SHERIDAN — Things could have gone differently.
Sheridan fell to Cheyenne East in the 4A state semis Friday night at Homer Scott Field, a first-quarter missed extra point deciding a 28-27 thriller.
Struggles in the PAT game and pre-snap penalties that haunted Sheridan all year were their downfall.
East junior quarterback Tevis Bartlett stole the night. The dynamic, arm-tackle-proof threat, ran for 267 yards and three of his team’s four touchdowns Friday. While Sheridan shut him down in the two teams first meeting back in September when the Broncs came away with a 42-21 win, Bartlett lifted the T-Birds up on his back and carried them to Laramie last night. Even with Bartlett fumbling twice, East managed to escape the long road trip victorious.
The ebb and flow of a great semifinal contest was there.
East struck first with a long Bartlett run after Sheridan went three-and-out to start the game. Colbey Bruney then found paydirt on a 54-yard scamper. Still, Bartlett went off again, this time from 55 yards away, running through tackles. Sheridan was held on fourth down late in the second quarter, and the score was 21-19 at halftime.
But the Broncs stacked up East in the third quarter and forced a three-and-out, then followed with a 65-yard scamper from Joe Shassetz that seemed sure to cement momentum in their favor. While the stadium took half of the first quarter to fill up, it erupted after Shassetz cut back across the defense, turned on the afterburners and left two East secondary players diving toward his heels.
“When we got the lead in the second half, it was just what we needed to do — we held them and we had the big play and got the lead,” Broncs head coach Don Julian said. “We struggled with field position a little bit after that, they had two punts that kind of pinned us down and we gradually got the field changed on us.”
After the score, teams traded punts, and Sheridan didn’t get on the board again. The Broncs stopped the gashing runs, and with seven minutes remaining, Tyler Kauffman put his helmet on the ball and Bartlett coughed it up with Judson White covering for Sheridan.
But a pre-snap flag set Sheridan back, and they were forced to punt with three and half minutes left. Bartlett busted through for the required first down and East ran out the clock.
“They did a good job,” Julian said. “Tevis did a good job running the ball tonight. He hurt us. He’s a great football player. We were able to take that away a little bit the first time we played them, but we just couldn’t quite get it done tonight.”
East swing passes stretched Sheridan out all night, gaining first downs when Bartlett wasn’t plunging up the gut. The T-Birds ran 73 plays, holding possession as Sheridan worked just 49 Friday night and was outgained 512-364. While the PAT wasn’t the only aspect at fault, the missed extra points were a recurring problem for Sheridan in 2013.
“We’ve struggled off and on all season with our point-after try stuff,” Julian said. “That’s a tough way to go with a one-point loss, but I thought the kids really battled. They battled till the end again. We needed to get a stop there to get the ball back, but we just couldn’t quite do it.”
Sheridan did fight off momentum swings in a way they had not all year. First half drives ended with a 6-yard pass from Kameron Eckard to Riley Sessions after a 35-yard screen pass to Colbey Bruney leaving the score 14-12 after a missed 2-point try.
Even after being stopped on fourth down on their next drive, Sheridan forced a punt and Daniel Sessions punched in an answer to close the gap at halftime.
In their two other losses this year, to Gillette and to Natrona, momentum left the Broncs too far behind. But Sheridan threw punches right with East Friday night, eventually coming out on the wrong end of too many things not going their way.
After a three-year run in reaching Laramie from 2009-11, it’s the second year in a row the Broncs have finished 8-3 and lost in the semifinals. Meanwhile, East overcame a winless streak in Sheridan that spanned back to 2001.
Still, Julian knows the program does things the right way and continues to move in the right direction.
“The kids battled all year, there’s a lot of teams in the state that would like to be in the semifinals,” Julian said, his team currently riding a streak of six straight semifinal appearances, having appeared in three of the last five state title games.
“We continue to get there, and these kids worked very hard. They’re a nice bunch of young men, and it was a pleasure coaching them.”
Even though it may not feel like it — after weeks and weeks of preparation on top of more weeks of offseason weight training and playbook immersion — even in the grim defeat of a chilly November Friday night, there is life after football.
The next step can be felt in a few days, in building on character learned from the basics of a high school football program, and spoken as praise from a coach to his senior class.
“They just came with a great attitude and a good effort every day,” Julian said of his seniors. “They’re fine leaders and they’re going to be great men.”
Team totals SHS-East
First downs 12-24
Passing yards 140-195
Total plays 49-73
Total offense 364-512
Punts/avg. 5/37.9 4/29.5
Rushing SHS: Dan Sessions 15-59-1TD, Colbey Bruney 6-72-1TD, Nick Gill 3-29, Joe Shassetz 1-65-1TD, Evan Coon 1—1. Rushing East: Tevis Bartlett 36-267-3TDs, Shane Brooks 12-50-1TD
Passing: Kameron Eckard 17-23-1TD 140 yds-1INT, Bartlett 18-25-195 yds.
Receiving Jess Edens 1-9, Riley Sessions 1-6-1TD, Joe Shassetz 2-18, Trae Kaufmann 1-11, Colbey Bruney 4-55.