The Cody football team battled but could not take down No. 1 Star Valley, falling 20-7 at Spike Vannoy Field early Friday night.
It was a battle of 3A football’s best on senior night as No. 2 Cody (6-1) suffered its first loss of the season.
“We wanted that one really bad,” Hunter Hays said. “All week we were talking about how we thought we could beat them.”
The Broncs weren’t too over-confident in that forecast, but they were hindered by committing three costly turnovers and three turnovers on downs, along with eight penalties for 55 yards.
“When you play a team like Star Valley you can’t beat yourselves,” coach Matt McFadden said. “That’s exactly what we did. We played a good team.”
A Broncs fourth-and-out while down by six points early in the fourth was the turning point – Cody got no closer from there on out.
The teams traded possessions throughout the first quarter with no score, but the Braves opened up the second on the Cody 16.
With 11:52 left in the half, Star Valley scored first with a 21-yard pass reception to Chase Merrell.
A Jackson Gail 34-yard field goal attempt fell short at 6:11 and the Broncs failed to convert on three straight pass plays to close out the second. Cody made it as close as the Braves 16-yard line.
Blustery conditions made passing and holding on to the ball exceptionally difficult for players on both sides.
An incomplete pass thrown by Hays, called by officials as behind the line of scrimmage, was picked up by the Braves for a fumble recovery. Just two plays later, Duncan Radakovich returned the favor picking up a Star Valley fumble.
The Braves led 7-0 at the half.
Hays threw 4-for-9 with 43 passing yards in the first half.
Shortly after receiving the second half kickoff, Hays threw an interception to James Erickson, which he returned 48 yards for a score. After Merrell had his PAT blocked by Radakovich it was 13-0.
It took the Broncs nearly five minutes to move down the field on their next drive, but they finally hit pay dirt with a Tristan Blatt score at 1:17 in the third.
After a huge Nic Talich rush on a misdirect play brought Cody to the 21-yard line, the Broncs kept pushing.
“My mind was just (saying), ‘turn your feet,’ and there’s everyone behind me (helping) as well,” Talich said.
With third-and-goal from the Braves 10, Hays scrambled to his right but found no man so he took off rushing, making it to the 4-yard line.
“There wasn’t really receivers open so I just took off,” Hays said.
Then, with the game already on the line on the next play, Hays sent it through the air to Blatt for a huge touchdown reception.
Hays had completed only half his passes at that point.
Gail hit the PAT and it was 13-7.
The Broncs were able to force a Braves turnover on downs early in the fourth and took possession of the ball with a chance to take the lead.
But they only gained one first down and an incomplete pass to Drew Trotter on fourth-and-long spelled the end of the drive.
Then Star Valley steadily pushed into Cody territory and with 4:55 remaining, Brant Nelson dove it in on fourth down with a QB keeper from 1 yard out.
Cody pushed to about midfield on its next drive but turned it over on downs, sealing the first loss of the season.
Talich led the Broncs on offense with 102 total yards on 10 carries and had five tackles on defense. Matt Sandoval chipped in 70 rushing yards on 13 carries. Hays threw 7-for-16 for 77 passing yards. Keith Conner had one sack.
“I think it was turnovers,” said McFadden regarding what he thought made the difference in the game. “The good news is that’s easy to fix. A couple bad reads and then, ball security.”
The Broncs avoided more turnovers, with the Braves nearly picking off a number of Hays’s passes.
“I feel like when I got hit I was losing some power on my throws,” Hays said.
Cody did rack up 222 rushing yards, more than double what the Braves have allowed on average this season. The Broncs were the first 3A west team to score on Star Valley this season and the 13-point margin was the smallest the Braves have won by in 2019.
“I just feel like we beat ourselves because we physically beat those guys,” Talich said. “It was a very physical game, probably our most physical so far.”
With the loss the Broncs clinch the No. 2 seed heading into the playoffs which start in two weeks. But first they will head on the road to take on Green River (2-5) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“Tough place to play, we’ve got to prepare for that,” McFadden said.