With a strong offensive push in the second half, the Jackson Broncs football team (2-0) defeated the Bear Lake Bears (1-1), 20-8 Friday night at home in their second non-conference matchup of the season.
Friday’s victory came much differently for the Broncs, who played a sloppy first half on the offensive side, from their first game dominating Teton.
With a highly anticipated matchup looming on Friday against Pocatello, the Broncs may have overlooked the Bear Lake Bears in last Friday’s game, which turned into a defensive battle not settled until the final minutes.
Trading punts and turnovers after long drives, the Broncs’ high-powered offense went into halftime with no points. Luckily, their defense was able to thwart the Bears early, keeping the game scoreless.
Even with multiple trips nearing the red zone early in the game, the Broncs were unable to cash in for points. Senior quarterback Sadler Smith threw three interceptions on the night, two of which deflected off Jackson receivers and into the hands of Bears defensive backs.
“They got a pretty healthy pep talk at halftime,” said David Joyce, the head coach of the Broncs.
Joyce said his team’s first-half struggles weren’t schematic errors but stemmed from energy and execution. The team had been working on catching balls on the run prior to the game, which led to receivers not keeping their eyes on the ball, ending in multiple turnovers while in striking distance of the end zone.
“We had the looks that we thought we were going to get; we just weren’t catching the ball,” Joyce said. “Our pass protection started to break down a little bit too, and that compounded just about everything.”
Getting the ball to start the second half, senior Nate Keipert ignited the crowd on the first play from scrimmage, catching a pass from Smith and running all the way into the endzone for the night’s first score.
Jackson took the lead momentarily, but suddenly the game turned into a back-and-forth affair.
With back-to-back penalties committed by the Broncs defense in the red zone, the Bears’ drive was given new life, which they used to score and take their first lead of the game.
With the Bears offense starting to find their groove, it was evident that the Broncs needed a spark to rally the sidelines and keep the energy up on offense.
Brody Hasenack, the team’s star running back who has been sidelined as a precaution following lingering injuries from bull-riding, returned to try to steady a ground game that had been lacking early.
“I wasn’t going to play,” Hasenack said. “I was going to sit out and wait until Pocatello, because it’s a big game, but we kind of started struggling through the first half. Coach [Joyce] looked at me, and I looked at him, and I kind of knew I was going in, so I warmed up.”
Joyce said he didn’t want his team to have to go under center and run as much, but he recognized his offense was much bigger than the Bears’ defense, so he bit the bullet and went right after them with Hasenack running up the middle.
Joyce is glad he did, too, as the senior took control of the offense, showing no signs of his injuries, rushing for 115 yards on just 10 carries, including his second touchdown that sealed the game away late.
“We were trying to get him as healthy as possible and save him for as long as [we could],” Joyce said. “We needed a spark, and he was available. We had talked all week about whether we were going to [play him or not] and if we needed him and it was necessary, then we would pull the trigger if he was ready, and he was. He performed exactly how [Hasenack] always does.”
While last week the Broncs were firing on all cylinders offensively early in the game, the Broncs offense didn’t find the same success early, and Hasenack said it was difficult to sit back and watch his teammates struggle early on.
“We had to pull our heads out of our butts,” he said. “We came in as the number one team in the state, how they ranked us, and we didn’t really hold pride in that.”
While the Broncs came out with a victory, the game showed that they can’t take any team for granted, as being a top-ranked team in the state comes with a large target on their back.
After a difficult start, Smith finished the game strong, going 23 of 35 through the air for 275 yards and a touchdown.
On offense, Keipert finished the game with seven receptions for 112 yards, while senior Colter Dawson finished with eight receptions for 122 yards.
On defense the Broncs were able to hold the Bears in check for the majority of the night. Dawson finished with three sacks and four tackles for loss, while junior Lukas Gralund finished with two sacks and a tackle for loss.
The team effort on defense held Bear Lake to just 207 yards passing, with minus 25 rushing yards.
Looking ahead, the Broncs will hit the road for the first time this season, traveling to Pocatello, Idaho, to take on the Thunder.
The game will kick off at 7 p.m. from Idaho State University’s Holt Arena.