Broncs’ soul-crushing loss has silver lining

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It was a heartbreaker, no two ways around that. To contemplate the “what ifs?” on a long bus ride home Friday night had to be agonizing for coaches and players.

#2 Jackson gave #1 Cody all they wanted and then some in a 21-13 loss to close out the regular season. Jackson showed that same resilience they had against Star Valley and Powell. They got down but fought back. In the end, even Cody would have to say they “survived” that one and not much more.

90-second nightmare

Jackson led at the half and nursed that 15-13 lead for almost the rest of the game. Almost. The final minute-and-a-half was all Cody as they dialed up the pressure.

The game was Jackson’s to win. Just knock out a couple of first down, run the clock out, and you are the first team to beat Cody on their field in two years since Star Valley did it on October 18, 2019.

There was the manageable 3rd and 5 with 1:29 left and Cody out of time outs. Make a first down and the game is over. Somehow, coming off a Cody stoppage and plenty of time to call a play, Jackson manages to get a delay of game penalty to make it an impossible 3rd and 10. Inexcusable.

And then the 3rd down play call is some dreadful pitch-pass that never had a chance but, worse, stops the clock as an incompletion—a gift of 30 seconds to the Cody Broncs.

With only 1:17 to work with and the ball on the Jackson 40, Cody needed just one play—that inside shuttle to Chaz Cowie, who stepped inside Will Pew then outside around Colter Dawson and he was gone like a summer tan if not for a touchdown-saving tackle by safety Brody Hasenack who knocked him out of bounds at the 5.

Credit the Jackson defense. They stood strong with a goal line stand. Not wanting to risk a run without timeouts to stop the clock, Cody’s Luke Tallich went to the air. A first down pass soared high over the head of Wilkins Radakovich and incomplete in the corner of the endzone. Timing was off on a 2nd down pass in the backfield. Suddenly, Cody was looking at a 3rd and goal try with just a minute remaining in the game.

But Cody always seems to have some magic in its pocket at Spike Vannoy Field. Tallich, flushed from the pocket and running for his life somehow spotted a wide-open Drew Trotter who had slipped behind Alexi DiDonato. Even more unlikely, Tallich heaved an ill-advised floater from the right sideline to the left hash mark. The kind of sandlot prayer you’re taught in Pop Warner taught to never ever even attempt.

Touchdown Cody. Tallich never saw it. He was buried under Matt Carney who got there just a tad late. But the Cody QB certainly heard the home crowd, that had little to cheer all second half until now, suddenly erupt.

Jackson gave it a run to move 85 yards in 51 seconds, but could not put together an answer before time ran out.

Inside the numbers

Outside of that disastrous final 90 seconds, Jackson had a lot to be encouraged about. After surrendering a 54-yard run to paydirt by Jackson Schroeder on the inside shuttle pass—a play that caught Dawson blitzing—Jackson settled in and found their footing.

They put together a methodical scoring drive and the end of the 1st quarter to make it an 8-7 game after a bad snap on the PAT. Cody had an immediate answer with a long drive capped by a Chaz Cowie 2-yard touchdown run. The 2-point conversion failed with Henry Berezay refused to let Trotter in the endzone around the left side.

Jackson eventually took the lead when Colter Dawson blocked a Lane Rhode punt and picked it up himself and rumbled into the endzone for a 10-yard touchdown run.

There the score remained 15-13 for the next 29 minutes of football.

Jackson stats were pretty good against the conference’s second-best defense. Sadler Smith had one of his best games, going 18-32 for 222 yards. He was also Jackson’s leading rusher with 120 yards on 21 carries. Brody Hasenack finished with 30 yards on 12 carries. Sam Scott had 3 rushes for a total of 9 yards.

Nate Keipert led all receivers for Jackson with 6 catches for 69 yards. Clancy Meagher pulled down 2 passes for 46 yards. Colter Dawson caught three balls for 40 yards. Alexia DiDonato also caught one pass each.

Takeaway

While the victory is what you play for, a loss Friday for the Jackson Broncs is not the worst thing in the world.

First off, that game won’t mean a whole lot in the scheme of things moving forward. The difference between being ranked #1 or #2 won’t matter a whole lot. Ranked #2, you are likely seeing Powell again at home. Ranked #1, it’s probably Star Valley at home. So, pick your poison.

Jackson (7-2, 4-1) will open the playoffs at home against Buffalo (5-3, 3-2), the #3 team in the 3A East. Had the Broncs began the post season as the top-ranked team, it would have been Worland at home. Either way, a winnable game for Jackson.

The only scenario that would see Jackson play an away game in the playoffs is if Douglas should beat Powell in the opening round, something the Panthers were able to do in the regular season with a 17-0 win over the Bearcats on September 17.

So, with seeding not so much looming large in the outcome of Friday’s loss, the other aspect that makes last Friday’s game more encouraging than not for Jackson is what it does to both teams’ psyche.

Jackson has to be shot full of even more confidence knowing they can, an almost did, beat the defending state champs in their house. Just a few tweaks here and there. They also have one more reason to put this Cody team away. Last year, Jackson was beaten in the title game. Last Friday, Cody stole one.

Cody, meanwhile, knows they dodged a bullet. That narrow escape can only eat at this team for the next two weeks. Jackson put a scare into the Cody Broncs; a seed that is taking root now and will bloom for the next two Fridays every time Cody players check the out-of-town scoreboard to see if Jackson won their playoff game as well.

Cody will dread meeting Jackson again in Laramie on November 12. Jackson is counting the days like Christmas.

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