The Jackson Broncs are back-to-back state champs and perhaps no team deserves it more.
It was a storied run for the boys from the outset. A team with size (Charlie Hoelscher, Hunter Dewell), speed (Sahir Romero, Rafael Silva), and finishers (Teddy Opler, Danny Huerta) got off to a fast start under coach Matt Hoelscher, ripping off 10 straight wins to begin the 2021 season. The Broncs finished with an 18-2 record.
Only Kelly Walsh managed to put a blemish on the Broncs’ record, handing Jackson both of their only losses. But the Trojans were knocked out of the playoffs by the team everyone was saying would be the champions this season.
The Thunder Basin Bolts had been so dominant in their 17-2 season, no one had scored a goal on them for the entire month of April with May 1 thrown in. Thunder outscored opponents 54-0 through their first dozen games on their way to 15 straight until Sheridan put an end to the perfect record in reginal play.
Then came the Orange & Black.
Jackson’s path to the championship game began with a 9-1 romp of Laramie, followed by a tough 2-0 win over Sheridan. Meanwhile, Thunder, in true Bolt fashion, had not let anyone crease their net on the way to Championship Saturday.
Path to glory: Jackson 2, Sheridan 0
Coach Hoelscher expected a strong challenge from Sheridan if only because the ‘other’ Broncs had beaten the nearly invincible Thunder. Just five minutes into the match and Jackson was dominating play in the offensive 1/3 of the field but Sheridan was playing very physical in the box.
“We came out on fire dominating in that first game,” Hoelscher agreed. “One strategy other teams employ when they can’t hang with us is they try to knock us off the ball.”
On a throw-in six minutes into the first half, Charlie Hoelscher blasted an air-bender that beat the Sheridan goalie. At first glance, it looked like the ball deflected off a Sheridan defender but coach Hoelscher assured it just curved.
Jackson added insurance in the 2nd half with a goal created by the emerging Rutley Heinemann who shiftily weaved his way between defenders until practically the entire Sheridan defense was after him. That’s went he sent a ball to Teddy Opler. The freshman connection worked, Opler knocking it home for the 2-0 lead and the win in the semifinal round.
Path to glory: Jackson 2, Thunder 1, OT
“It was a crazy one,” coach Hoelscher said. “They dominated the first half almost entirely. We couldn’t get any rhythm going. Our midfield play was awful.”
The Bolts broke through with the game’s first goal on a bit of a fluke. Goalkeeper Javi Huta bumped into one of his own defenders and a Sheridan player was there to poke it in for a 1-0 halftime lead.
At the break, Hoelscher and company talked about adjustments. Against a team that had been so stingy all season defensively, the plan was to employ an all-out offensive blitz. Normally a ball control team, Hoelscher opted to skip his midfielders when possible and just bang the ball up to the forwards.
One of those forwards was newly-promoted Leo Harland who was moved to striker from center-mid in an effort to generate more offense. It worked. Harland scored off a pass from Danny Huerta to tie the match and 1-1.
The goal came after a 30-minute delay for lightning in the area midway through the 2nd half. So, the Broncs had even more time to wonder how they were going to get back into the game.
But instead of getting easier for the Broncs, things got tougher. Charlie Hoelscher, who tired of hearing it from the Thunder fans all match long, finally lost his cool and made a gesture more commonly seen in Jackson summer traffic.
“They were taunting him all game. Poor sportsmanship but no excuse,” Hoelscher said.
The Broncs lost another player when Dilan Tzompa Perez was re carded for a hard tackle.
Jackson, playing with just 10 men had to find a way, and the way to the back of the net all year long has been Opler.
It wasn’t exactly the Sports Center highlight of the year but a goal is a goal when a Sheridan defender whiffed on clearing an Opler corner kick and the ball trickled in for the 2-1 lead and the eventual win.
After a year expunged by COVID, the Broncs stayed focused, stayed ready, stayed hungry. Summer/fall club play and indoor clinics kept the dream alive and everyone’s skills sharp.
“It was impressive,” Hoelscher said. “The kids did a lot on the own to keep their skills up. It is a great feeling: back-to-back championships.”