After 10 weeks of narrow victories, come-from-behind wins and even two losses, the Broncs football team found itself penciled in as the No. 2 seed in the 3A state playoffs last Friday, sitting just three victories away from the program’s first state title in 14 years.
With their eyes set on the Nov. 18 championship game in Laramie, the room for error is much smaller than it has been all season.
Playing against Buffalo for the first time since the two squared off in the aforementioned state title game, the Broncs offense exploded, beating down on the Bison (5-4) 75-27, and continuing their quest to play at War Memorial Stadium.
The offensive output was the highest the Broncs had produced all season, and was the most points that the Bison program had allowed in recent memory.
With each drive being more meaningful than the last during the playoffs, Broncs head coach David Joyce wasted no time opening up his playbook and getting each of his playmakers involved early in the contest.
The fifth-year Broncs head coach had seen his skill position players break out at different points throughout the season, but the bright lights of the playoffs brought out their best, coming together at the perfect time.
Running back Brody Hasenack tallied five touchdowns, including four on the ground, while racking up a total of 186 yards. The senior got a big push from his heavily experienced offensive line, who have also hit their stride as a unit.
“We came out firing on all cylinders,” offensive lineman Matt Carney said. “For us seniors, we had at most three more games left coming in at the start of the game, so there was no reason that we shouldn’t have been executing.”
Through the air, Broncs quarterback Sadler Smith had his most balanced game of the season, looking comfortable in the pocket and taking turns finding each of his receivers. Smith threw for 367 yards on 25-of-33 passing, while also rushing for 87 on the ground.
Seniors Colter Dawson, Nate Keipert and Sam Scott were all heavy contributors in the home offense that totaled over 700 yards. The three combined for 342 receiving yards and proved too much for the Bison secondary to handle.
“We got the ball to everyone, it was awesome,” Hasenack said. “I was waiting for us to crack our potential and I think we did.”
Putting the bow on his career night, Hasenack ran back a pick-six late in the third quarter, capping off his night with a career first.
After facing a strong defensive line in Cody earlier in the month, Joyce said the team went back to the basics, which helped open up the offense.
“They were giving us soft coverage,” Joyce said. “We took what they gave us.”
While the Bison defense had little answer for the looks the Broncs offered, it was their own explosive plays in the first half that ultimately kept them in the game.
Bison wide receiver Blake Bell was undoubtedly the most effective player on the Buffalo side, finding the end zone three times in the first half, both through the air and on special teams. The junior’s explosive plays ended up accounting for three of Buffalo’s four scores.
While Bell put the Bison ahead momentarily on the game’s first drive, the Buffalo offense, led by senior quarterback Jackson Moon, was largely forgettable on a night dominated by the home Broncs.
After making a goal line stand before halftime, the Broncs were set up to pull away when they received the kickoff after halftime.
Into the second half the Broncs got stronger, picking up right where they left off and beginning to pile it on the visiting Bison.
With the Bison unable to find answers defensively, the Broncs were able to put the game away, get the second string players in and drain the clock down for a comfortable opening round victory.
Joyce, who has often found his team trailing early in games this season, said he never panicked after the Bison scored with ease in the opening minutes of the game.
“In the East, they don’t play as many games like this,” Joyce said. “We knew that it didn’t matter what happened in the first quarter, they wouldn’t be able to stand in there for four quarters with the amount of plays we were going to run ... [eventually] they were going to wear down.”
Joyce praised the performance he received from his entire offensive line — at times overlooked — to help open things up.
“Kris Phillips, Henry Berezay, Ryan Ransom, Will Pew and Matt Carney did a great job,” Joyce said.
With Douglas (8-1, 5-0 3A East) escaping a tight game against Powell last week, Jackson will face off against the Bearcats this Friday, with a spot in the 3A title game on the line.
“It’s going to be a slugfest, for sure,” Hasenack noted.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in Douglas.
“I was waiting for us to crack our potential and I think we did.” — Brody Hasenack broncs running back