SHERIDAN — The last time the Rock Springs Tigers won three football games in a season was 2011. The last time the Tigers beat Sheridan was in 1959 — the teams didn’t play for 33 years from ’59 to 1992.
But something is brewing down in the southwest part of the state.
Rock Springs comes into Friday’s matchup with the Sheridan Broncs sitting on a 3-1 record and three straight wins after dropping the opener against Cheyenne East. The wins haven’t displayed much rhyme or reason — 14-13 over Laramie, 28-21 over Kelly Walsh and 51-31 over Cheyenne Central — other than the increasing margin of victory each week.
While Sheridan defeated Laramie and Kelly Walsh by a combined 70 points, coupled with a 41-point blowout of Cheyenne East, Rock Springs is gaining enough traction to draw the Broncs’ attention.
“You can kind of see that they’re gaining momentum and gaining confidence” Sheridan head coach Don Julian said of the Tigers. “That’s part of what happened last week with Central. They had won two, and they’re doing better. They got it rolling a little bit, and it just exploded for them.”
If you watch film of Rock Springs, look at their box scores or ask Julian, it’s obvious what kind of offense the Tigers run.
“They run the ball,” Julian said. “That’s what they do.”
And to say Rock Springs runs the ball might be an understatement.
The Tigers lead the state in rushing yards per game (277) and rushing touchdowns (11). They average 5.9 yards per carry and have rushed the ball 20 more times than the next most in the state.
Running back Matt Fowler does a majority of the dirty work. The state’s top rusher averages 156 yards per game on 6.6 yards per carry. He’s also scored eight touchdowns.
On the other side of it, they’ve thrown the ball just 23 times this year, 54 times fewer than the next least in the state. They average just 33.8 yards passing per game on eight total completions.
“Everybody’s within about an 11-by-5-yard box,” Julian said of the Rock Springs offense. “And they’re running it well.”
The meticulous run game works for the Tigers’ offensively, but it also keeps their defense — and opposing offenses — off the field. Julian and the Broncs emphasize the importance of scoring on every possession, but the coach re-emphasized that when it comes to playing Rock Springs.
While the Tigers fight to control the clock, it may limit the Broncs to just a few possessions a half. Julian hopes his offense — the state’s third best — can keep up the scoring pace they’ve had so far this season.
“We’ve been pretty good,” Julian said with a big smile. “In fact, we’ve been really good. We need to get points on the board when we have the ball.”
But getting those possessions comes from not allowing the Rock Springs offense to get going. Julian said the key for his team this week will be making plays on first and second down and forcing the Tigers to work with third-and-longs all game.
He also mentioned the importance of special teams. While the Broncs have been particularly good on the receiving end of punts this year, he said they need to be strong when punting the ball Friday. Making Rock Springs work with a long field gives the Sheridan defense more opportunities to create those first- and second-down stops.
At the end of the day, though, Julian is most concerned with how his team can push through adversity.
Along with the obscure rush-heavy offense of the Tigers, the Broncs are losing slots on the depth chart.
All-around playmaker Coy Steel suffered a brutal knee injury last week after scoring three early touchdowns. His presence on offense, defense and special teams will be a tough role to fill. Senior linebacker Wyatt Avery also broke his ankle in last week’s win, and the Broncs roster is getting thinner.
“When someone gets hurt, it shakes the kids up a little bit,” Julian said. “It creates a little different mental change for them. It’s our hopes that it will force our team to all elevate their play.”