SHERIDAN — Some of the crushing hits quarterback Kameron Eckard sustained against the second-half Gillette pass rush looked to be season enders.
For all that, the senior quarterback climbed to his feet each time, going as far as walking along the sidelines late in the fourth quarter, telling teammates to keep their heads up as the clock expired on their 39-10 Energy Bowl loss last Saturday in Gillette.
As dragged out as last week was for the Sheridan Broncs football team — snow delays and a Saturday game made longer by rivalry hype, a new week may have been a welcome one.
If the cards fall the right way, Sheridan makes what could be their final road trip of the season Friday before a trip to Laramie for the state championship game. Standings in 4A football are stacked up in the middle after last year’s returning champion Natrona lost its third game of the season by one-point in overtime, dropping with Central and Kelly Walsh to 3-3. Gillette is the top dog this week. East and Sheridan are 5-1.
“Gillette is the best team as of right now, but the reality is, I think any of those top five could beat each other,” Julian said. “As we head down these last three games, we knew this was going to be three tough weeks in a row. We’ve had this on our minds for a long time, we’re facing big strong physical teams.”
“We’ve got to hold up and we’ve got to go get a win on the road this week,” he added, with Natrona in town next Friday.
Week six was noticeably more physical for Sheridan. Battered and bruised, shuffling a little defensively due to injuries sustained in Gillette, the Broncs next test features a sizable Central team Friday on their second road trip in six days. While the Indians haven’t been spattered with the the media pump pushed on East, Gillette, Natrona and Sheridan in 2013, they aren’t one to be looked past.
“They’re a good football team,” Julian said. “They might the average weight of their O-line is 250 across the front, and they’ve got two 270 kids, a nice running back and one of the best wide receivers in the state.
“They give us a lot to defend.”
Central’s three losses came against East (33-15 last week), Natrona (40-20), and Gillette (16-10).
“It’s a very, very important game to us in the way of seeding for playoffs — a long trip and a tough game,” Julian said.
The Broncs control their own destiny over the final weeks of the year, still well-within reach of their goal — a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
More specifically, the Broncs execution may dictate their eventual finish. On the field last week in Gillette, despite taking an early 7-0 lead, stalled drives on missed third and long plays eventually halted late comeback attempts.
Julian knows his team has been its own worst enemy, and he said that’s been exactly the focus this week at practice.
“The focus is fundamentals again,” he said. “When we make a mistake somewhere in a drive — we have a jump or a dropped pass or we miss a block — and all of a sudden we get into third and 8 or more, that’s when were having issues converting third and longs. We don’t want to be making fundamental mistakes because then we get into down and distance that are hard to convert on. That’s where we’ve been having trouble and we put ourselves in that situation.”
Tuck and tap it.
Sit there, don’t jump.
When the Broncs do those things, Julian knows they return to the team that reached 5-0.
Last week, the defense uncharacteristically fell into those crippling fundamental issues as well as missed tackles mounted and Gillette piled up more than 400 yards of offense. “It’s the same exact focus,” Julian said of their work on defense this week.
“Fundamentals. We did not tackle well,” Julian added.
“We did not tackle low. We stressed that last week, but we let them bring the battle to us instead of us taking the battle to them.
“It’s time to get that moxie back and take the battle to the opponent not sit back and wait.
“As the game progressed and as they got the lead we got on our heels out of an attacking mode.”
But while moving past a loss to Gillette is perhaps a larger step than another regular season defeat, Julian was impressed with the resolve his team showed this week.
“We have a belief that you need to focus on the process and not the result,” he said.
“Results are important, but if you focus on process you can overcome setbacks and that’s part of the process of becoming a state champion, and part of the process of becoming great. We focus on the process as opposed to the result of losing to Gillette.”
Sheridan can rest on the fact that if they win one of these next two games against Central or Natrona, they’ll likely lock themselves into that No. 2 seed, having Cheyenne South in their back pocket for the final week at home.
More immediately, the key this week is perhaps more important for a team knocked down for the first time.
“We’re a little banged up, that being said the kids have come in with a good attitude,” he added.
“We struggled with some fundamentals last Saturday because we were facing a good team. They exploited some things on us because were weren’t as fundamentally sound as we should have been.
“We’ve circled the wagons as coaches and players, and we have the whole program battling and wanting to move on and right the ship.
I feel good about how our kids have come back in and responded after a big loss like that.”
Sheridan and Central have a 6 p.m. kickoff in Cheyenne.
By the numbers:
Sheridan is ranked 2nd at 371 per game (185 rush/186 pass)
Central is ranked 4th at 341.8 yds per game (198.3 rush/143.5 pass)
Sheridan is ranked 3rd at 259.5 yards allowed per game (123 pass/135 rush).
Central ranked 6th at 300 yards per game (123 pass/177 rush)
• Kameron Eckard leads 4A with 186.8 yards per game, 8.6 yards per completion and 1,121 total yards through the air. He has 9 TDs and 5 INTs for a 152.6 QB efficiency rating.
• Central QB has thrown eight of his 10 TDs to Wide receiver Tayton Montgomery. Montgomery is ranked first in 4A with 103.5 yards per game. Sheridan WR Nick Gill is ranked third.
• Sheridan LBs Ethan Hoopes and Ethan Hall are sixth and seventh respectivley in defensive points. Each has two sacks and an interception this year. • Central’s Cooper Mirich leads 4A in defensive points with three fumble recoveries, 23 solo tackles, averaging 7.7 stops per game.
From WyoPreps.com Stats