The Jackson Broncs will face their toughest test of the season tonight as they travel to Cody to take on those ‘other’ Broncs.
The return to Spike Vannoy Field will be more bitter than sweet for the Jackson Broncs. It’s there on that same field Jackson’s dreams of a state title and their season ended last fall with a 34-13 loss on November 14, 2020.
This time around, Jackson is a year older and more experienced. Senior studs Sadler Smith, Brody Hasenack, Colter Dawson, Nate Keipert and the rest will know more what to expect when they step on the field to face defending state champions the Cody Broncs.
Cody, meanwhile, graduated quarterback Caleb Prior and standout linebacker Nick Talich from last year’s title team. But in true Cody fashion, this program keeps churning them out. Another Talich (this one Luke at quarterback and strong safety) and the same strong coaching from Matt McFadden and company has the blue-and-gold looking like the team to beat all season long.
Tale of the tape
These teams are fairly evenly matched; the edge to Cody for being at home. Both are riding winning streaks. Cody hasn’t lost going back to last season, 11 games and counting. Jackson is riding a 5-game winning streak, the only blemish a road loss to Pocatello.
“I wish Cody had to play Pocatello. Pokie would have smoked them,” Jackson coach David Joyce says of his team’s only loss this season.
Both teams boast the conference’s best offenses and defenses. Cody is the 3A’s best rushing team with an average 276 yards per game on the ground. Jackson averages 298 through the air, tops in the 3A. Overall, Jackson is the No. 1 rated offense with 467 total yards per game compared to Cody’s 424.
Defensively, both these teams are stingy against the run. Cody allows just 212 yards per game; Jackson 216—good enough for #2 and #3 in the 3A behind Douglas.
So, this final regular season game is truly a matchup of the conference’s two best teams.
Misdirection is the name of the game for the Cody offense. The Park County Broncs have plenty of weapons and they do a good job of deceiving defenses about just who is getting the ball. Cody uses motion on nearly every play, just to trick the eye of defenders.
“They do a lot of misdirection. That’s where they get a lot of defenders twisted. They’ll do that with the quarterback, with their slotback, and their fullback,” Joyce says. “You’ve got to really focus on your read key, trust it, and then just play it, hoping the ball comes to you based on your correct read.”
Jackson will have to make an exceptional effort to find the ball carrier—whether it is the usual halfback Jackson Schroeder, slotback Chaz Cowie on the inside pitch, Drew Trotter on the fly sweep, or Luke Talich on the quarterback keeper. Any one of the four horsemen for the Cody Broncs can rip off big plays if they get loose into the secondary.
“Luke Talich is probably the fastest football player in the state. He can fly,” Joyce says. “If he gets loose, he’s taking it to the house. He’s that fast.”
Cody doesn’t throw a ton. Talich has a strong arm but struggles with accuracy at times. Expect Cody to run until the Jackson defense says otherwise. MLB Colter Dawson will likely key on Talich all night to make sure the Cody QB doesn’t shake loose for a big gainer.
Jackson’s only chance here is to dance with the one that brung ya. Coach Joyce said before the season started he wanted to throw to run. He needs to stay true to that tonight.
No matter the score, the Jackson Broncs need to air it out, and they’ll need a big game from Sadler Smith. If Cody has a weakness, it’s against the pass. But it won’t come easy.
Cody rushes four down lineman on most obvious running down situations. They switch to a 3-5-3 set in passing situations. Jackson should be able to keep Smith fairly clean and upright when Cody rushes only 3. Occasionally, Cody will delay blitz a backer—usually Grayson Beaudrie—but if Jackson’s O-line can give Smith time to find the open man, he could pick apart the Cody secondary.
And Jackson receivers need to secure the catch. Cody defenders close on the ball with alarming speed and they arrive in a foul mood. This team hits like no other. Jackson receivers will have to think catch first, then run, and expect impact soon after the ball gets there.
The running game, even with the talented Brody Hasenack, simply won’t be there until the Cody defense respects the pass.
Coach Joyce says blocking will be key in this one. Cody’s defensive line is not big but they are quick and use technique to beat their blocks. Watch as Cody employs plenty of pre-snap movement on their defensive front, shifting positions to confuse the Jackson offensive line about their blocking assignments.
Also, the Cody d-line—led by Danny Becker, Daniel Gorman, Graiden Arnold, and Jace Grant—employ gap technique. They rarely choose to take on an offensive lineman straight up, but rather look to shoot the gap between linemen to disrupt a play at the outset.
“We’ve got to do a better job of blocking in space,” Joyce admits. “They run basically a 3-5-3. They have three down linemen and the rest are players standing up in space. The three down linemen are generally pretty easy to manage, but it’s the ones 4 yards off the ball—and there are so many of them, five—that you have to be really on point with who your block is and execute that block.”
A lot on the line
Tonight’s game is packed with subplots. Jackson seeking redemption for a loss last year on this very field that cost them a state championship.
For Cody, it’s all about continuing to establish dominance in the 3A West. Trying to prove, once again, they are the team to beat and send the message that a state title goes through Cody in 2021. The Cody Broncs have not lost a game at Spike Vannoy since October 18, 2019 when Star Valley defeated them 20-7.
Playoff implications? You bet. Plenty of those as well. Although for either Broncs team, a win or loss in tonight’s final regular season game won’t matter a whole lot in first round matchups.
In fact, there is a strong argument to be made for the Jackson Broncs that a loss tonight and being a #2 seed to begin the post season might not be a bad thing.
Assuming a quarterfinal win against either Riverton or Worland would move Jackson then to the winner of Powell/Douglas game. That would appear to be an easier road to the state title than if Jackson went into the playoffs as the top seed. They would then likely have to face Star Valley in the semi-final round and beating the Braves twice in a season has never been an easy chore.