JACKSON, Wyo. — The ‘Battle of the Broncs’ tonight will be a momentous occasion for several reasons.
On a surface level, tonight’s final regular season game is a matchup of the top two teams in the 3A—Jackson, king of the hill since Week 5’s win over Star Valley; and Cody, the latest challenger to the throne, now ranked at #2.
Who is really the best in the west? We find out tonight.
The Cody vs. Jackson game is also a chance for Jackson to continue its hot hand. The ‘real’ Broncs are riding a 5-game win streak while racking up more points this season than any team in the conference.
There is also a little payback due Cody. The Broncs of the north beat Jackson 19-15 last year; in fact, Cody has won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the two 3A West powerhouses.
And then there are the playoff implications.
Head coach David Joyce talked about the arduous trip to Park County last week to face Powell as motivation enough to beat Cody tonight to ensure Jackson stays in the 83002 for the duration of post season.
“It’s a tough road trip up there, especially as winter sets in and the [Yellowstone] park is closed,” Joyce said. “Last week, we try to stop and eat lunch, and the wind is blowing and it’s freezing. It’s an early morning and a super late night. Those discomforts are worth a touchdown or two right there. The idea that they might have to come to us next time makes a ton of difference.”
With a 4-0 record in conference, Jackson holds all the cards. But a loss tonight to the 3-1 Broncs of Cody would put both clubs at 4-1 with the tiebreaker (a head-to-head matchup) belonging to Cody, meaning they would be top-seeded headed into the playoffs.
For Jackson, not much would change with a loss tonight until a presumable state title game on November 14. The Broncs would face Worland or Riverton in the opening round at home. If all teams held serve, Jackson would then host Star Valley in the second round of the playoffs.
If Cody emerges in the other bracket, Jackson would have to travel there for the state title game. However, if Powell should beat Cody in the semi-finals, the Panthers would have to come to Jackson for the title game.
A win tonight for Jackson would eliminate all the guesswork and keep the Black & Orange at William McIntosh Stadium throughout.
Just how good is Cody?
For the second straight week, Jackson will face another strong defense. Cody has surrendered just 70 points all season (10 per game on average), while Jackson is averaging 40 a game on offense. Something has to give.
In common opponents, both teams beat Green River, Evanston, and Riverton in convincing fashion. Both also beat Powell in close games. But Cody lost to Star Valley 21-14 in Afton, where Jackson beat the Braves by the same score at home.
On paper, the teams look very evenly matched but Jackson has faced a tougher strength of schedule.
Cody coach Matt McFadden likes to run the football with a host of different looks. Cody rushes by committee. Any number of backs—including Nic Talich, Cody Phillips, Remy Broussard, Chaz Cowie, or Jackson Schroeder—could get the ball.
Senior quarterback Caleb Pryor (6’ 2” 180 lbs) will throw to keep defenses honest…and he’s been deadly efficient of late. Last week, Pryor hit on 8 of his 12 attempts for 105 yards. The week before he was 5 for 5 in a loss to Star Valley.
Joyce has studied the Cody defense, looking for weaknesses.
“They are the exact opposite of Powell. They are not real big so they run a 3-5-3 [on defense]—with 8 skill guys on the field and they run to the football really well,” Joyce said. “So, we are going to have to block in space better than we did last week. Where Powell has some big ol’ boys in the middle that just plug it, Cody is a little different—they like to knife you from the side. They don’t try to stand in there in front of you. They try to cause chaos from the sides.”
After a so-so performance from the offense last week when Brody Hasenack was bottled up and the passing game grounded by a relentless wind, Joyce is looking forward to opening up the playbook early and often.
Sadler Smith will have to make good reads against a defense that drops 8 in zone coverage and waits for opportunities to step into passing lanes.
Just how big is this game?
Is this a pressure game with a lot on the line?
“Yes,” Joyce said. “I was concerned coming into Monday just because of how beat up we were after Powell. But we’ve had a focused week of practice, and the kids know a win here secures the #1 ranking and we stay home. It’s high stakes poker this week…again. There are four good football teams in the West and we are the last team that has a chance to run through the gauntlet clean.”
Speed-burner wideout Nate Keipert will not play tonight. He’s been cleared by the medical staff after a collarbone injury in Week 1 and practicing all week, but Joyce says he will hold him back for the playoffs.
“We could play him if we wanted to. If it were do-or-die state championship game, he would play,” Joyce said. “Dad wants him to go. Mom wants to wait.”
Moms can be like that.
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