BIG HORN — After playing on the road in four of its last five games, the Big Horn High School football team begins a homestand this week that could span nearly a month.
The No. 1 Rams host Lusk Friday night with a chance to secure a conference championship and bounce back after a subpar performance — by the Rams’ lofty standards — last week at Tongue River.
“We’re just asking the kids to step in and step up and bring more to the table than they brought this last game,” Big Horn head coach Kirk McLaughlin said.
Lusk stands at 2-2 in conference play and 4-2 overall. The Tigers have a talented running back in Drake Lamp and a physical offensive line. Lamp leads 1A in rushing yards, just ahead of Big Horn’s Kade Eisele.
Friday’s game also carries significant playoff implications. If Lusk wins one of its final two games, the Tigers are guaranteed a playoff spot.
If Lusk loses both games, its postseason berth could be determined by a coin toss.
“They’re going to bring their A game, so we need to be ready,” McLaughlin said.
If Big Horn wins, the Rams would lock up the 1A East top playoff seed, essentially securing two playoff home games after Big Horn hosts Southeast in its regular season finale next week.
In this week’s game, the Rams may not be at full capacity because several players are sick or dealing with nagging injuries. Even if that is the case, it likely won’t matter for the talented Big Horn group, which has more-than-capable replacements at most positions.
Against Tongue River, for example, Eisele took a hit to the same knee that bothered him earlier in the season, so his offensive snaps were limited. No problem. Will Pelissier and Carson Bates stepped in and both ran for two touchdowns.
Bates — the team’s third-string running back — had touchdown runs of 36 and 49 yards on consecutive carries.
“If [Bates] has space, look out,” McLaughlin said. “He is a playmaker. We’re fortunate enough to have a bunch of them and we can expose defenses in a lot of different ways.”
The Rams are currently 6-0 and have won all of their games by more than 20 points. Talented players are a huge component of Big Horn’s success, but a lot of unseen work also takes place leading up to game day.
Every week, the coaching staff meets Sunday or Monday morning and puts together a scouting report for the upcoming game. The report usually involves several pages of offensive and defensive strategy, along with a page or two of special teams preparation.
“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s when you first watch a team, if it’s a good team it can be a little bit intimidating,” McLaughlin said. “Until you watch enough film and really see what they’re doing and come up with a plan on how to defeat them — you don’t get comfortable unless you put that time in.”
The coaches go over film with the team Monday before practice. They discuss a few select plays from the previous game and then dive into their plans for next week’s opponent. The team also watches film Tuesday and Wednesday mornings before school for 15 to 30 minutes.
In addition to team film, the coaches ask players to watch at least 10 minutes per night on their own. The weekly prep is a significant amount of work, but McLaughlin said the players can handle it.
“It’s a lot and our guys have to study up during the week,” McLaughlin said. “Our kids are excellent in the classroom as well and that’s a good thing, because we can throw a lot at them.”
Big Horn quarterback and linebacker Quinn McCafferty said he watches about five hours of film per week. McCafferty mainly studies during weekend afternoons and weeknights after finishing homework.
It doesn’t feel like an extra burden, though.
“It’s just nice to get away from all that schoolwork and focus on the game that week,” McCafferty said.
A talented, mentally prepared team, the Rams have rolled through the competition so far this season. A win against Lusk brings Big Horn one step closer to its championship aspirations.
The game kicks off Friday at 6 p.m. at Big Horn High School.