SHERIDAN — Big Horn High School football is one game away from completing another perfect season and winning back-to-back state titles. This is the fourth year in a row the Rams have made it to a state title game.
The Rams will travel to Laramie Friday to play in War Memorial Stadium the following day. Playing at the biggest venue can provide a distraction for some, but the experience the Rams have in Laramie allows the players to focus on the game and worry less about what leads up to the game.
“Once you get into the game, it is just another football game,” said senior Quinn McCafferty. “Everything before that first time you are there overtakes you, but once you are out there it is just another football game.”
Senior Nolan Rader said once you have experienced the title game the first time, that is enough to prepare you for the added distractions.
“You treat it like any other football game, it’s not different. You have to play hard to win,” Rader said.
The Rams have not always found success, losing in Laramie in 2017. Head coach Kirk McLaughlin said he reminded his team they have an opportunity to win a state title but it was not very long ago the team lost the title game.
The current seniors were sophomores during the 2017 game.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities our sophomore year and I think last year we cleaned that up and we need to do a lot of the same this year,” McCafferty said. “[There’s] No greater feeling than accomplishing that goal.”
Rader said it would be a great experience to end his high school career as a state champion with players he has been teammates with since the sixth grade.
McLaughlin said the Rams are taking everything one practice at a time, not looking too far ahead toward Saturday.
“It is early, but tonight everyone was dialed in and yesterday we had a pretty lengthy film session and game plan install,” McCafferty said. “I thought we did a good job with it and being dialed in.”
Trying to end the Rams 21-game win streak and spoil a repeat is Cokeville High School, a team the Rams defeated last year 56-3 in the title game.
Cokeville is led by head coach Todd Dayton who took over the program in 1980 and has since won 21 of the 22 state titles that belong to Cokeville.
“They are going to be well prepared,” McLaughlin said.
“They have been there before as a coaching staff and they have been there before a lot. The other thing I know about coach Dayton is a year ago we had a good game against them and got the best of them last year. I can still remember him saying ‘It is hard for me to forget about that loss,’ I think they are going to have more of a chip on their shoulder this year. They are going to bring an excellent game plan and they are going to bring everything. Their kids are not going to be afraid of the moment, they are going to ready to play.”
Cokeville is looking true to form this year with a disciplined team that is disciplined and will execute at a high level, McLaughlin said.
Cokeville runs the same offense Dayton has been using, running the ball right at teams. Rader said Cokeville has good technique and the offensive line will come out low and drive people off the ball, something 1A schools struggle with at times. Cokeville also remains disciplined.
McCafferty said he expects Cokeville to add some wrinkles to the game plan.
Cokeville averages 357 yards of offense per game, the third most in 1A. Most of the yardage is gained through the rushing attack, with Cokeville averaging 246.8 yards on the ground.
Nate Barnes and Devyn Donahue lead Cokeville’s rushing attack by averaging 94 yards and 72 yards rushing per game, respectively. McLaughlin said Barnes is a powerful runner and will be hard to stop.
Cokeville added a dangerous passing game, giving the offense more balance.
“They catch teams off guard,” McLaughlin said. “You are so dialed in to stop the run that you get kind of lost trying to stop a run and they slip a receiver past you.
“They hit some big plays in the pass game that is for sure.”
The Rams will need to be disciplined on defense, tackle well and prevent the big play through the air in an attempt to stop the Cokeville offense, McLaughlin said.
The Big Horn defense has dominated all year and leads 1A in pass defense, rush defense and overall defense. Big Horn allows only 153.3 yards and 8.9 points per game.
The Rams have not been slouches on offense either, leading 1A with 156 yards passing per game to complement the second best run game averaging 285.5 yards per game. Big Horn has to top offense in 1A. The key for the offense will be to control the line of scrimmage and establish the run game against Cokeville.
“We always want to have a good rushing attack,” McLaughlin said. “If we can run on a team, it does not matter what the weather is, you have a chance to win the game. Weather can have a big impact on the passing game. We are balanced enough that we can sling the ball a little bit too. They cannot just put eight or nine in the box and say we are going to stop your run, pass on us. They are going to be ready for our passing game as well.”
The Rams will attempt to repeat as champions and win their third title in four years 1 p.m. Saturday.