BIG HORN — On paper, the Big Horn High School football team won’t have much of a challenge in Wright this Friday. Through two weeks, the top-ranked Rams have outscored their opponents 82-7, while the Panthers have been outscored 93-6 in two losses.
However, this week isn’t different than others. It is about internal improvement for Big Horn. The conference opener against Wright signifies a point along the way to the eventual goal of winning a state title.
Head coach Kirk McLaughlin said the Rams can’t afford to regress or plateau.
“We spent a lot of time [Monday] night talking about how we have to get better to get to where we want to be at the end of the season,” McLaughlin said. “We can’t have a week off or a week lapse where we don’t get better, because it’ll cost us.”
McLaughlin was proud of the team’s 39-7 win last week in Greybull and said the Rams have to build on that level of play going forward. After leaving in the second quarter in the first game, running back Kade Eisele played the full game and gashed the Buffaloes for 200 yards on 21 carries, including a 61-yard touchdown.
McLaughlin said the offensive line played great and opened holes for Eisele and his backfield mates. Similarly, lineman Jaxon Parker complimented Eisele’s ability to do damage and make defenders miss.
“Kade has a lot of tricks up his sleeve to get around someone,” Parker said. “For someone his size, it’s pretty incredible.”
Last year, Eisele had nearly 200 yards rushing and two TDs against Wright in Big Horn’s 45-13 victory, the ninth consecutive win for Big Horn against Wright.
Eisele also starts at linebacker and was part of a Big Horn defense that had two goal-line stops against Greybull last Friday, which McLaughlin loved to see.
“It’s really disheartening when you get that close to the goal line and can’t score,” McLaughlin said. “Our defense bends a little bit but they haven’t broke.”
The defensive starters came out last week after Will Pelissier’s pick-six midway through the fourth quarter. Greybull tacked on a late score after that, so the team’s top defensive players have yet to surrender any points this season.
With all of its starters returning from last season, this year’s defense is the most experienced group McLaughlin has had in his seven years at Big Horn. The team’s collective football IQ has allowed McLaughlin to add a few new looks and formations to keep opposing offenses off-balance.
“It’s probably our highest execution group that we’ve had, as far as the defensive scheme,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve had talented defenses in the past, and this group’s no different, but it just seems like we execute better, I think because we have that chemistry from a year ago.”
The Rams also have a few players who can come off the bench and give the starters a breather. McLaughlin has been a track coach for many years as well, so he has a good sense of when the team is in top shape. He said the players aren’t quite there yet but are noticeably better than at the start of the season.
“We can go through a session with high-tempo and even though we’re still breathing hard, we’re not breathing as hard,” McLaughlin said.
This week may not present a huge obstacle, but there are two quality opponents in the near future. The Rams host third-ranked Upton-Sundance next week and then travel to No. 2 Pine Bluffs for a much-anticipated rematch of last year’s state championship game.
“It’s different looking forward to this weekend knowing we’re the better team on paper, but it’s all about being focused on getting better,” McLaughlin said. “We get one chance at this season.”
The game kicks off in Wright at 7 p.m.