BIG HORN — After three weeks of practice, Big Horn Rams football players are eager to hit someone other than their teammates. The Rams will begin their 2016 campaign Friday against the defending 2A West champion Lovell Bulldogs.
“We had a great three weeks of practice, but we are ready to start playing,” head coach Mike McGuire said. “It’s really important for us to come out strong in our first game.”
Other than some players with a few bumps and bruises, the Rams should be healthy heading into their first outing of the year. McGuire said only one player is questionable, but the head coach should have a full lineup at his disposal this Friday.
If you wanted to find the last opening-game loss for the Rams, you would have to look back to 2011.
The last two times Big Horn opened the season against Lovell, the Rams have won by a combined score of 67-7. This includes a 42-7 victory last year that could have been worse had the game not been called in the third quarter due to lightning.
Unlike Big Horn, Lovell played a zero-week game against Buffalo last week, so McGuire has had an opportunity to look at Lovell’s talent this year.
The Bulldogs are going to operate out of a Pro I formation and mix in a shotgun spread offense. On defense, Lovell will run a 4-4.
“It’s really similar to what they’ve done the past five years,” McGuire said. “They do what they do, and they do it very well. This has always been a well-coached team.”
Doug Hazen is at the helm for the Bulldogs for his eighth year. He has gone 58-17 with one state title since he took over in 2009.
Key players returning for the Bulldogs include running backs Beudee Bluemel and his brother Brighton Bluemel. Last year’s 2A West Lineman of the Year Jaret Collins will return for his senior year as well.
With an offensive and defensive line with plenty of size, McGuire expects the Bulldogs to pound the ball between the tackles. That was one of the areas the Rams struggled with in their game against Lovell last year, so it will be up to the defensive line to stop the power run game.
Tanner Warder is expected to jump into the quarterback position for Big Horn again this year.
After expecting to be the backup last year, an injury in the lineup thrusted Warder into the starting job.
He didn’t disappoint. While under center last year, the Rams had one of the most explosive offenses in the state. Included in Warder’s resume was a 350-yard, six-touchdown game against Newcastle in week seven.
Also in the backfield is last year’s all-state running back Colton Williams — a name that is bound to strike fear into Lovell’s defense. In Big Horn’s game against Lovell last year, Williams punished the Bulldogs defense with a five-touchdown performance.
Keeping a balance between the running game and the passing game will be crucial for the Rams Friday.
“Offensively, we’ve got to do our best to establish the run game; we can’t get stuck in just passing the ball,” McGuire said. “We’ve got to stay balanced and keep their defense on their toes.”
The Rams and Bulldogs kick off at 7 p.m. Friday at Big Horn High School.