BIG HORN — The Big Horn High School football team is ready to defend last year’s state championship, if in an atypical way.

After going 10-1 and winning the 2A title last year, the Rams are now in class 1A and ranked number two in the state, behind Cokeville. Big Horn is replacing five All-State performers from last year, including running back Colton Williams, last year’s USA Today Wyoming Offensive Player of the Year and the Press’ Fall Sports Male Athlete of the Year.

However, the Rams have plenty of firepower returning, with three juniors who were All-State performers last year in Kade Eisele, Seth Mullinax and Kade Van Dyken.

The move down a class means Big Horn will face teams it hasn’t seen for at least several years. The Rams’ first opponent is No. 5 Rocky Mountain, which they last played in 2008. The Grizzlies were 6-3 last year, losing to eventual state champion Pine Bluffs 23-14 in the state quarterfinals.

“It should be a great test for us right off the bat,” Big Horn coach Michael McGuire said. “They’ve got some really good athletes, especially at the skill positions.”

Indeed, Rocky Mountain was one of the better 1A teams last season and figures to be strong again. The Grizzlies were first in 1A passing offense last year, throwing for nearly 150 yards per game. Big Horn’s pass defense was second in 2A last year, allowing a mere 70.4 yards per game through the air, which should present an exciting matchup.

“I think they’re a team that’s trying to be balanced, and if they stay balanced, they’re going to be pretty hard to defend,” McGuire said. “We need to try to make them as one-dimensional as we can.”

The other side of the ball should feature a battle of strengths, as well. Rocky Mountain was easily number one in 1A total defense last year, giving up about 142 yards per game. Likewise, Big Horn was first in 2A total offense, averaging a shade under 400 yards per game.

Because it is the first game of the season and the Rams haven’t played Rocky Mountain in nine years, the coaches can’t incorporate much film into the game plan. 

“I think that probably goes both ways a little bit,” McGuire said. “There’s not a whole lot of familiarity with each other … It’s a team we haven’t played for a long, long time at Big Horn, so it’s kind of exciting to see somebody new on the schedule.”

Big Horn sophomore Quinn McCafferty will make his first start at quarterback, and McGuire is confident in his young signal-caller. 

“He’s a talented kid,” McGuire said. “He really understands our offense, and I think he’s going to do a great job for us.”

Although Big Horn is a relatively young team, it has plenty of experience in high-level competition. 

“Even though there’s not that many seniors, we’ve had a lot of guys who have played a lot of football for us,” McGuire said. “I think come game day, there’s always going to be a little bit of nerves, but I think our kids will be focused in on what they need to get done.”

After last Saturday’s scrimmages against Moorcraft and Wright, McGuire said the starting lineups are in place, barring an injury in practice this week.

Big Horn is beginning its quest for a second consecutive state championship and third in five years under McGuire, but the coach said there isn’t any added pressure. 

“I don’t know that there’s a target on us,” he said. “If there is, that’s not really up to us.”

After several weeks of practice, McGuire said the team is ready for some official competition. Big Horn and Rocky Mountain kick off Friday at 7 p.m. at BHHS.