With 30 seconds remaining in the Class 4A state high school football championship game, the Sheridan Broncs were looking over their shoulders at the big scoreboard in War Memorial Stadium on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie.
They were waiting for those final seconds tick off the clock before they could officially celebrate winning their fourth state title in five years and 27th overall.
The Broncs has survived a furious and nearly epic comeback effort from a fledgling third-year Thunder Basin Bolts program, which nearly erased a 21-point second half Sheridan lead.
Blaine Allen’s leaping catch in the back of the end zone for TBHS cut the deficit all the way down to 28-26 at the end of the third quarter. The Bolts could have even tied the game at that point, but the 2-point conversion was stopped just short of the goal line.
Every bit of momentum was riding with TBHS at that point, but Sheridan settled down and answered the Bolts’ 19-0 run in the third quarter with a 93-yard touchdown drive. The Broncs ate up about five minutes off the clock and, more importantly, gave themselves a two-score lead.
Up 35-26, Sheridan picked up two crucial first downs on the final possession, one a 19-yard scamper on a fake punt and the Bolts had to watch as their opponents lined up in the victory formation for their final few plays.
The Broncs knelt on the ball one last time near the 20-second mark, triggering the flood of emotions on both sidelines.
Sheridan players were leaping into the air and hugging every teammate in sight. They finish the 2019 campaign 10-1 and state champs and avenged that lone loss on their record, which was to Thunder Basin in the regular season.
For many of the Bolts, the emotion was too much to hold in. They also finished 10-1 and came within one quarter of a perfect season and the program’s first championship.
After the final whistle, senior quarterback Mason Hamilton took two steps onto the field, stopped and put his hands on his knees. He stood motionless until the teams started lining up for the postgame handshake. Then the Bolts gathered for one last team huddle.
Before TBHS coach Trent Pikula addressed his team, they had to listen to the public address system announce, “The 4A class state champions, the Sheridan Broncs.”
Pikula talked about the journey to get to the title game and how being in it should be the standard at Thunder Basin.
Then it was time to greet the parents and fans who made the four-hour drive from Gillette. Players tried to wipe tears away directly after the final play, but they flowed freely when the family hugs and condolences began.
The Bolts came so close to pulling off their best comeback of the season, but at the end of the day fell short.
“Heartbreak,” said an emotional Hamilton, who has been the program’s starter since midway through his sophomore. “There’s no other way to explain it.”