JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Jackson Broncs fans have had this date circled since the football season began. Another chapter of a rivalry dating back to 1931 gets written tonight as the Broncs and Braves tangle in the “Fall Brawl.”
Everyone knows the road to the state championship goes through Afton. Sooner or later, if you want to win the 3A title, certainly if you are coming out of the 3A West, you are going to have to hang an “L” on the #1 ranked Star Valley.
Lately, that’s been nearly impossible. The Braves are riding a 15-game unbeaten streak dating back to last season when they last lost on September 7, 2018 to Sugar-Salem. No one in the conference has beaten the Braves since Cody did it in the 2017 playoff enroute to its state title.
But Broncs head coach David Joyce sees vulnerabilities. He’s been studying film and one thing has stood out. Star Valley has not been playing their typical smash mouth football this season.
“Star Valley is kind of going through that phase where they are good at what they do, but right now they are having to throw the ball a bit more to get Chase Merrell the ball. They are having to run some fly-sweep to get Dean Shaw the ball. You can see on film where they are trying to install some packages for these kids in a way that’s a little bit out of character for who they’ve been for the last few years,” Joyce said. “They used to line up in the ‘Power I’ and run it down your throat and force you to stop them. That’s really what they’re good at. That’s their identity. And when they get out of that it gives our defense a chance to see their secondary offense, so to speak.”
Both teams have playmakers. The Broncs boast 3A West Offensive Player of the Year in Jaydon Cox who fuels Jackson’s up-tempo offense. Pay too much attention to #26 and Sadler Smith will find familiar targets off play-action downfield in Peter Goettler and Nate Keipert.
Jackson’s defense is also much-improved over previous meetings between the two teams. The interior line has done a good job of clogging running lanes inside, linebackers Colter Dawson and Kirby Castagno have big hitters on plays outside the tackle.
The pass defense has been stingy as well. Teams no longer try to throw Goettler’s way. Picking on Eric Brunner at the other corner has been only slightly more successful but there is always safety Sam Lopeman waiting to sneak into a passing lane.
For Star Valley, their quarterback Brant Nelson is a good one. The junior has a big weapon in 6-5, 180-lb senior wideout Chase Merrell. On the ground, Jackson is sure to see all they want of bruising back RJ Cazier—all 6-3, 225 pounds of him.
A rivalry game like this one brings with it emotions. Try as he might, coach Joyce said he worries about what kind of smack talk goes on in the back channels of social media between the two teams and how his players will react in the ebb and flow of the game—whether they get up early or fall behind.
“My biggest fear is we have a sophomore class that has had a great bit of success against Star Valley, and a senior class that has had little to no success against Star Valley. My concern is not whether we get behind and fight back—I know we will—but if we start having success, what is that going to be like? Managing the emotions,” Joyce said. “We’ve talked all week about not getting too high, not getting too low. Don’t look up. Don’t think about the score. Just play this single play until the whistle blows.”
Jackson won that very first game played back in 1931 by a 12-0 score. Since then, the Cheesemakers, as they were known back then until 1948, have had the better of the rivalry. Star Valley has won 64 of 80 matchups in the clash of Highway 89 bookends.
Green River represents the only common opponent between the two teams. The Braves beat the Wolves on the road 22-0. Jackson trounced Green River last weekend for homecoming by a 47-0 score.
In addition to the rivalry, the game has playoff implications, especially after Jackson’s loss to Cody a couple of weeks ago. The Cody Broncs are undefeated in conference play as are the Braves. If Jackson wants to get back in the race for the state title, they need one or both of those teams to lose one somewhere along the way. Cody (5-0) hosts Powell (3-2) tonight.
Kickoff at 6 pm. All live play-by-play coverage on KZ95 (95.3FM) and online at KZ95.live.