In a state as sparsely populated as Wyoming, this situation is bound to happen: You beat a team once, only to play that same team again in the playoffs.
For Equality State football programs, the playoff rematch is fairly common: In the 982 playoff games the state has had since 1931, Wyoming high school football teams have played rematches of regular-season games 375 times. So 38.2 percent of all playoff games have been rematches of regular-season games.
Of course, the advantage in those rematch games goes to the team that won in the regular season. But quite often, that regular-season success actually hasn’t paid off in the rematch that really counts. In fact, in those 375 playoff rematches, the team that won in the regular season lost 78 times — or in more than 20 percent of the games.
Last year’s playoffs had four games where the regular-season loser was the postseason winner. Two of those four were in the Class 4A semifinals: East avenged its loss to Sheridan, as did Natrona against Gillette. Natrona also beat Kelly Walsh in the 4A quarterfinals after losing in the regular season. The last one is in on a technicality but counts all the same, as Midwest beat Farson in the 1A six-man quarterfinals after having to forfeit its regular-season game to the Pronghorns.
Recently, Wyoming’s playoffs have had a few teams that have avenged those regular-season losses in the playoffs. The 2012 and 2011 playoffs had three reversals of fortune; 2010 had four; 2009 had five; 2008 had only one. And there’s no real pattern. The recent high came in 2005, when six playoff game rematches ended with the regular-season loser winning, but that scenario didn’t happen at all one year prior in the 2004 playoffs.
In the bulk of those “reversal” games, the regular-season game was close. Even so, almost no margin of victory in the regular season translates into a favorites’ position in the postseason. In 37 of the 78 games won by the regular-season loser, the regular-season game was decided by eight points or less. Do the math, and you can see that 41 times, a team lost its playoff rematch after winning in the regular season by eight or more points.
Even teams that win by relatively large margins in the regular season aren’t safe in the playoffs. The biggest turnarounds, ranked by the size of the margin of victory in the regular season, are:
34 points (2006): Mountain View beat Glenrock 41-7 in the regular season; Glenrock won the rematch 7-0 in the 3A quarterfinals.
35 points (2010): Big Horn beat Thermopolis 42-7 in the regular season, but Thermopolis won the rematch 13-9 in the 2A championship game.
42 points (2010): Evanston beat Cheyenne East 42-0 in the regular season; East won the rematch 30-20 in the 4A quarterfinals just two weeks later.
Meanwhile, close games in the regular season are no guarantees of close games in the playoffs. Last year’s NC-KW rematch was one of the extreme examples of that. The biggest turnarounds, ranked by the size of the margin of victory in the postseason:
33 points (2013): Kelly Walsh beat Natrona in the Oil Bowl last year 21-20 but lost in the rematch 33-0 in the 4A quarterfinals.
34 points (2012): Lusk beat Southeast 7-6 in the regular season; Southeast won the rematch 40-6 in the 1A 11-man championship in Laramie.
35 points (2002): Mountain View beat Glenrock 28-19 in the regular season but lost the rematch 35-0 in the 3A title game.
Finally, sometimes, the regular-season game is a perfect indicator of what will happen in the postseason. The “Why did we do this, again?” award for exact same scores in both the regular-season game and the rematch (and, in all three cases, both games were in the same place, too) goes to:
Southeast and Upton: In 2008, Southeast beat Upton 34-0 both in the regular season and in the 1A quarterfinals more than a month later; both games were in Yoder.
Riverton and Cody: In 2004, Riverton beat Cody 48-7 both in the regular season and in the 5A quarterfinals three weeks later; both games were in Riverton.
Pine Bluffs and Guernsey-Sunrise: In 1991, Pine Bluffs beat Guernsey-Sunrise 20-14 both in the regular season and in the 1A semifinals almost two months later; both games were in Guernsey.
In short: Regular-season success only gives you about an 80 percent chance of winning that rematch in the postseason. Beware overconfidence, and respect the history. This happens more than you might think.
This year, half of the 20 quarterfinal playoff games are rematches — all four Class 4A games, two games in 3A (Powell-Riverton and Star Valley-Douglas), three games in 2A (all except Thermopolis-Mountain View), and one game in 1A six-man (Hanna-Snake River). If statistical tradition holds, two of the 10 teams that won in the regular season will lose in the rematch….
On to the picks, where statistical tradition is ignored, but I still choose a few road teams to win first-round games. Projected winners in bold, like I’ve done for years, but hey, this might be your first visit here and you’re learning how I do things. So there you go:
(8) Evanston at (1) Natrona: The Mustangs haven’t lost yet and beat Evanston 48-6 about a month ago. NC should keep rolling. First playoff meeting since the 1995 quarterfinals.
(5) Cheyenne Central at (4) Sheridan: Cheyenne Central’s last-minute victory against Evanston last week was the Indians’ second straight victory. But that momentum doesn’t mean much to the Broncs, who are 2-2 in their last four but still the favorites. First playoff meeting since the 2009 title game.
(7) Kelly Walsh at (2) Cheyenne East: KW is 1-4 in its past five games, and the one game the Trojans won, they won by one point. And even though KW played East tough in the regular season, the T-Birds should win at home. Throw in the twist that this is the first playoff game at the new Okie, and East will be sure to protect the home turf. First playoff meeting.
(6) Laramie at (3) Gillette: Laramie’s steady improvement hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Plainsmen could be pesky. Then again…. Nah. Gillette beat Laramie two weeks ago. The 4A hierarchy sustains itself. First playoff meeting since the 2000 4A title game.
(4E) Rawlins at (1W) Cody: Rawlins’ turnaround under first-year coach Corey Wheeler has been fun to watch. A team so mired in losing deserves to have some success. However, Cody has not-so-quietly emerged as the team to beat from the West Conference. First playoff meeting.
(3W) Powell at (2E) Riverton: This one is brutal. Riverton beat Powell 20-14 at Wolverine Stadium on Sept. 19. I like what the Wolverines have done and I like their chances. But it’s so hard to ignore what Powell has done the past three years. The Panthers know how to win in the playoffs. Ugh… OK. Wolverines. First playoff meeting since the 2010 quarterfinals. (BTW, Riverton was the last team to beat Powell in the playoffs in that 2010 meeting.)
(4W) Star Valley at (1E) Douglas: The Braves are the best 2-6 team in the state. Douglas is still a notch or two above that, though. The Bearcats’ run through the East Conference was really impressive, and I think that momentum continues deep into the playoffs. Rematch of a semifinal playoff game from last year.
(3E) Torrington at (2W) Jackson: These two schools have never faced each other in football prior to this game. They’re both greatly improved and have both the momentum and the ability to go deep in the playoffs. If it’s close, though, you take the team at home — not the team that’s traveling 400-some miles one way to play. First meeting.
(4E) Thermopolis at (1W) Mountain View: This one might be closer than it appears; Mountain View overcame its only loss with style, but Thermopolis has been quietly consistent. And we all remember what Thermop did as a 4-seed in last year’s playoffs. Right, Burns? Rematch of a semifinal game from a year ago.
(3W) Greybull at (2E) Newcastle: This might be the toughest playoff game to choose. Greybull has made great strides this season and were impressive in knocking off Lovell last week, and they’re a better team than the one that lost to Newcastle by 20 earlier this year. I still like the Dogies at home, though, in a close one. First playoff meeting since the 2010 quarterfinals.
(4W) Lovell at (1E) Big Horn: This rivalry has been fun to watch develop the past three years. This time, though, the unbeaten Rams have the decided advantage, in part due to the 25-0 victory Big Horn put on Lovell in Week 1. Third consecutive year they’ve met in the playoffs after semifinal showdowns in 2012 and 2013.
(3E) Wheatland at (2W) Lyman: Remember back in Week 1? When Wheatland went all the way across the state and beat Lyman 13-0 on the Eagles’ home field? So does everyone else who will step on that same field just shy of two months later. Just like the other 2-3 2A game, this one’s really tough to choose, but I’ll stick with the team that won this game the first time around. Rematch of a 2012 quarterfinal game.
Class 1A 11-man
(3E) Upton-Sundance at (2W) Rocky Mountain: Rocky Mountain’s most impressive victory of the season was probably the one the Grizzlies put up last week against Burlington. The Griz clearly aren’t the team that lost to Tongue River in Week 1. Then again, Upton-Sundance’s most impressive victory of the season was probably the one they put up last week against Southeast. I think the Patriots get the program’s first playoff victory. First playoff meeting.
(4E) Tongue River at (1W) Cokeville: Watching Tongue River’s continuous improvement has been fun to watch this year. Watching Cokeville’s domination of a classification for three decades has been fun, too. Just the second meeting between these programs; the first was in the 1956 six-man state title game.
(3W) Shoshoni at (2E) Lingle: Something lit a fire under Shoshoni after starting 0-3, and the Wranglers have won five in a row. Lingle, though, has lost only to Lusk and presents a strong challenge to the Wranglers’ momentum. This one will be fun to watch. First playoff meeting.
Class 1A six-man
(4E) Midwest at (1W) Dubois: Since losing to Farson in Week 3, Dubois has been on a tear. The West was full of parity this year, but the Rams are the top seed from that conference for a reason. Fourth consecutive playoff meeting after semifinal games the past three years.
(3W) Meeteetse at (2E) Kaycee: This one will be fun. I honestly don’t know who to pick — the Longhorns, the defending champs, or the Buckaroos, who are probably the odds-on favorites to be the 2015 champs? Again, this one will be fun. Rematch of a quarterfinal game from last year.
(4W) Farson at (1E) Guernsey-Sunrise: Farson deserved better than this for the fantastic season it’s had. Unfortunately for the Pronghorns, they draw the top-ranked Vikings in the first round. First playoff meeting since the 2009 quarterfinals.
(3E) Hanna at (2W) Snake River: Hanna’s kind of in the same boat as Farson: Great season. A couple tough losses. Better than you think. Capable of giving opponent a good game. Still the underdogs. In this case, though, Snake’s already beaten Hanna once this year, and it wasn’t neighborly (76-44 in Week 1). First playoff meeting since the 2010 title game.
Class 1A 11-man
(4W) Riverside at (1E) Lusk: Riverside had to win a triangular playoff game against Wind River just to make it to the postseason. Lusk is undefeated, got to rest up with a Week 8 bye and is playing at home. Advantage Tigers. Rematch of a quarterfinal game from a year ago, a game Lusk won by 68.
Last week: 27-5 (84 percent). This season: 220-53 (81 percent).
For a full season schedule, including kickoff times for this week’s games, click here.
The first week of the playoffs is usually pretty predictable. What team do you think is best poised to pull an upset? Which road teams have the ability to keep their seasons rolling? Which favorites should be booking rooms in Laramie? Comment below and let’s chat about it.