When Jerrod Ackley saw his running back jogging his way, he beamed bright enough to give the stadium lights a run for their money. He spread his arms and called out: Austin!
Surrounded by Blackfoot players, coaches and fans, Ackley and Austin Ramirez embraced square in the middle of the field at Ravsten Stadium, where the Broncos had just secured a 17-13 over Skyline that will reverberate through the halls of the program for the foreseeable future. Ackley and Ramirez may have been the only two involved in the moment, but it might as well have included the rest of the Blackfoot community, a group hug between the people who on Friday night showed an even bigger audience what they so vehemently believe: This team is for real.
“It shows what Blackfoot football is all about,” said senior Tyler Vance, whose short field goal with 2:38 left handed the Broncos a two-score lead, which all but sealed the victory.
It’s difficult to overstate what this win represents for the Broncos, who dethroned the defending 4A state champions, doing so in ways that left little room for doubt about the group in green and black. Ramirez carded 22 carries for 88 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown, which gave Blackfoot the lead for good. That play was set up by a crucial scramble from quarterback Jaxon Grimmett, who completed 13 of 24 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown pass to imposing receiver Ja’Vonte King.
Save for a muffed punt from Ramirez and an interception from Grimmett to open the game, at every turn, the Broncos showed the mettle that made this win possible. In the second frame, Grimmett found King for a 30-yard pass, the kind of play that seemed to jolt the group awake from the slumber they started in. Minutes later, Grimmett hit King again, this time for 24 yards. Then they connected again when Grimmett lofted a fade route to the end zone, where King used his 6-foot-4 frame to haul in a six-yard touchdown.
Even when things grew chippy and confusing, Blackfoot (2-2, 1-0) remained composed, committed to the principles that had gotten them so far. In the fourth quarter, after the Broncos turned the Grizzlies (1-3, 0-1) over on downs, Grimmett jetted from the pocket and took off down the right side. He angled toward the sideline, but that’s where Skyline linebacker Chandler Robinson slammed him into a drink station. Grimmett, slow to get up, held his right wrist after a violent collision that resulted in a late-hit penalty.
Then, the Grizzlies racked up three more flags, moving the Broncos all the way down to the 3-yard line, where Ramirez darted into the end zone untouched. Ten minutes remained, but the Broncos took a lead. They never relinquished it.
“This game was personal to us,” Ramirez said. “We wanted it.”
The Broncos’ defense helped engineer the win in even more compelling ways. Outside of Skyline’s last-gasp drive, which included a 55-yard strike from Lachlan Haacke to Abrahn Silverio and ended with a touchdown scramble from Haacke, the Broncos held the Grizzlies to the following numbers: 164 total yards, one turnover and no points in the first half. The hosts made things interesting in the final minute, but for the rest of the night, Blackfoot’s defense sent Skyline’s offense into disarray.
“That’s what happens when you’re playing against a defense that’s really fast and aggressive,” Skyline coach Scott Berger said. “They don’t give you a lot of space.”
For Blackfoot, it was a group effort. Secondary defenders like Eli Abercrombie, Deegan Hale and Vance smothered Skyline’s best skill players, and the Broncos’ defensive line consistently got pressure, often with only three-man rushes. That left Haacke with few places to go through the air. Sometimes, the Grizzlies’ best offense came when their quarterback scrambled.
In other words, the Broncos won because they effectively muted Grizzly playmakers like Caden Taggart (one catch for six yards) and Kenyon Sadiq (three catches for 29 yards). Skyline’s favorite weapons sputtered like they hadn’t before. Blackfoot’s gameplan unfolded exactly how it planned: Limit big plays, force the run and rally to the ball.
“We did that in the first half,” Ackley said. “We really did a good job of eliminating big plays.”
Because the Broncos did so, they can enjoy the spoils of this win, which may have long-term effects. Blackfoot is now in the hunt for a district championship, which would give them home-field advantage during the playoffs. “You don’t have to go deal with the environments of Emmett and Bishop Kelly and everything in the western part of the state,” Ackley said.
That the Broncos have the opportunity represents a testament to the fortitude Ackley and his coaching staff has instilled in their players. The club kicked off the season with two grueling losses, a 26-25 defeat to Thunder Ridge and a 34-33 setback to Idaho Falls. Adversity is part of the game, Ackley likes to say. His team faced a hellstorm of it over the first two weeks.
Still, Blackfoot has a ways to go before a district title becomes imminent. Within the conference, the club’s main concern might be Shelley, which also improved to 1-0 in conference play Friday night. The clubs won’t play each other until Oct. 15.
Until then, the Broncos will need to keep doing what has gotten them so far: Showing composure, overcoming adversity, winning games. This fall, it might give Ackley a reason to hug all his players, like he did with Ramirez on a night that may well go down in Blackfoot lore.
“We made a lot of progress tonight as a program,” Ackley said. “One of our goals is to win a district championship, but his team believes we can win a state championship as well. So this is just a building block for that.”