I’m going to try something new tonight: a livestream! Chat Wyoming high school football with me in real time. Post comments and questions here, and I’ll answer them as I see them. Plus, it’s likely my cat will maeke an unscheduled cameo appearance!
No Class 4A team is more interesting this season than Rock Springs.
The Tigers went 5-5 last season — exactly middle-of-the-pack kind of stuff. But, boy, was it interesting.
Of Rock Springs’ 10 games, eight were decided by a possession or less. The Tigers won those close games against teams below them in the standings (14-13 against Laramie, 28-21 against Kelly Walsh, 28-27 against Evanston, 50-47 against Cheyenne South) and lost those close games against teams above them (13-7 against Cheyenne East, 20-12 against Sheridan, 19-14 against Natrona, 14-13 against East again).
That dichotomy — playing close against both the best and worst 4A teams in the state — made Rock Springs an intriguing team to watch in 2015. With a significant crew of players coming back from that squad, many people, including yours truly, think this can be the Tigers’ breakthrough season.
The first test? East: The team that beat Rock Springs twice by a combined seven points last season.
Conveniently, Rock Springs hosts East on Friday to open the season.
If Rock Springs can beat East, it may signal a shift in 4A’s power structure. Since 2011, Gillette, Cheyenne East, Natrona and Sheridan have been a combined 136-4 against the other six teams in the classification.
The Tigers know what they’re facing. They haven’t beaten a Big Four team since beating East in 2011, one of the four in that 136-4. They’ve come close, though, as last year showed.
Playing close is a good start, but last year, close ultimately went down as an “L” too many times for the Tigers to make that jump from middle-of-the-pack to title contender.
Last year, Rock Springs stormed the Big Four castle, but only got as far as tearing down the fence around the castle. For the Big Four, the Tigers were frustrating, and they exposed some weaknesses, but ultimately tearing down the fence didn’t affect the castle at all.
This year, the fence isn’t enough. The Tigers are aiming for the tower. And they might be able to slip past the moat in the season opener….
As usual, picks are below, with teams in bold the teams I’m prognosticating as the winners of said games. For a full season schedule with kickoff times, click here.
Games Friday Class 4A
Cheyenne Central at Natrona
Cheyenne East at Rock Springs Evanston at Cheyenne South
Kelly Walsh at Gillette
Laramie at Sheridan Class 1A six-man
Hulett at Meeteetse Interstate
Jackson at Teton, Idaho
Juab, Utah, at Star Valley
Lead, S.D., at Upton-Sundance
Lyman at Altamont, Utah Moffat County, Colo., at Rawlins
Newcastle at Custer, S.D.
Powell at Miles City, Mont.
Scrimmages and Jamborees Friday: Cokeville at Kemmerer; Farson at Evanston JV; Greybull at Shoshoni; Mountain View at Green River; Pine Bluffs, Torrington at Glenrock; Pinedale at Big Piney; Riverton at Cody; Thermopolis at Lander; Wind River at Lander JV. Saturday: Douglas, Southeast at Wheatland; Dubois, Midwest, Snake River jamboree (at Natrona); Guernsey-Sunrise, Riverside, Ten Sleep at Kaycee; Lovell at Buffalo; Lusk at Burns; Moorcroft, Wright at Big Horn; Rocky Mountain at Powell JV. Off: Burlington, Hanna, Lingle, Normative Services, Rock River, St. Stephens, Saratoga, Tongue River, Worland, Wyoming Indian.
To be clear, here are the rules I use to determine whether a Zero Week contest is a game or is something else:
1. Was the game played with four 12-minute quarters with normal timing rules?
2. Were officials used? And were normal rules of play instituted for the game?
3. Was score kept?
If these three criteria are met, I call it a game and record it as such on this site. Many of the contests listed above violate rule No. 2 — they play a normal game but don’t have special teams plays.
Aside from Class 4A, we can think of Zero Week as Wyoming football’s “soft launch.” We can see some pieces come together, but we won’t see all we need to see until a week from now.
So what do you think — about Zero Week, the 2016 season, football, life? Post a comment! I would love to hear your thoughts.
Entering the 2016 season, only 50 of Wyoming’s 65 high school football fields will have lights.
Of those 15 without lights, 10 stadiums belong to schools that play six-man football. The only 11-man programs without lights on their field are Mountain View, Lyman, Big Piney, Cokeville and Sundance — and Sundance won’t host any Upton-Sundance co-op home games this year as the field is rebuilt in a new location to make room for a new elementary school.
Most of the schools playing day games this season are six-man schools. Ten Sleep is the only program in the state that will play every regular-season game in 2016 during daylight hours, and 14 of the 16 six-man programs will play at least half their games during the day.
Of 11-man programs, Cokeville’s seven day games is tops; Big Piney, Lyman and Mountain View will play five day games apiece. No other 11-man program will play more than half its games during the day. And 31 of Wyoming’s 64 programs will play all their games at night, including every 4A and 3A program.
Games were defined as day games if they started prior to 5 p.m. Zero Week scrimmages and jamborees of 4A weren’t considered.
Here are the schools playing at least one day game this regular season:
Ten Sleep: 8 day games
Burlington, Cokeville, Dubois, Farson, Hulett, Kaycee, Snake River: 7 day games
Normative Services, Rock River, St. Stephens: 6 day games
Big Piney, Hanna, Lyman, Mountain View: 5 day games
Guernsey-Sunrise, Meeteetse, Riverside: 4 day games
Lingle, Shoshoni: 3 day games
Greybull, Midwest, Pinedale, Rocky Mountain, Saratoga, Wyoming Indian: 2 day games
Glenrock, Kemmerer, Lovell, Newcastle, Tongue River, Upton-Sundance, Wright: 1 day game
Among those games are 10 games to be played in daylight hours at stadiums with lights. NSI is the leader here — only one of NSI’s four home games this year will be under the lights as the Wolves embrace the six-man day game tradition. Shoshoni will play a pair of home day games, while Guernsey-Sunrise, Riverside, Tongue River, Wyoming Indian and Rocky Mountain will each play a single day game despite having lights on their fields.
Want to see a full season schedule with kick times for every game? Click here.
Want to read up on Wyoming high school football stadiums? Click here.
If I had unlimited time and money, I know how I would spend my autumns: running around Wyoming watching high school football.
Unfortunately, I don’t have unlimited time or money. If I did, though, this is what my fantasy Wyoming football road trip might look like — keeping in mind that my options have to be realistic. So here it is: 27 games over eight weeks.
Week 0 Friday, Aug. 26: Cheyenne East at Rock Springs, 7 p.m. Forget all the scrimmages and jamborees; I’m going to the one game that means the most this week. Rock Springs was soooo close to knocking off East not once but twice last season. Both times, East won. This may be the game that sets the course of 4A all year long.
Week 1 Thursday, Sept. 1: Lusk at Moorcroft, 6 p.m. … Friday, Sept. 2: St. Stephens at Rock River, 4 p.m.; Torrington at Wheatland, 7 p.m. … Saturday, Sept. 3: Farson at Guernsey-Sunrise, noon. The most appealing game of the week might be the revival of the rivalry between Torrington and Wheatland, a series that has been put on hiatus the past couple seasons. It’s nice to see it back. I’ll sandwich that game with a couple six-man games in the area, but I’ll be able to start with the first non-4A game of the season on Thursday in Crook County.
Week 2 Friday, Sept. 9: Mountain View at Lyman, 4 p.m.; Rawlins at Green River, 7 p.m. … Saturday, Sept. 10: Wright at Cokeville, 2 p.m. On the Friday of Week 2, there’s only one “day” game, and we’re fortunate — it’s the Bridger Valley Bowl. That alone makes the week worth it. From there, we’ll go down the road and catch an intriguing game between Rawlins and Green River and then stay in the southwest to catch the first game EVER between Wright and Cokeville on Saturday.
Week 3 Friday, Sept. 16: Upton-Sundance at Shoshoni, 2 p.m.; Lovell at Greybull, 7 p.m. … Saturday, Sept. 17: Burlington at Ten Sleep, 2 p.m. I was torn this week — northeast for Rock River-Kaycee and then Natrona-Gillette? Or go northwest for this pair? Ultimately, I decided that seeing what might be the best 1A 11-man nonconference game of the year and the game that might decide the 2A West was the better trip. And I get a six-man game on Saturday to boot in a nice revival of an old rivalry.
Week 4 Thursday, Sept. 22: Shoshoni at Wind River, 7 p.m. … Friday, Sept. 23: Rocky Mountain at Cokeville, 1 p.m.; Cody at Star Valley, 7 p.m. … Saturday, Sept. 24: Snake River at Dubois, 3 p.m. Thursday game! As for Friday, the Lincoln County double-dip is really appealing, and it gives me a chance to drive through Grand Teton National Park before the six-man Saturday. Can’t resist that. 🙂
Week 5 Friday, Sept. 30: Gillette at Sheridan, 7 p.m. … Saturday, Oct. 1: Hulett at Normative Services, noon. Week 5 only has one game that starts under daylight, so I decided catching the Energy Bowl — which might be the biggest and best game of the 4A regular season — was the best option for Week 5. There’s a nearby six-man game on Saturday to boot.
Week 6 Friday, Oct. 7: Snake River at St. Stephens, 4 p.m.; Buffalo at Riverton, 7 p.m. … Saturday, Oct. 8: Meeteetse at Farson, 2 p.m. Fremont County gets some love this week. Buffalo-Riverton will be huge in the 3A East. Meanwhile, the Saturday game just over South Pass could be the make-or-break game in the 1A West.
Week 7 Thursday, Oct. 13: Cheyenne East at Evanston, 6 p.m. … Friday, Oct. 14: Saratoga at Rocky Mountain, 1 p.m.; Pine Bluffs at Tongue River, 6 p.m. … Saturday, Oct. 15: Midwest at Kaycee, 2 p.m. The annual Thursday game between East and Evanston gives us a bonus game! From there, a lack of intriguing day games has us heading north for a pair of 1A 11-man games that will, if nothing else, provide some beautiful, scenery-filled backdrops for football. Oh, and the Midwest-Kaycee rivalry game on Saturday is always a can’t-miss.
Week 8 Friday, Oct. 21: Riverside at Burlington, 1 p.m.; Cody at Powell, 7 p.m. … Saturday, Oct. 22: Guernsey-Sunrise at Hulett, 3 p.m. Our trip comes to an end with a pair of Northwest corner rivalries, and rivalries are always awesome. The trip ends with a LONG jaunt from Powell to Hulett, but it’s worth it; the Guernsey-Hulett game is the last game of the season. When that one’s over, I can begin planning my postseason travels…
In this trip, I’d see 43 of Wyoming’s 64 football programs, and I’d get to see 11 teams play twice. I’d make it to 26 different stadiums, and I’d stop by Cokeville twice. I’d travel almost 4,000 miles.
Now, if I could only find a way to get that unlimited time and money….
Class 4A football the past few years has had an aura of familiarity.
That familiarity is both frustrating and interesting — frustrating in the regular season and quarterfinals, where ideas like parity, surprise and intrigue are laughable pipe dreams, and interesting in the final two rounds of the playoffs, where we see four teams battle it out for supremacy in back-to-back weekends that represent the best high school football the state has to offer.
The separation between wanna-bes and already-ares has never been clearer.
And that’s what makes Rock Springs’ rise to prominence so darn interesting coming into 2016.
Four questions to answer
The Big Four again? Yes, the Big Four again. A state championship game involving anyone but Cheyenne East, Sheridan, Gillette or Natrona seems unlikely. The same four teams have occupied the 4A semifinals every season since 2010, and although they’ll be challenged this year, these four programs aren’t going anywhere.
Which one of the Big Four has the best chance of winning it all? Gillette. In a year where Class 4A is somewhat turbulent due to the number of seniors who graduated, the Camels’ two returning all-state selections is tied for the most in 4A. Beyond that, the Camels return four all-conference players, a number second only to Cheyenne East. And, maybe most importantly, Gillette is fired up to avenge last year’s title-game loss, a misstep that cost it an unbeaten season and state title.
Who has the best chance of ruining 4A’s status quo? Rock Springs. The Tigers finished one point away from a trip to the semifinals last year — falling 14-13 to Cheyenne East — and showed some tremendous improvement from 2014 to 2015. If that improvement continues, Rock Springs could be a title contender. And it helps that the team returns one of the best running backs in the state in Matt Fowler.
Will a new coach bring success to Cheyenne South? It will be tough. Dan Gallas takes over at South after a successful career in Colorado. The Bison, who have won three games in five varsity seasons and went winless in 2015, have had time to build a program; Gallas’ responsibility will be to move from “patience” to “progress.”
Four players to watch
Lane Tucker, Gillette. The most college-ready player in the state might be the lineman from Gillette. He drew several Division I scholarship offers before committing to North Dakota State this summer. Tucker’s responsibilities will be diverse — he was an all-state selection on both the offensive and defensive lines last season — but he will likely be up for the challenge.
Matt Fowler, Rock Springs. Fowler ran for 1,293 yards last season, more than any other player in Class 4A. He’s the leading returning rusher in the classification by a wide margin. And he’s part of an offense that focuses on the run. As good as last year was, this year might top it.
Madden Pikula, Gillette. Just in case you forgot, the Gillette offense was record-setting last year — the Camels scored more points in a season than any other team in state history. Pikula was a big part of that; he notched 1,014 receiving yards, more than any other player in Wyoming. He’ll be breaking in a new quarterback this fall — or he might be the quarterback himself — but his role will be critical to Gillette’s success.
Jacob Hallam, Sheridan. Hallam is the only one of Sheridan’s seven all-state players from 2015 to return this fall. But he was an all-state selection on both the offensive and defensive line, and his presence in the middle of the action will help anchor the Broncs, giving the defending champions experience in a critical place on the field.
Four key games
Cheyenne East at Rock Springs, Aug. 26. You think the Tigers haven’t had the season opener circled on their calendars all offseason? The team that booted them from the playoffs is the same team they’ll see in Week 0 — and it’s Rock Springs’ perfect chance to prove it belongs in the mix.
Natrona at Gillette, Sept. 16. The Mustangs and Camels have a well-documented rivalry. As usual, this one will be big. The Camels have the advantage in both returning firepower and home field, but games between these two teams rarely tilt decisively one way or another.
Gillette at Sheridan, Sept. 30. This rivalry was already intense enough. This time, though, the two teams are staging not only the Energy Bowl, they’re also staging the rematch of last year’s Class 4A title game. Intense barely describes what this one will be like.
Cheyenne East at Cheyenne Central, Sept. 30. One of the forgotten oddities of the 2015 season is the Indians’ 20-17 victory against the Thunderbirds, Central’s first over East since 2010. East recovered from that loss; Central never took advantage of that victory.
Predicted order of finish
Gillette; Sheridan; Rock Springs; Cheyenne East; Natrona; Laramie; Evanston; Kelly Walsh; Cheyenne Central; Cheyenne South.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Gillette 34, Sheridan 28. The Camels win the title they thought they’d get last year as one last sendoff to the days of one high school in Gillette. And then we spend all offseason wondering how much the addition of Thunder Basin High School will affect the Camels’ repeat bid.
Cheesy 80s pop song that should play over the loudspeakers at War Memorial Stadium after this classification’s title game
Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper. Because time after time, we’re used to seeing the same group of four teams playing at the War.
Alternate choice: Cool Change by the Little River Band. If someone who’s not one of the Big Four wins it all, that’d be a cool change — as long as you’re not among the Big Four.
What do you think? Is another Camels-Broncs title game in the making? Is this the year Rock Springs comes in and disrupts the Big Four’s reign? Will some darkhorse surprise us all? Let me hear your thoughts on big-school football for the year!
(And, yes, I know, “Cool Change” was released in 1979. It was on the year-end chart for 1980. Whatever. LRB rules.)
Brandon Barba has been hired as Rock River’s new football coach.
Barba and Rock River principal Wade Fiscus verified the hiring via email this week to wyoming-football.com.
Barba, originally from Mesa, Arizona, has spent the last three years coaching at Verrado High School in Buckeye, Arizona, he said via email. His role at Verrado was as a coach for the freshman team, but he also coached varsity offensive line and varsity scout.
He said he has applied for a teaching job in Laramie and came to the area with his wife, who is pursing a doctorate at the University of Wyoming.
Dakota Anderson, a student in UW’s teaching program, will be Rock River’s assistant coach.
Barba replaces Terrance Reese, who resigned in July after leading the Longhorns during their first two seasons of varsity play.
Through my own research, I also found the final score for one more game: Evanston’s 57-0 loss to Montpelier, Idaho, on Oct. 23, 1942. I had already noted that Evanston had lost this game; this update simply provided the final score.
All the changes are reflected on all the relevant pages.
Prior to last season, Star Valley last won a state football championship in 1996. Yet, after 19 years without a title, the Braves will be the odds-on favorite to win a second consecutive Class 3A title — even after losing their coach and five all-state players.
However, the Braves’ quest for a repeat championship has plenty of roadblocks, including several in their own conference. After all, the West Conference has the 2015 champs (Star Valley), the 2014 champs (Cody), the 2015 runner-up (Green River) and, lest we forget, the team that won the conference championship a year ago (Jackson).
Meanwhile, a team from the East with a losing record a year ago might be the best team in the classification this year.
Yep, just another year in the crazy mixed-up world of Class 3A football.
Four questions to answer
Can Star Valley defend its title even after losing its head coach? Yes. Although Chris Howell is gone to Utah, his replacement, McKay Young, has been with the program for several years and has already proven himself a capable head coach, going 25-6 at Malad High in Idaho before coming to Afton. The Braves’ transition should be smooth.
Does that mean Star Valley is the favorite to win the 3A title? Again: Yes. The Braves return enough talent — fronted by returning all-state selections Kellen Hansen, Collin McGinley and McCabe Smith — to make another successful run at a 3A championship. But that also means the Braves will be everyone’s target all season long.
Who’s most likely to challenge the Braves for the throne? Douglas. Don’t let the Bearcats’ 3-6 record from 2015 deceive you. This team is loaded for 2016. The Bearcats return all three of their all-state choices and lost little to graduation. Watch out.
Anyone else in the mix? Definitely. Jackson, Torrington, Green River, Riverton and Buffalo have all been mentioned by 3A coaches as having what it takes to compete for a title. Green River in particular, thanks to its run to the title game with a junior-heavy squad in 2015, has the attention of 3A coaches across the state.
Four players to watch
Logan Harris, Torrington. In short, Harris is one of the state’s top linemen. A Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team pick as a junior, Harris was second for the Trailblazers in defensive points last year and notched a Class 3A-best 14 tackles for loss. He’s just as valuable on offense.
Blake Waite, Green River. Last year’s 3A West Defensive Player of the Year was the classification leader in defensive points last year. He was everywhere — 64 solo tackles and 69 assisted tackles proves that. As offenses turn their attention to him, his numbers may dip, but his presence will help open up opportunities for teammates.
T.J. Abraham, Powell. Not many players lead their teams in rushing, tackling, punt and kick returns and scoring in the same season. Usually, when they do, they’re seniors. Abraham did that for the Panthers as a junior. He’ll be the focus not only for the Panthers, but for every single one of the Panthers’ opponents this fall, too.
McCabe Smith, Star Valley. Smith, who was also a Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first-team selection last year, leads the Braves’ charge for a repeat title. A valuable piece of both the offensive and defensive lines, Smith led the Braves with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks a year ago.
Four key games
Star Valley at Douglas, Sept. 16. The most intriguing nonconference game pits the defending champs on the road against a team in Douglas that returns almost every key player from a year ago. The distance it has to travel, and the talent awaiting at the end of that trip, makes this game a double-edged sword for Star Valley.
Torrington at Riverton, Sept. 23. It would be easy to look at both the Trailblazers and the Wolverines and say they’re rebuilding. Far from it. Both have enough talent to compete for the East Conference title — and more — and the conference opener will be telling for both programs.
Jackson at Green River, Sept. 30. Jackson certainly hasn’t forgotten how last season ended. The Broncs will be fired up for this rematch against the Wolves in a game that may be key in deciding home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Green River at Star Valley, Oct. 7. The regular-season game between these two last season came down to the final play. The state championship game rematch wasn’t as thrilling. Even so, both teams will be on edge for this one, especially given their recent history.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Douglas, Riverton, Torrington, Buffalo, Rawlins, Lander. West Conference: Star Valley, Green River, Jackson, Powell, Cody, Worland.
Preseason top five: Star Valley, Douglas, Green River, Riverton, Jackson.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Star Valley 20, Douglas 14. The Braves will start the season as the 3A favorites, but not by much. They’ll need to prove themselves week in and week out. The fact that their coach has experience in the Star Valley system should make the transition easier than a coaching transition normally is — and that gives the Braves the early edge in 3A.
Cheesy 80s pop song that should play over the loudspeakers at War Memorial Stadium after this classification’s title game
Waiting for a Star to Fall by Boy Meets Girl. I think everyone in 3A is waiting for a “Star” to fall…
The last five 3A champions, as well as both of last year’s title-game participants, were West Conference teams. Is this the year an East Conference team shakes things up? Who’s everyone overlooking? How do you see 3A coming together this fall? Leave a comment and let us know!
Two Wyoming high schools have an opportunity to pull off a rare championship sweep — winning the track and field, football and either the basketball or wrestling championships in the same calendar year.
The basketball-track-football calendar-year sweep has only been pulled off eight times; seven of those sweeps have been at the big-school level.
However, Pine Bluffs has the chance to do this in 2016. The Hornets won the Class 2A basketball championship in March and the 2A track and field championship in May.
The football team faces long historical odds — Pine Bluffs has never won a football championship and last won a playoff game in 2003.
The first school to do a calendar-year basketball-track-football sweep was Natrona in 1939. Since then, schools that have pulled off the feat include Laramie in 1969, Cheyenne Central in 1977 and 1979, Kelly Walsh in 1981, Gillette in 2008, Natrona again in 2010 and Snake River, the only small school to pull off this kind of sweep, in 2011.
Meanwhile, Star Valley could sweep the wrestling, track and field and football titles in the same calendar year, a feat that’s even rarer. The Braves won the 3A wrestling title and followed that up with the 3A track title last spring. Let’s not forget that Star Valley is also the defending 3A football champions.
Gillette is the only program to complete this trifecta in a calendar year, and the Camels have done it twice. Gillette completed the wrestling-track-football sweep in a calendar year first in 2006 and again in 2008.
As noted, Star Valley won the football, wrestling and track and field titles in the 2015-16 academic year. That’s only happened five times in state history, and Star Valley became the first school to do so twice. The Braves joined Cheyenne Central (1965-66), Gillette (2008-09) and Powell (2013-14) in such a sweep; Star Valley also pulled off the same championship trifecta in 1982-83.