SHERIDAN — Wyoming’s two most dominant high school football programs in the past decade will face off 7 p.m. Friday night, jockeying for early playoff position. Sheridan High School and Natrona County High School both enter the game 2-0 on the season. Natrona’s first two wins were by wide margins against Cheyenne South and Campbell County High School.
SHS head coach Jeff Mowry said Natrona is a good football team that is well-coached. They are physical and a larger, stronger team than the Broncs previous opponents. Being undersized is nothing new for the Broncs and Mowry looks for technique and pad level to equal the playing field.
“We know coming into this week that we are going to have to work hard,” Senior Jacob Boint said. “Really focus on our process and focus on us and what we can do to get better each week. We know we need to have a certain intensity. We know they are going to come out and attack us. They will come downhill and try to punch us in the mouth. We have to be able to stand there and take it and throw it right back. Just having that mindset and having that intensity.”
The Broncs lineman improved from the first game to the next, but it needs to continue to improve if Sheridan wants to defeat the top-ranked team in the state.
Sheridan will have very little margin for error and will need to capitalize on every opportunity that they have, something they struggled with last week. Sheridan moved the ball well, accumulating more than 400 yards on offense. The downside was the offense struggled in the red zone, coming up short on four drives.
“When we see a team with the size and strength of Natrona, our margin for error really, really decreases,” Mowry said. “If we have as many errors as we had against Central, this will be a long game for us. If we clean up our mistakes and we execute as we can, then we have a shot.”
The Broncs made too many mental mistakes, racking up 10 penalties, costing the team 65 yards. Sheridan looks to decrease the number of penalties this week. Senior Garrett Coon said the team will need to eliminate the mistakes if they want to improve this season.
The Broncs had a slow start against Central, falling behind by a touchdown in the first quarter.
“We really focused on what each individual’s jobs were,” Mowry said. “The players quit trying to do too much and they just played their responsibility. The second quarter was a pretty good quarter.”
Sheridan looks to continue the mindset of individuals worrying about their jobs and not the guy next to them, senior Jacob Boint said.
Mowry said special teams will be important in this game, just like it has been in the previous two state title matches against Natrona. During the last state title for the Broncs, Mowry said returning a kickoff is what gave Sheridan the edge to win the game. Last year, two blocked punts helped doom the Broncs. Mowry wants to see penalties cleaned up on special teams and have players kick it up a notch, hoping Sheridan can get a game-changing play from special teams.
Coon said Sheridan will look back at past games against Natrona to see what worked and what did not, trying to emulate the good and eliminate the bad.
Sheridan looks to keep the balance on offense knowing Natrona has a tough defense. Running the 4-4 defense, Natrona has linebackers that will fill holes fast, Boint said. In passing situations, Natrona will send a blitz, something that could prove challenging to the Broncs’ offense, Mowry said.
Defensively, Sheridan will try to stop the leading 4A rusher from last season, Dante Wallace, who ended the year with 1,812 yards on the ground and 23 rushing touchdowns in his junior campaign. Combined with the playmaking ability of junior quarterback Harrison Taubert, Mowry said Natrona’s run-pass option could cause troubles for the Broncs’ defense. If the Sheridan defense moves out of position at all, Natrona has the speed and size to make the Broncs pay for it. The speed of Natrona is better than previous opponents, Coon said.
“We have to work hard more than ever this week,” Coon said. “Focus on our jobs and come more prepared.”
Each team has won four state titles this decade and both look to win the title in Laramie this November. Before either team has a chance to raise the trophy, they know there are plenty more games left, including playoffs. Friday night’s game can help teams secure home-field advantage in the playoffs by ending the season in the top two. Mowry said he would much rather have a semifinal game in Sheridan than on the road.
Sheridan and Natrona have played in the title game the past three years in a row, with Sheridan winning two and Natrona winning the most recent meeting.
“Win, lose or draw we have got to make Natrona not want to play us again,” Mowry said, knowing Natrona is telling their players the same thing.
“It is going to be a tough one but a fun one,” Coon said.
Sheridan and Natrona kick off 7 p.m. in Sheridan.