We’ve waited all year for this weekend. So let’s get right to it:
Mountain View (2W, 8-3) vs. Big Horn (2E, 9-1)
Series record: First meeting.
Last meeting: First meeting.
State championships: Mountain View, 3. … Big Horn, 3.
Title game appearances: This is the ninth title game appearance for Mountain View. … This is the 12th title game appearance for Big Horn.
Title game record: Mountain View, 3-5. … Big Horn, 3-8.
How they got here: Mountain View made it to Laramie with a pair of eight-point playoff victories, beating Newcastle 20-12 in the quarterfinals and Thermopolis 14-6 in the semifinals. … Big Horn beat Lyman 52-14 and Lovell 28-19 to reach the title game.
The case for Mountain View: The Buffalos might have more individual talent than any 2A team in the state. And it’s young talent at that. Quarterback Austin Houskeeper, leading rusher Cade Covington and leading receiver Caleb Flake are all juniors. Mountain View is stacked for a title run next year; this year’s success is a not-so-unexpected result of having the talent, and now the confidence, to compete with the best.
The case for Big Horn: Few teams possess the offensive balance and the defensive opportunism the Rams do. Big Horn leads Class 2A in offensive yards per game (393.1) and turnover margin (plus-17), two important statistics in a classification of football that turns just as much on yards as it does on opportunism and consistency. The ability of Rams quarterback Connor McCafferty to take care of the ball (28 touchdowns, only two interceptions) has helped the Rams find their rhythm, especially in the playoffs.
The pick: At the beginning of the season, I picked Mountain View to beat Big Horn 12-8 in the title game. That seems like so long ago, and, in retrospect, it was little more than a lucky guess. Class 2A had more parity than any other classification in the state, and that’s shown in the playoffs. However, Big Horn has been the more consistent, more dominant team the past few weeks, and the Rams will ride that consistency to the championship. Big Horn 24, Mountain View 19.
Powell (1W, 11-0) vs. Douglas (1E, 10-0)
3 p.m. Friday
Series record: Powell leads 5-2.
Last meeting: Powell beat Douglas 15-14 in the 3A championship game on Nov. 11, 2011, in Laramie.
State championships: Powell, 7. … Douglas, 5.
Title game appearances: This is the eighth title game appearance for Powell. … This is the 12th title game appearance for Douglas.
Title game record: Powell, 5-2. … Douglas, 5-6.
How they got here: Powell was efficient, beating Torrington 48-20 and Cody 26-13 to reach the championship. … Douglas beat Jackson 52-14 and handled Star Valley 32-7 to return to Laramie after a one-year absence.
The case for Powell: The Panthers returned six (!) all-state players from last year’s team, and each one of them has played even better this season — Brendon Phister, Riley Stringer and Anthony Lujan are 1-2-3 for Powell in defensive points, Hayden Cragoe has been a rock at quarterback, Cory Heny leads the team in rushing touchdowns AND interceptions, and Garrett Lynch has chipped in a little bit everywhere. But Powell has also had new stars rise to the top and give the Panthers a formidable, talented look that few teams have ever had at the 3A level. Oh, and Powell has won 26 games in a row. That should count for something.
The case for Douglas: Even with Powell’s success, Douglas may be the most dominant team in 3A this year. Douglas’ closest game this year was 17 points. The Bearcats lead 3A in total offense and they’re just a scant few yards behind Powell in total defense. And even with an offense that has led 3A in passing, Douglas also has 3A’s top leading ground gainer in Logan Barker (1,523 yards).
The pick: With all due respect to all the other schools in Class 3A, these two teams have been head and shoulders above all the other 3A teams all season long. They both play the same game: balanced offense, dominant line play, physical defense. Their offensive and defensive statistics darn near mirror each other. This championship game should live up to the billing that a game between two undefeated traditional powers brings with it. Think 2011 redux, where one big play late changes everything. Powell 20, Douglas 14.
Class 1A six-man
Meeteetse (1W, 10-1) vs. Midwest (1E, 9-1)
10 a.m. Saturday
Series record: Midwest leads 12-6.
Last meeting: Midwest beat Meeteetse 71-30 on Sept. 8, 2012, in Meeteetse.
State championships: Meeteetse, 1. … Midwest, 2.
Title game appearances: This is the third title game appearance for Meeteetse. … This is the sixth title game appearance for Midwest.
Title game record: Meeteetse, 1-1. … Midwest, 2-3.
How they got here: Meeteetse was barely challenged in the first two rounds, beating Kaycee 65-14 and Guernsey-Sunrise 64-12. … Midwest thumped Farson 56-6 before rallying for an amazing 64-62 victory over Dubois in the semifinals.
The case for Meeteetse: What has turned the Longhorns from contender to favorite is one thing: balance. In 2012, Seth Bennett was carrying the team; in 2013, Bennett is leading the team. And that’s a huge difference. Although Bennett has still put up big numbers, throwing and passing for more than 1,000 yards apiece, he doesn’t have to do everything anymore. He has help from other talented players like Jasper Smith, Shawn Shepperson, Carter Johnson and Dalton Abarr. The Longhorns have been better, and more successful, for that balance.
The case for Midwest: The Oilers’ key to success is its depth. That’s how Midwest beat Dubois in the semifinals — when the Rams lost steam in the fourth quarter, the Oilers were still going strong. Cam Ray, Tucker Even and Kacey Gussman have combined to give Midwest a three-pronged (read: deep) attack on both offense and defense. And when they get tired, a supporting group of players can fill in and keep Midwest competitive — a formula that has led the Oilers to an undefeated season in which the only loss was a forfeit.
The pick: Every neuron in my brain says Meeteetse is the favorite. And if you were to assign a point spread on this game, the Longhorns would have the advantage. But you can’t ignore what Midwest did last week — specifically, how it won. When you win games like that, you believe you can overcome any deficit. I’ve seen teams make runs like this before. It’s the stuff of destiny. Midwest 58, Meeteetse 54.
Class 1A 11-man
Lusk (1E, 9-0) vs. Cokeville (1W, 9-1)
1 p.m. Saturday
Series record: Cokeville leads 3-0.
Last meeting: Cokeville won 28-7 in a semifinal playoff game on Nov. 4, 2011, in Cokeville.
State championships: Lusk, 5. … Cokeville, 20.
Title game appearances: This is the 13th title game appearance for Lusk. … This is the 26th title game appearance for Cokeville.
Title game record: Lusk, 5-7. … Cokeville, 19-6.
How they got here: Lusk destroyed Riverside 68-0 and then came from behind to beat Lingle 30-21 in the semifinals. … Cokeville ran through both Upton-Sundance (56-0) and Southeast (39-7) to make it here.
The case for Lusk: Defense, defense, defense. Lusk had seven consecutive shutouts at one point this season. If that doesn’t make the case, nothing will. The Tiger defense, led by Derick and Matt VandeBossche, Martin Fitzwater, Zane Hladky and Logan Lamar, has been tough to crack. Don’t forget, it was a late pick-six by Hunter Dockery that sealed Lusk’s victory over Lingle in the semifinals. Stout and opportunistic defense creates better situations for an offense that’s just as efficient but gets overshadowed.
The case for Cokeville: The Panthers have the three Ts going for them: tradition, teamwork and Todd. Coach Todd Dayton and the Panthers are traditional small-school favorites, and they find that success by not relying on any one player. By design, no one player stands out on offense — five players have more than 280 rushing yards this season, but none more than James Teichert’s 801, and five players have more than 100 receiving yards, but none more than Braxton Delgado’s 197. That makes the Panthers tough to stop, because shutting one avenue down opens another one that’s just as reliable.
The pick: Everything points to this being a classic small-school showdown. The Panthers and Tigers have the classification’s top two offenses and top two defenses. They won their respective conferences and haven’t lost a game within the classification. This will be a good one, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lusk win, but…. Cokeville 22, Lusk 14.
Natrona (4, 8-3) vs. Cheyenne East (3, 9-2)
4 p.m. Saturday
Series record: Natrona leads 39-17.
Last meeting: Cheyenne East won 42-41 in triple overtime on Sept. 6 in Casper.
State championships: Natrona, 16. … Cheyenne East, 3.
Title game appearances: This is the 14th title game appearance for Natrona. … This is the seventh title game appearance for Cheyenne East.
Title game record: Natrona, 9-4. … Cheyenne East, 3-3.
How they got here: Natrona rode defense, beating Kelly Walsh 33-0 and upending previously undefeated Gillette 14-7 to make it to The War. … Cheyenne East eked out tight victories over Cheyenne Central (13-7) and Sheridan (28-27) to reach it to the championship.
The case for Natrona: If you had proposed Natrona’s 2013 season as a movie, no one would have accepted it. Too unrealistic, too unbelievable. Three overtime losses at home? And then the chance to play those same three teams in the playoffs? No way that would happen in real life. Yet here we are, and NC can do just that. The Mustangs have already avenged their OT losses to Kelly Walsh and Gillette; now, only East stands in the way of a Natrona championship and a completed redemption tour. A championship would be an unbelievable end to a beyond-belief season.
The case for Cheyenne East: The Thunderbirds have already beaten Natrona, at Casper no less. They have one of the most dynamic and exciting players in the state in junior quarterback Tevis Bartlett, who’s put up amazing numbers (1,335 rushing yards, 1,441 passing yards). They’ve been to the title game before and they know what it takes to win it. And, as if the orange and black needed this ugly reminder from a couple years back, the Thunderbirds know what it takes to beat the Mustangs in the playoffs. Did we mention that East has already beaten Natrona this year?
The pick: A big-school championship game hasn’t gone to overtime since the epic triple-overtime game between Cody and Laramie in the 1976 Class AA title game. This one might break that streak — and put an impossible end on a surreal season. Natrona 20, Cheyenne East 17, OT.
Last week: 7-3 (70 percent). This season: 245-52 (82 percent).
Each one of the title games is worth watching. So get your butt down to Laramie and do just that. If you can’t (like me), then let’s stay here and chat about it instead.