy team, with many players who took losses as sophomore and juniors. That has matured them into a 2A title contender.
One of Big Piney’s strengths is its ability to stop the run. The Punchers are allowing less than 100 yards per game and only 2.4 yards per carry, both top marks in 2A. That should make for a great battle in the trenches, as Big Horn’s rushing attack is the most consistent and dynamic part of the team. Coming off a 200-yard, six-touchdown performance last week, Kade Eisele leads 1A in rushing yards and touchdowns. Additionally, Will Pelissier is first at 10 yards per carry.
Despite his relatively average size, Eisele is able to consistently make defenders miss and break tackles. He is nimble but strong, a great combination to pair with his football IQ and toughness.
“Sometimes we almost have to beg to get him out of the game,” McGuire said.
Despite Big Piney’s quality front seven, McGuire said he feels comfortable running the ball up the middle or around the outside. Lineman Seth Mullinax is a big reason for that comfort. Mullinax returned to the field last week after missing the previous two games with a concussion. McGuire said Mullinax brings a physicality and confidence to the team with his mere presence.
The Punchers are not quite as strong against the pass, which bodes well for Big Horn and quarterback Quinn McCafferty, who has been getting better each week. McCafferty threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown last week but was nearly perfect otherwise. He completed 8 of 11 passes for 196 yards, 154 of which went to standout receiver Kade VanDyken.
The Punchers have a prolific offense, as well. They are second in 2A in points and yards per game and are more than capable of both running and throwing the ball. They also have a quality kicking and punting game, something McGuire said is one of the differences between teams in 1A and 2A.
After a great performance last week, McGuire said he hopes Friday’s matchup will prepare his team for the playoffs when the Rams will have to play to their potential for consecutive weeks.
The neutral-site game starts Friday at noon at Riverton High School.