SHERIDAN — The taste has been sour in the mouths of the Natrona Mustangs football team for the last 299 days.
The Sheridan Broncs knocked off the Mustangs 56-28 on Nov. 12, 2016, earning the Broncs the title of Wyoming 4A state champions.
Friday, the two teams will hit the gridiron against each other for the first time since Sheridan hoisted the trophy.
“I think it’s great,” Sheridan head coach Don Julian said of the hype surrounding Friday’s rematch. “I think it’s high school football at its finest.”
The excitement for Friday’s matchup between Sheridan and Natrona has been building since that 2016 state championship, especially in Casper. But the hype isn’t solely based on last year’s results. Both teams have been superb to start the 2017 season.
Sheridan and Natrona have simply dominated their opponents over the past two weeks. They’re a combined 4-0 and have outscored their four opponents 226-13. Offenses are rolling, and defenses are stout.
The Broncs sit first in total offense at 498 yards per game — 208.5 of those come on the ground (third in 4A), and 289.5 come through the air (first). Their 44 points per game are the second most in the class behind only Natrona’s massive 69 points per game.
Natrona’s offense sits right behind Sheridan’s at 446.5 yards per game — 287.5 on the ground and 159 through the air. Those numbers came against two of the statistically-worst teams in the state, Cheyenne South and Gillette, but they’re hefty numbers nonetheless.
Defensively, neither team has budged. They both give up less than 4 points per game and have forced four turnovers. Sheridan wasn’t really tested in wins over Rock Springs and Cheyenne Central, but clearly the Broncs and Mustangs have marked themselves as teams to beat in 2017.
Natrona returns nine offensive starters from the championship game, and all of Sheridan’s defensive line saw varsity time last season. The statistics reflect the experience, and Julian expects Friday’s battle to be one of the most physical football games his Broncs have played.
“At this point, I can’t say which is better, their offense of their defense,” Julian said of the Mustangs. “They’re a good football team, which is what we expected them to be this year.”
Sheridan has been here before. So has Natrona. In the previous three seasons, the two teams have squared off six times. Sheridan went 30-4 over that stretch, and Natrona went 26-9. The programs have been good for a while, and they’ve consistently stood in the way of the other.
Julian noted that in order to win a state championship, a team would end up playing a second game against three teams on its schedule, which they’ve done against Natrona the last three years. In 2014, Natrona had to knock off Sheridan on its way to winning the title. Each of the last two years, Sheridan took down Natrona on the path to titles 24 and 25.
Plenty of history rides on the Broncs-Mustangs rivalry.
For Julian’s bunch, though, the focus remains on the bigger picture, which is getting back to and hopefully winning another state championship. An early-season matchup with Natrona could have major implications in playoff seeding down the road, but Julian knows that, no matter what, the Broncs would get a second crack at three teams if they got back to the title game.
“Yeah, this week’s going to be great, a lot of fun, two teams battling early on,” the coach said. “Yet, at the end of the day, it’s a season-long process. Whichever team wins, whichever team loses, we’ll move on with a lot of season left with a lot to play for.”
Friday’s game will require both squads to control the highs and lows brought with the hype surrounding it. Plenty will be revealed when it’s all said and done, but at the end of the day, it’s just one game out of the 12 required to win a state championship.
The rematch kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday at Homer Scott Field.
Sheridan and Natrona have matched up 110 times prior to Friday. Natrona has a 56-45 advantage in the series; they’ve tied six times, and three games were cancelled. … Friday’s matchup will be the Mustangs’ first road game of the season. … Three gates will be open Friday — the East entrance, the North entrance and the West entrance behind the press box. The parking lot on the South side of the stadium has also been graded and is available for a small fee. … Little Guy Football will scrimmage at halftime.