BIG HORN — Road games haven’t presented much of an obstacle for the Big Horn High School football team over the past several years.
The Rams have won their last seven road contests and 19 of their last 21 away games dating back to 2013 (not including neutral site games at the state championship in Laramie). The combination of talent, skill, preparation and focus has led to the Rams’ success away from home.
Head coach Kirk McLaughlin said there is no special formula to winning on the road. The team simply treats every road game like a professional business trip.
“We’re there to win a football game, first and foremost,” McLaughlin said.
Depending on the distance to an away game, the Rams depart Friday morning or afternoon. The bus ride to games is usually quiet. Most players sleep, relax with music or mentally prepare for the game. Some players wear compression sleeves on their legs so they don’t get too tight during bus rides, which are usually between two and six hours.
Tomorrow, the Rams will leave at 2 p.m. for the 100-mile trek over the Bighorn Mountains to face Greybull in an inter-class matchup at 7 p.m. Shortly after arriving for the road contest, the players will line up horizontally across the football field and walk the 100-yard distance together. Every 5 yards, at least one player talks about how he will commit to winning the game. Ideally, this puts the team in the right mindset before warm-ups.
The tradition has carried over for many years and has worked well for players in the Big Horn senior class, who have gone 12-2 on the road in their careers. One of those losses, however, came in Greybull.
The Buffaloes ended Big Horn’s season in 2015, taking down the Rams 27-25 in the state quarterfinals. Big Horn returned the favor the following year when it defeated Greybull 28-20 to win the 2A state championship.
The Rams dropped to 1A last season, so that championship bout was the last time the teams faced each other. Greybull has a new head coach and a few different offensive schemes but appears to be one of the better 2A teams in the state.
Both teams head into the game on the heels of blowout victories in the first week. Big Horn, still easily ranked first in 1A, dominated Thermopolis 43-0 last week, while the fifth-ranked Buffaloes blew past Rocky Mountain 49-7.
McLaughlin said physicality will be key against Greybull because the Buffaloes are traditionally a big, strong team. The Rams need to dictate the pace of play, rather than have it dictated to them.
McLaughlin said aggression is part of the reason Greybull defeated Big Horn in 2015. The following year, the Rams were prepared in the state title game and took home the championship.
“Any year that we’ve played them, it’s always been a physical game,” McLaughlin said.
“It’ll be a good test for us, both physically and mentally. We’ve got a challenge going over the mountain and facing them.”
Physicality starts with Big Horn’s offensive and defensive linemen, an experienced group of upperclassmen.
Linemen Jaxon Parker and Seth Mullinax both started as freshmen in the 2015 playoff game. They are excited to visit Greybull again and try to avenge their loss from three years ago.
Mullinax said the Rams must bring the right attitude to the game.
“We have to toe that line between confidence and ego,” Mullinax said. “We have all the resources to beat them, we just have to execute.”
The linemen said they can sense the energy when they play on the road. Parker said the hype and noise motivate him to play well and quiet the opposing crowd.
Friday mornings, the Big Horn linemen usually go to the Silver Spur Cafe for a hearty pregame breakfast. Later in the day, they get on the bus with their quiet, focused teammates, walk the opposing field as a team and prepare for the road bout.
That routine has worked for Big Horn in recent years, and Friday marks the renewal of a competitive, high-stakes rivalry.
The game kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. in Greybull.