SHERIDAN — Josh Ahrens called last week’s win over Thunder Basin his favorite game as a Bronc. However, the Sheridan High School senior wide receiver quickly stated that the upcoming 4A title game would likely surpass the upset win over the Bolts.
Ahrens has enjoyed watching his senior group, and the team as a whole, grow and improve every week, making each game played memorable and his new favorite.
“It’s beautiful,” Ahrens said. “There’s a tradition. What we say is, ‘It’s a gold standard.’ And it’s just a wonderful thing to be part of.”
Three straight state titles for the Broncs have given their gold standard validity.
The start to the 2018 campaign, however, was anything but golden. While the Broncs entered the season as the top dog, they didn’t hold that designation after the first few games.
Having to replace 18 starters from a team that went 12-0 proved a tall task — one filled with growing pains and defeats. After just four weeks, the 2018 version of the Broncs had lost as many games as the last three Sheridan teams combined.
“We lost those two games, and it almost felt like everyone forgot about us,” Sheridan linebacker Garrett Coon said.
The Broncs offense was struggling to meet their standard, averaging just 22.8 points per game. Sheridan’s defense didn’t shine bright, either, yielding more than 20 points in both losses.
“We really didn’t know what we had in weeks one and two,” Sheridan head coach Jeff Mowry said. “And then in weeks three and four we were really trying to find our identity in tough games.”
The Broncs had taken their lumps, were cast aside and forgotten about. No longer was Sheridan sitting atop the standings. Teams like Cheyenne East, Natrona County and Thunder Basin had stolen the spotlight and captured the headlines while the Broncs became an afterthought.
Sheridan’s turnaround started in Week Five. The Broncs — with standout running back Parker Christensen back from injury — clobbered Kelly Walsh, but more than that, they found their identity. Sheridan would lean on its running game, err on the side of conservative on offense when necessary, and play mountain-lion mean on defense.
“It has been a little bit different,” Mowry said. “We aren’t scoring a lot of points and doing things like that. We haven’t been able to do that. We’ve changed some things. Traditionally, we are a team — when we win the (opening coin) toss — we want to receive the kick and get rolling on offense. We haven’t always done that this year.
“… We want to capitalize on our players’ strengths, on what we think we should be capitalizing on,” he continued. “How can we maximize what we are?”
The Broncs unassumingly won four in a row, leading up to their regular-season finale against 7-1 Cheyenne East. A win and the Broncs would ascended to the No. 3 seed for the playoffs, but not many thought the Thunderbirds, at home, were going to lose to a now-mortal Broncs’ team.
“Going into the Cheyenne East game, in fact, one time in the media, not The Press, they said basically barring any surprises it will be a three-way coin flip for the No. 1 seed,” Mowry said. “That just added a little fuel to our fire, and the players saw that, and they took that a little personal.”
Feeling a bit slighted, the Broncs went out and annihilated the Thunderbirds 41-15. An even more motivated Sheridan team eviscerated Rock Springs 41-8 before exacting some much-anticipated revenge against Thunder Basin.
Now, the Broncs are back in the state title game for a fourth consecutive year, looking to become just the third team ever to win four straight championships.
The team may not be the Sheridan of years past, but the result — landing a spot in the state title game — has been the same.
The gold standard has still been upheld, even if it took a more circuitous route in 2018.