Broncs head to Star Valley with something to prove

Final score 42 Star Valley Braves – 21 Jackson Hole Broncs

JACKSON, Wyo. – The Jackson Broncs tonight find themselves right back in an old familiar spot with nothing but bad memories to wash away.

Four weeks ago, the Broncs traveled to Afton—as they will today—riding high after a 47-0 pasting delivered to Green River. The Star Valley Braves brought the Broncs back to earth with a sobering 30-0 defeat.

One year ago, Jackson stunned the 3A conference by rebounding from a 0-9 season in 2017 to one game away from a state title berth before they themselves were stupefied in a semifinal playoff contest with Torrington dubbed the “Time Continuum Bowl”—a game in which the final 60 seconds appeared to defy all laws of scalar quality.

So much to avenge. So much on the line.

And then there’s the rivalry. As if the game with Star Valley needed any more hype, it is a contest pitting archrivals from different worlds. In Star Valley, Jackson is viewed as a city of rich kids too refined to get their shoulder pads dirty. In Jackson, Star Valley is a land of farm boys whose senior classmen have kids of their own on the freshman team.

Joking aside, this one is serious. The Broncs (7-3) want to prove to the Braves (10-0) that they didn’t get their best effort on October 11. The Braves are eager to make Jackson their 20th victory without a loss—a winning streak dating back to last year. In fact, no team in the conference has managed to beat Star Valley since Cody did it for the state championship on November 3, 2017.

Jackson’s last win over the mighty Star Valley Braves came on October 23, 2015. It was the only blemish that year to a Star Valley team that went 11-1 and nabbed another state title.

At the last meeting of these two teams in Afton on October 11, the Star Valley Braves were ‘escorted’ on their traditional lap around the field before the game. Head coach David Joyce considers the practice as a sign of disrespect and says he won’t allow it to happen tonight when his Broncs square off again with the Braves. Photo: Tammy Griebel

Inside the game

Opponents game plan for Star Valley; not the other way around. The Braves don’t care what you do well or where your weaknesses lie—they just do what they do better.

The Braves use their size advantage to wear teams down. They patiently plod down the field with a Power I running game—fullback David Castillo (5-9, 205) clearing the way for halfback RJ Cazier (6-3, 225). The bruising, between-the-tackles ground game takes a physical and emotional toll on defenses who eventually lose the will to tackle.

But this season, Star Valley has other weapons. Stuff the inside run and they’ll bounce it outside with the speedy Dean Shaw. Ground the running game and the Braves will take to the air. Quarterback Brant Nelson is a competent thrower with at least one big target in 6’5” Chase Merrell.

But Jackson has offensive prowess of its own. The Broncs high-octane offense features star players at every position. Jeydon Cox never got off the launch pad at the last meeting of these two teams, but he’s lit up just about everyone else on the way to another potential 2,000-yard rushing season.

The MVP back hits holes with speed, cuts back against the grain with deadly intuition, and is rarely brought down on first contact. He’s special.

Signal-called Sadler Smith is coming into his own. He makes good decisions, takes care of the ball for the most part, and has an accurate passing arm.

Smith has weapons on the outside. The 6’2” wide-receiver Peter Goettler makes for a tough matchup for most teams’ secondary. Double cover him and Smith might find WRs Nate Keipert or Evan Brunner.

FB Kirby Castagno makes some tough runs inside and emerging sophomore Clancy Meagher keeps defenses from keying too much on Cox.

Jackson’s defense has been a ‘bend but don’t break’ bunch. That philosophy works against most teams who eventually make a mistake the more plays they run in a drive, especially if they try to throw the ball against Jackson’s stingy secondary. But Star Valley does not put the ball on the ground very often and, when playing with the lead, the Braves rarely feel the need to throw.

Broncs practice under a blood red sky in preparation for their rematch with Star Valley. Photo: Tammy Griebel

Keys to the game

Jackson needs to get off to a fast start. It sounds like a ‘duh’ statement but the Broncs cannot play from behind. Two reasons. Confidence is fragile with this team. Against block bullies like Star Valley, getting behind will only tear down any swagger the Broncs might have going in.

Also, when Jackson starts slowly, they never recover. This team has learned to trade punches—victories over Teton and Powell were hard-fought—but for the most part, when the Broncs get down, they do not win.

In both the games against Bear Lake and Cody, Jackson fell behind after slow starts and never recovered. Sure, they fought back and came within a whisker of winning both…but they didn’t.

The Broncs need to grab an early lead to build their own confidence and throw a scare into Star Valley. If Jackson can force the Braves to throw the ball, it will be feeding right into their hands.

Jackson vs. Star Valley in Afton. Semifinal round of the 3A playoffs. Kickoff at 6 p.m., live play-by-play coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. on KZ95 (95.3FM) and

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