SHERIDAN — For a third consecutive year, the Sheridan High School football team and Natrona County will play the final high school football game of the season. For the third consecutive year, the Broncs and Mustangs will meet in Laramie to decide who truly is the best in the state.
The parallels go on and on, and while the stage and magnitude of the game isn’t foreign to Sheridan or Natrona County, the week leading up to the game is somewhat different than past years.
“Everything about it is a little bit different,” Sheridan head coach Jeff Mowry said. “We don’t stay in hotel rooms very often. We don’t eat in the hotel very often. We don’t have meetings in hotels very often. We don’t sit around together until 4 p.m in the hotel together very often.
“It’s a college-like atmosphere, and we treat it as such,” he added.
War Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Wyoming will host the 4A state title game at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Broncs will travel to Laramie Friday afternoon and conduct their walkthrough on the field that same day to alleviate any awe-factor that could come with playing in a Division I football stadium.
Everything Sheridan has done the past few years has worked as the Broncs will attempt to become the third team ever to win four straight state titles in Wyoming high school’s highest classification. Sheridan accomplished a four-peat in the early 1990s and Worland did it in the mid-1920s.
For the Broncs to achieve that feat, they’ll have to do it against a Natrona County team that had its way with Sheridan in the regular season.
The Mustangs dominated the Broncs 34-7 on Sept. 7, outscoring them 20-0 in the second half.
“I don’t think we were prepared for the intensity of the game that day,” Sheridan wide receiver Toby Jacobs said.
“They’d been focusing on us ever since we beat them last November,” Jacobs continued. “They were really motivated when they saw us week three; they prepared, they prepared and they prepared and were really ready.”
Mowry said after that week-three loss, the Broncs needed to improve at a more accelerated rate than Natrona County if they wanted any shot at defending their crown. And while Sheridan’s head man believes his team has made significant strides this season, the true test awaits.
“There’s no way to determine how much we’ve grown until we matchup against Natrona,” Mowry said.
Sheridan advanced to the finals by defeating Thunder Basin 14-7 in the semifinals in Gillette. The Broncs scored the go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds to play in a rain-soaked, come-from-behind victory.
Natrona County rallied for a 21-14 win over Cheyenne East in the semifinals. The Thunderbirds — the only team to have beaten the Mustangs this season — led 14-0 a week ago, and their success against Natrona County is something that Mowry is looking at with heightened focus.
“We are beating up that film,” Mowry said. “East is big and physical up front and they matched up well with Natrona, and they were able to run the ball and keep them off balance with some pass game. … Find chinks in that armor, that’s what we have to do because Natrona is a solid, solid football team.”
The Mustangs run the ball better than anyone in the state, and it’s not even close. Natrona County averages 303 yards per game rushing, but can still get it done via the passing game, gaining 121 yards through the air.
Sheridan, while not as potent offensively, has more balance with 188 yards rushing per contest to go alongside 133 yards passing.
The Mustangs and Broncs lay claim to the first and third-best defenses in Wyoming, respectively, holding teams to 198 and 241 yards per game.
Sheridan defeated Natrona County the last two times in Laramie, and while Natrona County currently holds bragging rights this season, the best 4A team will be determined Saturday.
“It’s a big opportunity to be back in the state championship against the other top team in the state,” Sheridan running back Garrett Coon said. “We are going to be ready to step up to the plate.”