SHERIDAN — Block out the noise.
The clatter of homecoming week, the anticipation of the Energy Bowl, and perhaps a new self-awareness as one of the top teams in 4A — there are plenty of distractions for the Sheridan Broncs (4-0) entering Friday.
After a highlight-reel 42-21 win over last week’s No. 1 Cheyenne East (3-1) and a meeting with 4A’s only other unbeaten, Gillette, looming, Sheridan gets winless Rock Springs Friday night.
Head coach Don Julian says his team this week has focused on staying the course.
“They’re kind of a scary team because they’ve turned the ball over a lot and they’ve caught a lot of bad breaks, but they’ve got some talented kids so it makes you wonder if they can pull it together if they are able to change their fortunes a little bit,” Julian said.
After a blowout loss to East in week one, Rock Springs lost a narrow game with Laramie in week two, 18-14, and has since fallen short of Kelly Walsh and then Cheyenne Central in the past two weeks.
“Looking at them as a team and their athleticism and not their record, I think they’re better than their record,” Julian said. “They have a very talented quarterback who hurt us a year ago and we have to focus on containing him.”
Containment has been the name of the game for Sheridan through the first four weeks. Quietly last week the defense allowed the offense to blow open the East game in the second quarter, forcing three and outs and eventually two interceptions. Sheridan’s defense has yet to allow more than 300 total yards this season, giving up just 289 to the highly-touted East attack last Friday.
On what’s forecast to be a rainy night at Scott Field tomorrow, the Broncs will see an option attack out of Rock Springs, an offense they seldom face.
If their staunch defense of late is any indication, what Rock Springs throws at the Broncs may not matter. The Broncs lead 4A in a plethora of defensive categories. They’re holding teams to a stingy 4.1 yards per attempt and have held their four opponents below 1,000 combined yards (985). That’s something no other 4A team has done.
“Our defense has been solid,” Julian said. “We’re going to face an option game that we haven’t seen all year and we have to be very sound with our responsibility — who has the pitch guy, who has the quarterback and so on. That’s been our major emphasis this week, playing good option defense because if you’re wrong they can hurt you in a hurry.”
He said they will likely blitz less, as they have in the past against the option, with the goal of making fewer assignment mistakes.
On the other side of the ball is an offense as hot as any around. A Julian mantra has always been the run game, and Sheridan’s 209.8 yards per contest on the ground is second only to Gillette’s 271.8.
The quarterback situation that was marred with questions entering 2013 has evolved into a cool-handed senior spearheading team full of playmakers to a 4-0 start.
Kameron Eckard’s modest yardage totals are a product of his efficiency — the senior rarely misses on his deep ball as he showed last week in throwing three second-quarter touchdown passes as part of a 28-point output that put the game out of reach. He has thrown eight touchdowns to three interceptions, and his 190.8 yards per game is best in 4A football. Eckard also tops the class in yards per attempt (9.7), completions (55), completion percentage (70 percent) and quarterback efficiency rating (176.6). Daniel Sessions tops 4A in yards per game (112.0) and total yards (448) as well as touchdowns (5).
Across the state, week four features the top five teams playing unranked opponents, most notably with Gillette hosting Cheyenne South.
While last week’s win was a definite benchmark, Julian knows it’s still early in the year, and the Broncs are doing their best to remember that fact.
“We’ve got a very confident football team right now coming off the win last week, I think we’re handling all the homecoming distractions well and focusing on one day at a time,” Julian said. “If we can play one day at a time we can try to continue the good play we had last week. There were a lot of things that came together for us last week and for the kids to see firsthand what happens when you put together and do things right.”
“For what we know, it’s a long season and a lot of things can happen,” he added. “We just want to continue to try and get better.”
Rock Springs and Sheridan have a 6 p.m. kick-off Friday.