Class 3A is no stranger to three-peat champions.
Powell won three straight titles in 2011-13; Douglas did it in 2008-10; Worland in 2001-03; Riverton in 1997-99.
And Star Valley is no stranger to championships.
The Braves have won 10 football championships in school history, more than any other 3A program in Wyoming except for Worland.
However, the two worlds of Star Valley football and three-peats have never collided.
That may change in 2017. The Braves have an opportunity to win their third consecutive state football championship, something that would be unprecedented for the school but would continue a tradition of 3A dynasties in recent years.
The Braves won’t have it easy, though.
Four questions to answer
Is Star Valley the favorite to win the 3A title again? Yes, but with an asterisk. Star Valley may have lost the most talented senior class in 3A last fall, and the Braves may need time to learn how to adapt without those seniors around. But the Braves have depth and also return three all-state choices, so the talent is there for a third consecutive state championship.
Who will be the Braves’ biggest challengers? Oh, wow, take your pick. Torrington is the biggest challenger from the East — the Trailblazers have six returning all-staters, more than any other team in 3A — while Powell, Green River and a host of others all have the ability to beat the Braves, too. Don’t forget, the 3A semifinals have gained a reputation as a place where upsets happen….
What about Douglas? The perennial East Conference champions (47-5 in conference games since 2006) might be entering a down year. The Bearcats lost seven all-state and 10 all-conference selections to graduation. To retain their claim to the top spot in the East, Douglas will need to grow up in a hurry — and they’ll have to do so in the unfamiliar role of underdog.
How will Evanston affect 3A? Probably not too much. The Red Devils are moving down from Class 4A this year and join the West Conference. However, Evanston’s 0-9 mark last season shows that now is probably the right time for a change. Qualifying for the playoffs out of the West just got a bit tougher, with seven teams instead of six vying for four spots. Evanston will be in the thick of that chase, but its 4A experience doesn’t make it any kind of prohibitive favorite in 2017.
Four players to watch
Josh Dawson, Star Valley. A two-time all-state selection (as a sophomore at Jackson and a junior at Star Valley), Dawson leads the Braves on both sides of the ball. He had 582 rushing yards and is Star Valley’s top returning rusher, but he also led the Braves with 20 defensive points per game and led the team in all tackling categories a year ago.
Bryan Lemmon, Torrington. Lemmon, a junior, has multiple responsibilities: Last year, he ran for 1,034 yards; he had a team-high 28 catches; he was second on the team in defensive points; he had 27 solo tackles, a team high. Lots of eyes are on the Trailblazers this fall, and Lemmon’s play is a big reason why.
Brooks Asher, Powell. Asher led Class 3A in several key defensive categories. No 3A player in the state averaged more defensive points per game (20.5), had as many solo tackles (45) or had as many tackles for loss (16) as Asher. His presence on the Powell defense will be a huge boon for a team hit hard by graduation.
Chance Hofer, Green River. Hofer is 3A’s leading returning passer and could lead the Wolves to something they haven’t experienced since 2011: a home playoff game. He threw for 1,671 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago while completing more than 50 percent of his passes, and his top three receivers return this fall.
Four key games
Torrington at Star Valley, Sept. 8. The favorites to win the titles in the West and East conferences will play in a nonconference game in Week 2. The Trailblazers, though, will be at a distinct disadvantage: The trip from Torrington to Afton is nearly 500 miles, one way.
Torrington at Douglas, Oct. 6. Ten of the Bearcats’ all-conference players from a year ago won’t be on the field for this one — they graduated last spring. With significant losses like that, Douglas may be stuck in a rebuilding phase. Except Douglas doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. And they’ll have a chance to prove that against the East’s preseason favorites at home.
Powell at Cody, Oct. 20. The traditional rivalry game between the Panthers and Broncs could be interesting, especially if Powell leaves behind any emotional baggage after playing Star Valley in Afton the week before. Cody, meanwhile, will come off a bye, with two weeks’ time to prep for the Panthers.
Star Valley at Green River, Oct. 20. One of Star Valley’s biggest challenges in its title runs the past couple years has been the Wolves. This game, scheduled for the final week of the regular season, could decide the West Conference title — and the Wolves will have home-field advantage.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Torrington; Riverton; Buffalo; Douglas; Rawlins; Lander.
West Conference: Star Valley; Green River; Powell; Cody; Evanston; Worland; Jackson.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Star Valley 24, Torrington 21. Right now, the Braves and the Trailblazers return more talented players than any other teams in the state. The problem with that is that no team a bare cupboard, and teams like Powell, Cody, Green River, Riverton, Buffalo, Douglas and others all have the potential to walk away from 2017 as 3A champions.
What do you think? Is Star Valley destined for a repeat? Or will an upstart knock off the Braves on the way to starting a dynasty of their own? Post a comment below and let’s talk about dynasties, upsets and all the other things that make 3A football great.
Next week: Class 4A.