BIG HORN — The Big Horn football program is a powerhouse. Under head coach Michael McGuire, the Rams are 58-7, have won two state championships, finished runner-up once and are appearing in another state title game Saturday against Pine Bluffs.
The Rams are 9-1 this season and haven’t lost more than two games in the same season during McGuire’s tenure. Statistically, the Big Horn offense obliterated its 1A competition, finishing first in nearly every conceivable category. The Rams are also first in offensive yards per game across the state, and Kade Eisele is the leading rusher and scorer in the state. Big Horn has had a steady stream of high-caliber athletes and is expected to have multiple All-State performers again this year.
The accolades go on and on, and the players and coaches say it’s great to be part of such a quality program. But what is it like to go up against Big Horn, to face its vaunted offensive and defensive line, stable of running backs, talented quarterback and array of skill position players on both sides of the field?
The Rams are “without a doubt” the most difficult 1A team to prepare against, Upton-Sundance head coach Andy Garland said. Garland’s team hosted Big Horn in a Week 6 matchup full of anticipation. That went away quickly, as the Rams pulverized the Patriots 53-13. Garland said the variety of offensive packages and the defense’s ability to disguise its formation are two of the main challenges Big Horn presents.
Tongue River head coach Steve Hanson, whose team lost 52-13 at Big Horn in Week 8, agreed. Hanson was impressed with the defensive adjustments the Rams made in that matchup. The Eagles had some success running the ball inside early, but Big Horn changed accordingly and was able to completely shut down that aspect of the Tongue River offense.
Hanson said the Rams offense can change its game plan each week because the team has so many options — a rarity for lower-level schools that mostly run the same style and type of plays week after week.
“They have so many weapons that you really can’t prepare to shut down the power scheme, or they’ll pick you apart with the pass,” Hanson said. “You can’t sit back and say, ‘We’re going to stop the deep pass.’ They’ll complete short passes and eat you up inside with the run.”
Big Piney head coach Aaron Makelky acknowledged no weak links among the Big Horn starters. Makelky and his 2A team lost to the Rams 39-21 in Week 7 in a neutral-field game in Riverton.
Makelky, who is in charge of his team’s defensive scheme, has coached in three states at all levels and said the Rams offense was arguably the most complex he had faced.
Big Horn runs a no-huddle offense, which allows the team to line up initially, see how the opposing defense lines up and have enough time to change the play, if necessary.
Makelky said his plan was to take away Eisele, Big Horn’s top offensive weapon, but was unable to execute because Big Horn has so many different ways to get Eisele the ball — as a tailback, fullback or receiver. Big Piney “could not even slow him down, let alone stop him,” Makelky said.
All of the coaches credited Eisele for his skill and toughness but credited the Big Horn offensive line as a huge proponent to the team’s success.
“You don’t see big athletes (in 1A) like they have on their line,” Wright coach Larry Yeradi said. “You might see some big kids, but you don’t see big athletes.”
Yeradi, who lost at Big Horn 45-13 in Week 5, called Seth Mullinax one of the best linemen in the state at any level. The offensive line gives the Rams the ability to open up the playbook for its fast, talented skill position players like Eisele, Will Pelissier and Kade VanDyken. The Rams’ speed is impossible to truly prepare for.
“You either have it, or you’re chasing it,” Yeradi said.
Yeradi added that the Big Horn coaching staff excels at finding an opponent’s weak links and exploiting them.
“You gotta have the Johnnies and the Joes, but at the same time, you have to know how to use them,” Yeradi said. “I think they do a really good job of putting their kids in areas for them to be successful.”