It’s no secret to either town that Jackson and Star Valley are bitter rivals when it comes to football.
Friday night’s 3A semifinal matchup in Afton will be no different, with the Broncs (7-3) looking to spoil things for the Braves (10-0) who are riding a 19-game winning streak and remain the betting man’s favorite to repeat as 3A state champions.
And somehow, despite the proximity and history between the squads, the semifinal game will be the first time the two sides meet in a playoff contest since the 1990 season, when the Braves pummeled Jackson 49-6.
The 1990 meeting got off to a promising start for Jackson before the tide turned and hopes of victory quickly slipped away.
Then-running back Matt Tibbitts scored a one-yard touchdown in the second quarter for a 6-0 lead. Star Valley responded with three touchdowns in the final five minutes of the first half, and continued to pour it on over the final two quarters while the Broncs never graced the end zone again.
“We just didn’t have the athletic prowess to continue doing what we wanted to do,” then-Jackson head coach Macky Carden told the Jackson Hole News after.
Star Valley went on to finish as run- ners-up that year to Torrington, and the Broncs went on to miss the playoffs for 11 straight seasons after that game.
Quite like that last meeting, Jackson will enter as heavy underdogs. Along with the Braves’ dominant run from last season through this one, they already have a 30-0 victory over Jackson this season when the two sides met on Oct. 11.
That game was a scoreless deadlock until the final minute of the second quarter, when the Star Valley running back broke the tie with a one-yard touchdown. Jackson continued to hold its own, though turnovers, sacks and dropped passes spoiled any momentum it found on offense. Star Valley scored again late in the third quarter, recorded a safety in the fourth and ran away from the Broncs for its seventh win of the season.
Jackson, meanwhile, hasn’t lost since that meeting. The Broncs followed that Week 6 defeat with a blowout win over Evanston the following week and an ugly 21-17 victory over Powell to close the regular season. Jackson solidified its rematch with Star Valley through a 48-6 win over East No. 2 seed Evanston in the opening round of the playoffs last week.
There’s an air of confidence around the Broncs heading into Friday night’s game, foolhardy as some may see it. Since losing their regular season meeting last month, the opportunity to avenge that loss has continually come up.
And for head coach David Joyce, meeting Star Valley with such big implications is exactly how he and the team want it.
“The guys just have a different mindset it seems like this week,” he said Monday. “For the seniors, what an opportunity to have: You get the chance to go to the state championship by beating your archrival.”
The game kicks off at 6 p.m. in Afton.