BIG HORN — Rarely does a conference football game include two defending state champions, but Friday’s matchup between Big Horn and Pine Bluffs breaks the mold.
The Rams won the 2A state title last year before dropping down to 1A, where the Hornets claimed last year’s throne with a 10-7 victory over Tongue River.
The two teams are strong again this year, as both are 2-0. Big Horn is ranked No. 1 in the state, just ahead of Cokeville, and Pine Bluffs is No. 3.
It is also the conference home-opener for the Rams, which head coach Michael McGuire said has been the priority for the week.
“All the rankings and stuff, that doesn’t mean anything to us,” he said. “The most important thing for us that we’re focused on is that it’s a home conference game, and you’ve got to win your home conference games to make the playoffs.”
Unlike the first two weeks, the weather may play a significant role in Friday’s game. Temperatures will be in the 40s with a likelihood of rain throughout the day. The weather has factored into game preparation.
“Especially when you have a forecast where you know it’s going to happen, I think you don’t throw anything out of the game plan,” he said, noting that ball security and defending the run may be emphasized even more.
Pine Bluffs was primarily a running offense during its first two games, averaging over 200 yards on the ground and less than 80 through the air. However, McGuire said the Hornets have the ability to throw it, as well.
“The main thing is, their quarterback (Haize Fornstrom) is a really dynamic player,” McGuire said. “He can run it. He can throw it. He’s just a really good all-around athlete and a good quarterback, so he kind of makes the whole motor run for them on offense.”
Big Horn has outscored its opponents 95-37 the first two weeks, but the Hornet defense should present the toughest matchup of the season so far. Pine Bluffs has given up only 14 points and had a 31-0 shutout last week against Burns. The Hornets also allowed a mere 20 passing yards in their first two games with almost as many interceptions (two) as completions allowed (four). McGuire said the Hornets are strong across the board defensively.
“They got some kids on the defensive line,” McGuire said. “All four of their linebackers are solid, and they’ve got some really good athletes in the secondary.”
However, Pine Bluffs hasn’t faced a team with the offensive firepower that the Rams possess. Big Horn is first in 1A in total offense, averaging 583 yards per game. The Rams are also first in passing offense and second in rushing offense.
After an outstanding game against Southeast last week that earned him the Press’ Athlete of the Week, Big Horn sophomore Will Pelissier leads 1A in rushing, receiving and total yards. He has amassed 628 yards of offense and six touchdowns in the first two games and returned an interception for a touchdown last week.
“Will did a really nice job of carrying the football for us and made a couple nice catches out of the backfield, as well as a couple interceptions,” McGuire said. “He made a lot of big splash plays for us on Friday, and that was good to see.”
Pelissier and junior Kade Eisele will continue to split carries in the backfield. McGuire said Eisele’s ankle injury from Week 1 may linger for a while, but he hasn’t regressed.
McGuire said having two backfield standouts in Eisele and Pelissier presents unique challenges for Big Horn’s opponents.
“We like to mix and match them, and that’s another way of getting mismatches,” he said. “Whatever we can do to get those guys the ball in space usually turns out good for us.”
Big Horn has the talent at the skill positions, and the Rams will have home-field advantage, but Pine Bluffs has been in similar situations before.
“That’s one thing about them, is they’re an experienced team,” McGuire said. “They’ve won a lot of games; they’ve been in a lot of ballgames where they had to find a way to win. That’s what makes them so dangerous. They’re well-coached, they have kids who know how to win, and they’re talented.”
The Rams and Hornets kick off at 5 p.m. Friday at Big Horn High School.