Broncs hold off Bearcats to advance to state

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The Jackson Broncs found another way to win in Douglas on Friday, and extended their 2021 season for one additional and final week.

The Broncs 28-20 win over Douglas featured a little bit of everything as Jackson built a 3-touchdown lead only to watch the Cats come roaring back in the 4th quarter.

Run to victory

With a steady wind grounding the top-ranked Jackson passing attack, Coach David Joyce instead kept the ball on the ground on the Broncs’ first possession—an 80-yard drive that featured almost nothing but rushing and capped off with a 13-yard TD run from Brody Hasenack.

Jackson QB Sadler Smith did not look comfortable all game throwing the ball. His two interceptions both proved costly. But the 6’2” 200-lb signal caller was able to use his size and speed in the running game.

For a team that no one has been able to run on this year, the Broncs did just that…with authority. Credit Jackson’s offensive line—Matt Carney (LT), Will Pew (LG), Ryan Ransom (C), Henry Berezay (RG), and Chris Phillips (RT)—a group that dominated the first 36 minutes of Friday’s football game, opening huge holes for Hasenack and creating push on nearly every play.

“We knew we were going to be able to run if [Douglas] stayed in that defense we’ve seen on film,” Joyce said. “Like I told WyoPreps on why we don’t feature Hasenack more in the offense…well, we have a lot of weapons on offense. We like to get everyone involved, especially in the passing game. But I told them, I can pop Brody loose anytime.”

And pop he did.

Hasenack finished with 174 yards and 2 TDs. Smith added 86 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns.

In the second half, the Jackson offense went bunch package, pounded the rock and ate clock. Jackson stretched a 12-7 halftime lead to 28-7 to end the 3rd quarter.

“We opted to go with the wind in the 3rd,” Joyce said. “I told the kids we were going to score 2 touchdowns, build a lead and then hold on in the 4th.”

Big Mo swing

Joyce scripted it perfectly and when the 3rd quarter ended, so did the Broncs’ mojo. Jackson’s coach-and-six turned back into a pumpkin on the first play from scrimmage to start the final frame.

A high snap to Smith caused a bobble. The ensuing handoff to Hasenack never materialized and Douglas’ Kael Mathews pounced on the loose ball for a crucial turnover.

That fumble recovery energized the Bearcats and the final 12 minutes was all Douglas.

Quarterback Jackson Hughes made some impossible throws including a 20-yard, perfectly-placed ball to a diving Devin Kowlok in the back of the endzone to make it a 28-14 game with 11:06 to play in the 4th.

An amped up Douglas offense scored again on its next possession—an 11-yard TD pass to Rylan Wehr with Jackson’s Sam Scott draped all over him.

Suddenly, it was a 28-20 game with 8:38 to play.

Facing a 3rd-and-8 on their own 45-yard line, Smith was intercepted by Luke Skeen, setting the table for the most impossible of Cat comebacks with 5:44 to play.

“They were as good as advertised. They had size and speed. Best team speed we’ve seen all year,” Joyce said. “We know going in it was going to be four quarters with them.”

Defense makes a stand…or two

Similar to the Powell game, where Jackson led most of the way only to watch the Panthers mount a comeback. The Broncs D trotted out onto the field knowing they could ill-afford another Douglas touchdown.

Hughes went to work. Time and again the shifty quarterback was able to elude the Jackson pass rush just when you thought he was bottled up, and complete a big pass play.

With momentum completely with the Bearcats, Joyce was asked what was it like in the Broncs huddle along the sidelines during a late-game time out. Were the boys tensing up, wide-eyed, nervous?

“No, kind of the opposite,” Joyce said. “I heard some language out of our senior leaders you won’t be able to print that was very motivating. No way they were going to let their high school football career end on that field.”

And Douglas’ magic had run out. Pressure from Berezay forced an overthrow to Wehr with Alexi DiDonato running with him stride-for-stride and help over the top from Hasenack.

An illegal shift penalty erased a 23-yard swing pass to the 3A’s top running back Kelton Ewing. Finally, Jackson held strong on a 4th and long as Pew flushed Hughes from the pocket on a stunt. The Bearcat quarterback scrambled for the 1st down marker but a missile with a #2 [Hasenack] on it came from centerfield to stop Hughes just short.

Still, the Jackson defense was asked yet again to seal the deal as the Broncs were forced to punt with just 1:53 remaining in the game. A Douglas drive never really got off the ground and the Broncs were able to run out the clock for the victory.

Win and you’re in

It was a battle. The win punches Jackson’s ticket to the championship game at the War Memorial in Laramie this Friday. On the bus ride home, watching the Star Valley-Cody game to see who they were going to play for the title, there was only one team Jackson was rooting for.

“We didn’t even mention Star Valley’s name. We want Cody,” Joyce said.

In fact, the 5th-year coach noted a subdued locker room after the Douglas win; very much different than the scene a year ago when Jackson advanced to the state title game with Cody.

“Last year we celebrated that win over Douglas. We were all dancing around,” Joyce remembers. “This time was a completely different feel. Everyone quietly took off their pads. Quietly filed out to the bus. Nobody’s done with this season yet.”

It might have been Colter Dawson or Sam Scott or Brody Hasenack…Joyce couldn’t say for sure. Doesn’t matter. Could have been any one of the Broncs seniors.

“Prepare for the best week of practice. The hardest week of practice this week,” someone in the room said.

Fresh from a big win only minutes old and all Jackson players could think about was preparing for Cody, beating Cody.

A state title will be handed to this Friday’s winner. That’ll be nice. But for the Jackson Broncs’ seniors, beating the Cody Broncs will be nicer. What a way to go out.

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