SHERIDAN — Three first half turnovers left Sheridan behind, and one third quarter muffed punt put them away.
Sheridan (6-2) battled with Natrona (5-3), falling 38-20. The Broncs appeared poised for a comeback more than once, but this time it was the Mustangs luck — a team with three overtime losses by one point apiece this year — that held fast.
The difference for the Broncs Friday night was simple, and even though the desired result was perhaps in sight, it’s a loss a coach likes the least.
“Too many mistakes against a good team,” head coach Don Julian said. “We’re in the game, the kids battled hard, but special teams we struggled tonight. Turnovers we gave them short fields. You just can’t do those things and expect to beat a good team. They’re a good team and we did those things. Pretty straightforward tonight, this one’s on us.”
As they’ve been known to do, Sheridan scored first on a 1-yard run from Colbey Bruney, capping a nice drive after teams exchanged punts out of the gates. Natrona’s speedy back Stevann Brown would answer, finding room on the outside for a 33-yard score.
Then the turnovers began.
Natrona intercepted a tipped ball from there, cashing in a 17-yard run, again from Brown, with 9:19 left in the second quarter. Even through the chaos, the Broncs held their ground on defense and were by no means out of it. As Daniel Sessions fumbled at the six-yard line on the Broncs ensuing possession, Cooper Powers and Ethan Hall stood up Natrona quarterback Sam Turner in his own end zone. Turner somewhat miraculously found his way out of a safety, but coughed up the ball into the hands of defensive end Judson White. Sessions redeemed himself on the next play with a short run to tie the score at 14-14.
Then, the Broncs did something they rarely do in giving up yardage at all on a kick return, and the Mustangs retook the lead on special teams 21-14 after the long score.
Another interception gave the Mustangs the ball back, and fate simply wasn’t on Sheridan’s side Friday night as Turner found a streaking wide receiver in the corner of the end zone with just 3.6 seconds left in the half. The Broncs defense nearly held on third down, but the catch was ruled in bounds.
As bleak as their chances appeared out of the locker room, Sheridan managed to hold Natrona on their first possession and drive the field to narrow the deficit to 28-20. Again, they held the Mustangs behind a strong push up front, but the punt they forced was muffed and Natrona took over at Sheridan’s 7-yard line.
“I was very happy we came out and held them, drove the field on the ground against a good rush defense, and I thought that was just guts out of our kids, a ‘want-to.’ We go down and get into the end zone and hold them again. We have a turnover on a special teams, that put us in a bad way and gave them a short field again. So again, correctable mistakes, but as we head down the stretch and into the playoffs we can’t have those kind of things happen and expect to beat the better teams in the state.”
The game slowed as multiple Broncs fell with injuries in the waning minutes. Natrona added a late field goal to cap scoring. The stats told of turnover frustrations as well, with Sheridan out-gaining Natrona 297 to 261, and running 54 plays to the Mustangs 53.
All that said, Sheridan is still within reach of its goal, capturing a No. 2 seed for the playoffs, but will need a win over Cheyenne South and a Gillette win over Cheyenne East on Friday.
Immediate as they appear under the lights on a Friday night, the pressures of a loss wear off, and Julian knows it’s a resilient squad that will be ready to take care of their end of that equation.
“They’ll come in Monday and we’ll get back to work and we’ll get back after it,” he said. “You just feel bad when you’re fighting so hard, to turnover the ball and allow a big return. That’s the first time we’ve allowed a return in a long time.”
Sheridan and Cheyenne South (0-7) kick off at 6 p.m. Friday at Homer Scott Field.
SHS Bruney 1-yard run 7-0 SHS
Natrona Brown 33-yard run 7-7
Natrona Brown 17-yard run 14-7 Natrona after INT
SHS Sessions run 14-14
Natrona #13 kick return
Bruney 5-yard run
Natrona 1-yard run
First downs 16-11
Yards per carry 3.3-2.4
Passing yards 218-133
Total plays 54-53
Total offense 297-261
Eckard: 19-30-2INT; Turner 14-15-133-2TD
Rushing: Sessions 13-36-1TD, Bruney 9-51-2TD; Natrona Brown 22-108-2TD
Receiving: Edens 3-32, Kaufmann 1-12, Sessions 2-42, Shassetz 3-62, Gill 4-44, Tyler Kaufmann 4-22, Bruney 1-4