GILLETTE — After all the build-up and two postponements, Sheridan and Gillette finally played football Saturday afternoon.
Snow piles 6-feet high surrounded the cleared field, and the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup started with a bang but ended with a fizzle as the home team took this year’s edition of the Energy Bowl.
The Sheridan Broncs suffered their first defeat of the season Saturday in Gillette, staying within nine points until the final quarter, eventually falling 39-10.
The game was pushed back from Friday night after snowstorms pounded the area, canceling or postponing the lump sum of weekend sports action, and the original start time Saturday was moved back an hour to 2 p.m., due to road closures.
While the game hype may have been lessened by the delays and what-ifs of playing it over the weekend or Monday night, teams came out firing Saturday.
Much like the Broncs quick start in their last meeting with a No. 1 team — a game that ended in a 42-21 win over Cheyenne East in Sheridan — they used big play capacity and scored first with a 63-yard strike from Kameron Eckard to Dan Sessions. But Gillette reeled off 13 unanswered into the half, and Sheridan was unable to climb back.
“We thought it was gut check time at halftime,” Broncs head coach Don Julian said after the game. “They had us on our heels we were really struggling to tackle. We were getting out-physicaled in the second quarter, we thought, and we just talked about it was time to dig down and see what we were all about. We came out and kind of stalemated in the third quarter. Gillette’s a good, strong, physical team, and they showed that today and they really wore on us.”
As Sheridan tried to mount a comeback out of the break, they had trouble getting their defense off the field. Missed tackles around the elusive Wyoming recruit Austin Fort at QB turned out costly. The senior extended plays and picked up first downs with his legs, driving Gillette as Sheridan’s potent pass offense, ranked first in 4A entering Saturday, sat on the sidelines. Fort finished with 80 yards rushing along with 180 passing and two scores.
As it has this season, Sheridan’s defense clogged the line of scrimmage, but Fort proved hard to pin down. The Camels gained 439 yards on the Broncs, converting third downs and creating long drives.
“We had guys in position, but he is a load, he’s a real load to bring down and he’s a guy you’ve got to take low,” Julian said. “If you go high he’s probably going to run you over. He’s bigger than most of our defense. He ran hard today, I thought, harder than he probably had all year and he had a nice day today.”
Teams first exchanged punts in what was a scoreless third quarter. Ethan Hall then grabbed an interception from Gillette back-up QB Seth Moerkerke, but the Broncs were forced to punt on their ensuing possession.
The Broncs two punts from Jess Edens in the quarter pinned the Camels at their own 1-yard and then 9-yard lines. From there, Fort drove the Camels 91 yards, eating up the clock in the third quarter, finding Nelson again, this time on a slant from eight yards out to make the score 26-10 to begin the fourth quarter.
On the Broncs next possession, Nick Gill was hit immediately after catching a quick pass and fumbled. The Camels punched in another short run for a 32-10 lead.
On the Broncs (5-1) biggest offensive play of the day, in the first quarter, Sessions took the pass untouched into the end zone. While the interstate didn’t open until around 11 a.m., a good-sized Sheridan following was there to lift the Broncs as they looked to jump on their rival and stay unbeaten. Eckard showed pocket presence Saturday amid the Camel pass rush, finishing with 161 yards passing and 18 rushing.
Answering, the Camels (6-0) Dustin Erisman punched in a run from just outside the goal line. Fort missed the extra point to make the score 7-6. On the next drive, the Broncs stalled at the 4-yard line and Nick Gill punched through a field goal to make the score 10-6.
From there, it was all Gillette.
In the second quarter, a trick play, halfback pass from Sheridan’s Dontae Crow ended in a Camels interception inside their own 10-yard line. Gillette scored twice within two minutes time from there — a 34-yard pass from Fort to Talon Nelson followed by Erisman’s second score on a third down sweep play from four yards out.
Sheridan’s Tory Music recovered a fumble with 4:45 left. With Gillette pass rushers pinning their ears back on a pass-heavy comeback attempt, Eckard then threw a late interception with less than two minutes remaining as he was knocked down from behind. Despite several brutal hits, the senior QB showed toughness in finding his way back to the huddle each time.
“They were getting off the edge on us and we had some trouble picking that up, and of course when you get behind a couple of scores and you have to start throwing the ball consistently, they’re really able to release the pass rush on you and they got to us.”
“He’ll be OK,” Julian said of Eckard. “He’s a tough kid and he hung in there.”
Fort and Gillette would drive and punch in a late score, the last against the Broncs junior varsity defense.
Even with the final tally lopsided, the contest was a physical battle Saturday, and Sheridan managed to keep its season streak of 100-yard rushing games intact. The Broncs 112 on the ground trailed Gillette’s 259, however.
Despite the contest getting away from them and hits piling up at the end of the game, chins stayed up for the most part on the tightly-huddled Sheridan sideline, packed closer than usual within a few feet of the cleared snow. At the end of the day, their 5-1 record was still on track toward their goal of a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for the playoffs.
“We’ve got two real big weeks coming up with Central and Natrona,” Julian said. “We’re only one game down with three games left, anything can still happen. We’ve got to come in and go to work Monday and put this one behind us.”
Saturday marked the Camels third straight victory in the series. Sheridan leads all-time 39-28-1 in the rivalry that dates back to 1920. Sitting in second place, the Broncs wind down the season with games on the road at Cheyenne Central, home against Natrona and then Cheyenne South.
Elsewhere in rival 4A weekend action it was Cheyenne East over Cheyenne Central, 33-15, and Kelly Walsh in an Oil Bowl upset over Natrona, 21-20, in overtime on Saturday.
1 2 3 4 F
SHS 10 0 0 0 10
Gillette 6 13 0 20 39
Eckard: 18 rushing, 12-22-161 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Sessions 13-69 yards; Coon 6-27 yards
Receiving: Edens 1-15, Shassetz 2-11, Crow 2-25, Gill, 4-28, Sessions 2-83-1 TD.
Fort: 82 rushing, 14-20-180 yds passing, 2 TDs
Rushing: Appersach 32-144 rush; Erisman 6-36, 2TDs
Receiving: Nolan 6-134, 2 TDS
Sheridan individual defensive leaders: Colbey Bruney 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass break up, nine assisted and four solo tackles; Evan Coon eight assisted and five solo tackles; Ethan Hoopes nine assisted and one solo tackle; Cody Delk three tackles for loss; Riley Sessions, Cooper Powers and Daniel Sessions all with one tackle for loss. Ethan Hall interception; Tory Music fumble recovery.