JACKSON HOLE, WYO – It’s been a while since the Jackson Broncs varsity football team headed into a season as a favorite to be in the mix for the 3A state title but that is just where the ‘Black&Orange’ find themselves before the start of tonight’s home opener.

Jackson comes into the 2019 campaign returning star players at key positions beginning with 3A West Offensive Player of the Year Jayden Cox who scrambled for 2,257 yards as a junior last year. Joined by fellow senior Kirby Castagno in the backfield, the Broncs have a 1-2 rushing punch that should gobble up clock and yards, and keep opponents’ offenses off the field.

And then there’s the passing game. Don’t look now but the Broncs may have a quarterback controversy on their hands as Joyce has opted to start the sophomore Sadler Smith at QB tonight—at least for the first half. Senior Pearson Evans called the signals for the team last season and was an effective thrower—especially on play-action when defenses keyed up to stop Cox out of the backfield—and good runner out of the triple-option.

But Smith has caught the eye of coaches who say he has a big arm and a ton of poise for an underclassman. Smith is also heftier than Evans—both are listed at 6-footers but Smith outweighs Evans by 40 pounds at a sizeable 180 lbs.

Peter Goettler will likely be a go-to target for either QB. At 6’2″, the big senior can simply out-compete smaller corners and safeties for balls thrown his way.

Perhaps the biggest weapon the Broncs have is their hurry-up style offense. Joyce likes to play an up-tempo game simply because it gives him an edge. Virtually no other teams in the state run the kind of spread offense while breaking the huddle as quickly as Jackson does. It is difficult for opponents to prepare for, even when they now know it’s coming.

On defense, Jackson should be in good shape this season. The hallmark of the defense last year was its pursuit. Team speed, gang tackling, the Broncs simply swarmed to the ball in 2018, rarely allowing opponents to gain the edge on sweeps and closing the gap quickly on ball carriers who hesitated to find holes.

Is this the year?

Before kickoff of the first game of the season is perhaps too early to talk about a state championship (but that won’t stop Buckrail from doing just that).

By all accounts, including Coach Joyce’s, the Broncs were ahead of schedule during last year’s magical 8-3 run culminating with a bitter 1-point loss to Torrington in the semi-finals. It was a positive indication that a young team was beginning to buy in to Joyce’s system and starting to understand the playbook a little better.

For starters, the Broncs learned to close out games in 2018 after failing to do so in the opening against Teton where they surrendered a 2-touchdown lead and fumbled away a sure victory, losing 28-20 last August 24 in Driggs.

Since then, Joyce stressed playing a complete game. “Own the night,” Joyce preaches—a mantra printed on the backs of player t-shirts as a reminder. After the opening loss to the Redskins, Jackson ripped off five straight wins, pummeling opponents in the process.

Archrival Star Valley took a little swagger out of Jackson, beating the Broncs 32-14 on October 5, 2018, in a game closer than the final score indicated. The Broncs, however, responded well, winning out the rest of the regular season schedule and winning a playoff game against Lander before the “Torrington Time Continuum” clockgate episode in the semi-finals.

Jackson has not won a state title since their 4A championship in 2007. Before that, the Broncs hadn’t even appeared in a title game since 1989 and hadn’t won a championship since 1986.

This year could be the Broncs’ year, though. Star Valley will again be the team to beat and all eyes are on a showdown with the Braves October 11 in Afton. But first things first. Jackson has to prove they can put away teams they are supposed to beat.

The Redskins come into tonight’s contest off a 2-7 record last year. They were 0-5 0n the road. They are also a fairly young team, returning just nine seniors. But Teton has Jackson’s number. For whatever reason, Teton High gets up for this opening season clash with their rivals on the other side of the pass like no other opponent. In the 15 meetings between the two Teton County teams, Jackson is 6-9 against the Redskins.

Expect Coach Brody Birch’s bunch to be eager to play spoiler at the William T. McIntosh field tonight. Kickoff at 7 pm. Jackson Hole Radio’s KZ95  (95.3FM) will have all the play-by-play action, available on livestream as well.