SHERIDAN — Having held Natrona County to a field goal on the first possession of overtime, the Sheridan Broncs lined up on the 10-yard line knowing every play had monumental importance.
A touchdown would win, a field goal would mean a second overtime. Coming away empty, however, would end their nine-game winning streak.
Aaron Woodward took the snap out of the pistol and threw the out-route to his utility player, Parker Christensen. The junior caught the ball near the sidelines at the 6-yard line and turned up the field.
“I see the pylon and this is it,” Christensen said. “I’m laying out.”
Christensen hit the corner and dove over the goal line with a few defenders clinging to his jersey to lift Sheridan to a 37-34 overtime victory at Homer Scott Field on Friday night in a rematch of last year’s Class 4A state championship game that lived up to all the hype and more.
Just to get to that point, the Mustangs turned possibility onto its head.
Down by a touchdown with 4 minutes left, Natrona County elected to punt on 4th down. Riley Shepperson’s punt landed into the arms of Kyle Custis at his own 12. The senior running back burst out of one pack of blockers and into the open field. He shook another pair of tacklers and weaved his way into the end zone for an 88-yard touchdown.
“Our coach told me to fair catch it but I didn’t and spun right out of it,” Custis said. “Then I had some great blocking downfield. The scariest part about those returns is there’s bound to be a flag. I saw one but it wasn’t on us.
“I just saw the field and made cuts with great blocking.”
That stretched Sheridan’s lead to 14 points, the largest of the game.
It was at that point, with 3 minutes, 55 seconds left, that Natrona County quarterback Jesse Harshman seized the reins.
The Mustangs started at their own 16 when Harshman marched his team down the field with a healthy amount of delayed draws to running back Brett Brenton. Eventually, Harshman hit receiver Ben Acres on a fade in the end zone to cut the lead to 31-24 with a minute remaining.
The ensuing onside kick bounced off a Sheridan helmet and tumbled to the ground, allowing the Mustangs to recover. Natrona County worked its way down the field until it was faced with second down at the 2 with 4 seconds left.
With everyone assuming he would stop the clock with a spike, Harshman looked over at Acres pre-snap.
“Jesse just looked over at me,” Acres said. “I said, ‘I think it’s that,’ and we just did it.”
The defense was caught napping and the ball floated safely into Acres’ arms. Touchdown. Natrona County had scored 14 points in 58 seconds to force overtime.
Despite the disbelief from the Sheridan crowd, the Mustangs had already proved their ability to score quickly early on.
Natrona County (2-1) burst out of the gate and scored the game’s opening touchdown in just four plays. A varied offense kept the Broncs on their toes as Harshman found Riley Shepperson on the seam against a zone defense for a 48-yard touchdown pass.
Those in Sheridan blue and yellow were stunned. Murmurs of “that was quick,” floated through the stands.
The home faithful were forced to wait for nearly 9 minutes before the Broncs’ rebuttal.
Christensen sparked the Sheridan scoring drive with a 33-yard run off misdirection. That run put the Broncs into enemy territory. Woodward then took a three-step drop and found Aaron Sessions on a flare route. Sessions was able to turn upfield and get to the corner where he scored from 18 yards out.
“We just wanted to score,” Christensen said. “We wanted to keep fighting. Our receivers blocked well, guys made really nice plays, it was good.”
What Natrona County head coach Steve Harshman said earlier in the week would be a “continual chess match” was on.
It stayed that way throughout right up until the final untimed down. A rematch that was somehow better than anticipated. So good, it left nearly every player on the field anticipating a third chapter.
SHERIDAN 37, NATRONA COUNTY 34, OT
Friday, at Sheridan
NC 7 3 7 14 3 34
She 7 7 0 10 6 37
NC: Riley Shepperson 48 pass from Jesse Harshman (Shepperson kick), 10:27
She: Aaron Sessions 18 pass from Aaron Woodward (Smart kick), 1:36
NC: Shepperson 44 FG, 9:33
She: Sessions 70 pass from Woodward (Smart kick), :46.9
NC: Brett Brenton 1 run (Shepperson kick), 4:38
She: Smart 32 FG, 11:55
She: Kyle Custis 88 punt return (Smart kick), 3:55
NC: Ben Acres 4 pass from Harshman (Shepperson kick), 1:00
NC: Shepperson 28 FG
She: Parker Christensen 10 pass from Woodward
Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @Brady_CST