As Caleb Pryor’s pass tipped off Drew Trotter’s hand, Jackson Gail dove to the ground to make the catch.
It was a momentum-changing play that clinched a championship for the team, allowing the Broncs to stymie a late Jackson rally.
The Cody High School football team clinched a state championship by beating Jackson 34-13 in the 3A championship in front of a loud audience of 1,500 at Spike Vannoy Field on Saturday afternoon.
“(We) played so well in front of our school and our fans,” coach Matt McFadden said. “When you talk about team, it’s a community state trophy.”
A state championship is typically something that stays with athletes for the rest of their lives.
“This is a dream come true,” Trotter said.
Cody (10-1) jumped out to a 26-0 lead in the first half. The Broncs won by playing the same way they had played all season, spreading the ball extremely wide on offense and suffocating the Jackson rush on defense. The Broncs cornerbacks were able to contain the pass-heavy Jackson offense and get big stops when it mattered most.
To win a championship in the year of COVID-19, this season came down to the team that could show the greatest teamwork, resiliency and unselfish play, and the Broncs checked every box.
“It’s not really about how good you are as players or as a team, it’s how you come together,” Nic Talich said, “and our team has come together in a way I’ve never been a part of.”
Jackson (9-3) staged a comeback in the second half but a 91-yard, nearly-nine-minute Bronc drive in the fourth capped off by a Trotter touchdown sealed the win. Gail’s diving catch kept that drive alive.
“It’s not about me, it’s about all these other guys,” Trotter said. “I just do my part and they do theirs and together we become victorious.”
Trotter and Cody Phillips had two touchdowns apiece while Talich brought in 10.5 tackles and made a number of key plays throughout the game on both ends of the field.
It was all Cody in the first half.
The Broncs lost a fumble on the opening kickoff, but Jackson over-snapped the ball on the Broncs’ 3-yard line, allowing Talich to crash through the line and fall on the bouncing ball, despite kicking it twice.
“I felt really unathletic on that play,” he said.
Just five plays later, Pryor found Phillips with a 60-yard TD reception to make it 7-0. The slant route pass found Phillips about 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, where he was able to then cut back across the field and find a huge hole for a score at 8:15 in the first quarter.
At 5:00 in the first, Keaton Stone recovered another Jackson fumble on a botched handoff play.
The Broncs quickly got to work with big rushes from Talich and Trotter.
A huge Talich block gave Phillips more than enough breathing room for a 5-yard score at 1:58 in the first. After Jackson Gail hit the PAT it was 14-0.
The Broncs kept pouring it on to start the second when Pryor ran in a 1-yard TD sneak at 8:35. Gail’s PAT was blocked and the score was 20-0.
Jackson’s Carson Heffron was ejected after the play due to unsportsmanlike conduct.
Jackson drove deep into the red zone on its next drivem but another botched snap on third down caused those Broncs a big loss of yards and an eventual turnover on downs.
Cody quickly got to work from its own 21-yard line.
Pryor found Luke Talich with a 30-yard reception that he brought to the Jackson 15.
Trotter then caught a 12-yard reception as first-half time expired, giving the Broncs a 26-0 lead and an exclamation point to their dominating half. Nic Talich nearly scored on a two-point conversion attempt as well but was brought down at the goal line.
Jackson got the ball to start the third and began a slow yet productive 74-yard scoring drive.
Quarterback Sadler Smith found Colter Dawson with an 11-yard TD reception at 8:45 in the third to make it 26-7.
Jackson found success with its passing game in the second half, compiling 188 receiving yards in the last two quarters.
The Broncs offense wasn’t able to get much going in the third, but a Luke Talich interception late in the quarter stopped a Jackson drive.
“It felt we just kept having to fight harder and harder but we did, and we kept fighting until the end,” said Daniel Gorman, who finished with 3.5 tackles.
Jackson added another score at 10:12 in the fourth when Smith found Dawson on a 6-yard slant route, just inside the pylon. Cody blocked the PAT and it was 26-13.
With Jackson within two scores, an air of uneasiness crept through the Spike Vannoy Field crowd that had been boisterous all game.
“We just knew we had to play all four quarters,” Trotter said. “We couldn’t let off the gas.”
The Broncs took over on the next drive deep in their own territory, but were able to move the chains and burn the clock thanks to a couple clutch plays.
Backed up on their own side of the field and facing third-and-long, Gail hauled in the 21-yard tipped pass intended for another receiver, giving them a first down.
Later in the drive, a successful fourth-and-1 rush by Nic Talich with 6:04 left all but clinched the game, and Trotter finally put the nail in the coffin with a 5-yard TD rush at 1:48.
Devyn Engdahl had an interception as time expired, kneeling the ball in the end zone as his teammates rushed onto the field in celebration.
“It’s a pretty good way to end my football career, as a senior it just felt really good to end it off that way,” Engdahl said.
It’s his second state championship this year, along with his four other teammates that were also members of his Cody Cubs baseball team that won state in August.
“It’s just really special, playing with some good teams and some good athletes and really good coaches,” Engdahl said.
For Jackson, Smith was 15-for-28 with 212 passing yards. Sam Lopeman had 72 receiving yards on four receptions.
Pryor was 5-for-8 with 140 passing yards. Phillips led the team with 100 total yards.
Nic Talich went out with a bang, bringing in a team-leading 71 rushing yards, a sack and fumble recovery in his last high school football game. He and eight other seniors are finishing out their high school football careers with a championship.
“It’s bittersweet, but the way to go out is just awesome,” Nic Talich said. “The week leading up to this I think was the longest week of my life but the game, it’s just gone.”
Fellow senior Stone chipped in 6.5 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Running back Chaz Cowie played in his first game since Oct. 12 in the win. Cowie had been out with what was believed at the time to be a season-ending injury, so he was thankful for every minute he got to play on Saturday, notching 22 yards on four carries.
“I’m just glad we got the win and I was able to play for it,” he said.
The team laughed, hugged and even shed some tears of joy following the game. Per tradition at every home game this season, they did “Cody jacks” with the fans before being awarded their championship trophy and medals on the field.
“It’s just been so fun,” said McFadden. “I’ve enjoyed every practice, every film session … when you’re on the verge of losing something it makes you appreciate all those moments. I’m going to miss hanging out with them, they’re such good kids.”
Although the Broncs lost only once this season, a Week 6 loss to Star Valley, the team seemed to gather momentum from that point rather than fall into a slump. They went on to beat their opponents by 21 points or more every game after for the rest of the year.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, nameless, faceless opponent and we just got to do our thing,” Trotter said.
This is Cody’s second championship in the last four seasons and sixth state title in school history. It is McFadden’s third state title since taking the helm.
“The coaches do such a good job. I think we have the best coaches in the state,” Nic Talich said.
Cody 14 12 0 8 34
Jackson 0 0 7 6 13
Cody individual stats:
Top rushers: N. Talich 12-for-71; Pryor 10-for-43; Phillips 12-for-40; Trotter 5-for-33; Cowie 4-for-22
Top receivers: Phillips 1-for-60; L. Talich 1-for-30; Gail 1-for-21
Top passer: Pryor 5-8-140