JACKSON, Wyo. — Tonight’s opening round playoff game pitting Jackson against Riverton feels a little like déjà vu all over again as the Broncs faced off against the Wolverines in last year’s quarter-final round as well, albeit at their place in Fremont County. It’s a game Jackson won handily, 48-6.

Jackson is also facing Riverton for the second time this season coming off a loss. When the Broncs dropped a game to Pocatello in Week 3 of this season, they took it out on the Wolverines the following week with a 57-7 beatdown.

Now, coming off a disappointing loss to Cody, Jackson will look to heal a little bit against the visiting #3 team out of the 3A East.

“It’s kind of weird to get Riverton both times after a loss because you are super motivated to get back on track,” coach David Joyce said.

As Star Valley play-by-play commentator Dahl Erickson said during a playoff preview show today, “Eighty-percent of a Colter Dawson is still more than 100% of anyone else in the league. He’s a beast.” Broncs fans are hoping the valuable two-way player is healthy after suffering an ankle injury in last week’s game against Cody. Photo: Tammy Urkoski Griebel

On the mend

Jackson needs this game, this week, to fix itself. The Broncs’ high-powered offense has sputtered the past two weeks perhaps, understandably, against the two best defenses in all of the 3A conference.

The ‘check engine’ light came on in Powell when the Broncs, averaging 42 points a game at that time, came away with just three scores—one in the final minute of regulation. It could have been the wind grounding the passing game, but against an aggressive defense in Cody last Friday, Jackson managed all of 6 points, total—that, a touchdown in the waning moments of the game.

The Black & Orange comes into tonight’s matchup somewhat bruised—both physically and emotionally. Cody last week had all the energy, as confidence drained from the hometown Broncs when Colter Dawson was nicked up, and Jacobo Martinez and Clancy Meagher left the game with injuries.

“Cody definitely had more energy than we did and we gotta get that back,” Joyce admitted, adding that his team basically took their lumps in the second half rather than open up the playbook. “If it would have been 21-7 at halftime, we would have made some adjustments. But when it wasn’t, when it was 27-0, we knew we would probably see these guys again so we let it ride out, take our serving of humble pie and move on.”

Coach Joyce has to get the offense back on track if Jackson is going to make a deep run in the postseason. One bright spot is the return of burner Nate Keipert. The deep threat at wide receiver is what Jackson has been missing all season since QB Sadler Smith’s favorite target went down to injury in Week 1.

Keipert’s ability to stretch the field should create more running room for Brody Hasenack who’s been bottled up the past two weeks by defenses hunting #2.

Dangerous Wolverines?

Coach Joyce said he is careful not to overlook Riverton and give Troy Anderson’s team any ‘bulletin board’ material, but he admits he will save some of the playbook for Douglas or Star Valley—whoever emerges from that game and into the semifinal round.

Riverton (4-5) is certainly the underdog coming into the game as the #3 seed in the weaker East. But the Wolverines could present challenges for the Broncs (7-2 on the season), particularly on offense where Riverton has receivers with size, and a punishing running back who is difficult to bring down.

Trayton Hyatt carries the load for Riverton. The 5’10”, 171-lb senior is the Wolverines’ featured back and will get a majority of the touches in the rushing game, though the speedy Blake Dale could also present problems for Jackson running the fly sweep.

In the passing game, QB Damon Devries enjoys sizeable targets in Lucas Engle (6’6”), Jared Lucas (6’5”), and Tanner Johnson (6’2”). Lucas has been playing some at right tackle due to injury but the overall height advantage against Jackson’s corners is problematic. The Broncs secondary has struggled all year against receivers with size.

Henry Berezay (#54) applies pressure to Riverton quarterback Damon Devries (#4) even as RB Trayton Hyatt (#84) tries to slow him down.

Tonight’s task at hand

Focus on the opponent across from you will be Jackson’s biggest challenge tonight. Whether still smarting from last week, or looking ahead for a rematch with archrival Star Valley, neither will be a productive mindset for the Broncs.

“We had a real good week of practice. The boys watched film from last week. They know that won’t happen again,” Joyce said.

Joyce added that he doesn’t expect to change up much headed into tonight’s game. At this point in the season, you are who you are.

“We got here with a formula. We had a real bad game last week against a team that we know we can play with. We’ve got to hit the reset button. Refocus. We’re going to get back to basics tonight,” Joyce said.

#3 Riverton vs. #2 Jackson, 5 p.m. kickoff.  SVI Watch Live and KZJH Listen Live.