The Wyoming state football championships — or, as I’m now calling it, War MemoriBowl VIII (but that’s a name I came up with while sleep deprived, and it’s awful) — start Friday in Laramie. I see four amazing games and one decent game in the works for the weekend. Now, which is which? Well, here’s the breakdowns for each five games, in chronological order, as well as my choice for who I think will win:

Class 1A six-man, noon Friday
Kaycee Buckaroos (1E, 10-0) vs. Farson Pronghorns (1W, 10-0)
Series record: Kaycee leads 3-0.
Last meeting: Kaycee beat Farson 65-6 on Sept. 7, 2012, in Farson.
Last playoff meeting: First playoff meeting.
State championships: Kaycee one, in 2015. … Farson zero.
Previous title game record: Kaycee, 1-1. … Farson, 0-0.
The path to Laramie: Kaycee beat up on Burlington 60-18 in the quarterfinals and Meeteetse 56-21 in the semifinals. … Farson ousted Hanna 85-26 in the first round and Guernsey-Sunrise 61-25 in the semis.
The case for the Buckaroos: They’re undefeated. They’ve got the longest winning streak in the state, regardless of classification, at 19 games. They’ve won every game this season by at least 35 points. They’ve got a diverse offense with a game-breaking running back in Danny Ramirez (more than 15 yards per rush, 26 TDs) and an efficient passing game — entering the semis, sophomore QB Hunter Rouse had completed 83 percent — EIGHTY THREE PERCENT! — of his passes and had a 29-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The bottom line is Kaycee knows how to win, knows how to win in Laramie, and knows how to win with the talent it has.
The case for the PronghornsAs noted last week, Farson’s growth has been a slow burn, not a sudden explosion. The growth is predicated mostly on sophomores, as Lain Mitchelson has notched 1,552 rushing yards, tops in six-man; Clancy Gines has 10 rushing TDs, leads the team in receiving yards and is third on the team in tackles; and Cortland Barker is tied for the team lead with seven sacks. And seniors Thomas Rezzonico (leading tackler) and Ed Barlow have provided leadership and stability. The Pronghorns have the right mix of talent and potential to be champions for the first time in program history.
The pick
: No matter who wins, we may be seeing the birth of a couple dynasties. Both squads are young (Kaycee has just two seniors, Farson four), and the young players are talented; they’re both loaded for success both Friday and beyond. Honestly, neither team has an advantage on paper. When that’s the case, go with the team that’s been here before and won’t be overwhelmed by the setting. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to look ahead to the rematch in Laramie in November 2017. But first… Kaycee 52, Farson 44.

Class 3A, 3 p.m. Friday
Star Valley Braves (2W, 10-1) vs. Powell Panthers (1W, 8-3)
Series record: Star Valley leads 25-13.
Last meeting: Powell beat Star Valley 22-14 on Sept. 30 in Powell.
Last playoff meeting: Powell beat Star Valley 13-10 in the 3A title game on Nov. 9, 2012, in Laramie.
State championships: Star Valley nine, most recent in 2015. … Powell eight, most recent in 2013.
Previous title game record: Star Valley, 8-10. … Powell, 6-2.
The path to Laramie: Star Valley outscored Riverton 35-27 in the first round and Douglas 61-42 in a semifinal shootout. … Powell held down Lander 58-6 in the quarterfinals and Green River 27-10 in the semifinals.
The case for the Braves: Star Valley has done this before. The defending 3A champions have been remarkably consistent this fall, and they’ve proven they can win games by grinding it out or by shooting it out. That versatility and that consistency is sparked by 3A’s top rushing offense — by far — with Kellen Hansen, Colin McGinley and Josh Dawson all capable game-breakers, and 3A’s top rushing defense, with McGinley, Dawson, Conner Smith, McCabe Smith and a host of others in there screwing things up for opponents. Last year’s MO was different, but first-year head coach McKay Young has shown the Braves can adapt to the talent they have. That sets up well for a repeat run.
The case for the Panthers: No team in the state may have improved more between Week 1 and Week 8 than Powell. The Panthers had a bad loss to Douglas (41-6), followed up by a now-head-scratching loss to Buffalo (7-6), in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively; only a 23-18 victory against Riverton kept Powell from losing four in a row. But the season turned around after beating — guess who? — Star Valley in Week 5. Since then, Powell hasn’t lost, winning six consecutive games, currently the longest winning streak in the state in 11-man. Oh, and the Panthers have the talent to make the individual play when it’s needed. T.J. Abraham is a beast on both sides of the ball; Mason Olsen plays off him and is a versatile threat under center; Brooks Asher, Nathan Magill and Max Gallagher consistently frustrate opposing offenses up front.
The pick
: When you look at title games like this, you throw out the first half of the season. You realize that Powell defeating Star Valley was no fluke. You try to find where another team has an advantage, on either side of the ball. You stare until you feel cross-eyed. Then you realize it’s a toss-up. Star Valley 28, Powell 27, in overtime.

Class 2A, 10 a.m. Saturday
Big Horn Rams (2E, 9-1) vs. Greybull Buffaloes (2W, 9-1)
Series record: Big Horn leads 14-5.
Last meeting/last playoff meeting: Greybull beat Big Horn 27-25 in a 2A quarterfinal game on Oct. 30, 2015, in Greybull.
State championships: Big Horn four, most recent in 2013. … Greybull one, in 1960.
Previous title game record: Big Horn, 4-9. … Greybull, 1-1.
The path to Laramie: Big Horn squeaked past Pinedale 20-14 in overtime in the quarterfinals and beat Newcastle 27-7 in the semis. … Greybull blasted Wheatland 61-22 in the first round and shut out Glenrock 26-0 in the semis.
The case for the Rams: The Rams have the experience to play in the pressure of a title game — this is their third visit to Laramie the past four years. Big Horn isn’t here by fluke: Its offense is the best in 2A, averaging 400 yards per game, and its defense gives up just 214. Colton Williams can beat teams by rushing (1,660 yards, 25 TDs), catching (416 yards, 4 TDs) or on special teams (leads 2A with 24.3 yards per punt return). Nolan McCafferty fronts a defense that has a plus-14 turnover ratio, best in 2A. Talented, experienced, motivated? That’s a tough combo to stop, and that’s the combo Big Horn is bringing to Laramie.
The case for the Buffaloes: Greybull is one successful two-point conversion away from entering this week undefeated. All season, the offense has been salty (47.9 points per game, best in 2A), but it’s the defense that’s carried the load. The Buffs have 2A’s top run defense, giving up just 71.3 yards per game, and stopped cold undefeated Glenrock’s heavy-duty rushing game last week in the semis. Six players average at least 10 defensive points per game. The offense is predicated on Dawson Forcella and his ability to run (1,483 rushing yards) and score (23 TDs), but he’s got help from an efficient-enough passing game that can do the job when needed. And the senior class is massive and focused.
The pick
: The big question entering this week is if Greybull spent all its playoff mojo in Glenrock last week. The victory against the previously undefeated Herders proved Greybull belongs here, but often we see teams who gear up and play beautifully a semifinal game like that have difficulty going to the well one more time the next week. That’s why I think the Buffs won’t dominate the Rams like they did the Herders. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Greybull is deep, senior-laden and motivated to get the school’s first football title in 56 years. Greybull 30, Big Horn 24.

Class 1A 11-man, 1 p.m. Saturday
Pine Bluffs Hornets (3E, 8-2) vs. Tongue River Eagles (2E, 8-2)
Series record: Tongue River leads 3-0.
Last meeting: Tongue River beat Pine Bluffs 28-14 on Oct. 14 in Dayton.
Last playoff meeting: First playoff meeting.
State championships: Pine Bluffs zero. … Tongue River five, most recent in 1974.
Previous title game record: Pine Bluffs, 0-3. … Tongue River, 1-5.
The path to Laramie: Pine Bluffs beat Rocky Mountain 23-14 in the first round and Upton-Sundance 19-13 in the semis in back-to-back road games. … Tongue River topped Cokeville 27-12 in the opening round and Shoshoni 37-6 in the second round.
The case for the Hornets: By statistical measure, Pine Bluffs is the superior team in this matchup. The Hornets gain more yards than the Eagles (350.4 ypg to 317.4) and give up fewer (188.3 to 198.1). The talent is there: No Class 1A 11-man running back in the state has more rushing yards than Ruger Lewis’ 1,703, and he reached that total without playing in every game. Of the team’s two losses so far this season, the Hornets have already avenged one; they can avenge the other on Saturday. And Pine Bluffs, as noted above, has the added inspiration of playing to earn the school’s first state football championship.
The case for the Eagles: The Eagles have been here before, coming up short in last year’s 1A 11-man title game, so they won’t be awed by the War or thrown off by the unexpected twists the experience of a title game will bring. They’ll be prepared. It doesn’t really show on the stat sheets, but Tongue River has been one of the state’s most consistent teams, and that also means consistently improving. Brennan Kutterer has been a triple threat as a runner (1,452 yards, 21 TDs), passer (524 yards) and tackler (team-high 206 defensive points). However, he bears a disproportionate load for his team, and he’ll need more help than usual to hold off the Hornets. If TR’s role players make plays when they have the opportunity, then watch out.
The pick
: When these teams played less than a month ago, it was a tight one; the game was tied 14-14 entering the fourth quarter. To boot, Pine Bluffs played without Lewis in that game. With him ready to play in the title game, there’s absolutely no reason to think the Hornets can’t beat the Eagles. If the Eagles can adjust to Lewis’ presence quickly, then they’ll be able to control the pace and play to their style. If not, the Hornets are in prime position to hoist their first state football title trophy. This one may come down to a late fourth-quarter drive and either a big score or a big stop. May be the best game of the weekend — and that’s saying something. Tongue River 28, Pine Bluffs 21.

Class 4A, 4 p.m. Saturday
Natrona Mustangs (5, 6-5) vs. Sheridan Broncs (2, 10-1)
Series record: Natrona leads 56-44-6.
Last meeting: Sheridan beat Natrona 37-13 on Oct. 14 in Casper.
Last playoff meeting: Sheridan beat Natrona 35-10 in a 4A semifinal game on Nov. 6, 2015, in Sheridan.
State championships: Natrona 17, most recent in 2014. … Sheridan 24, most recent in 2015.
Previous title game record: Natrona, 10-5. … Sheridan, 14-6.
The path to Laramie: Natrona beat Kelly Walsh 37-21 in the first round and upset Gillette 30-28 in the semifinals. … Sheridan handled Cheyenne East 34-17 in the quarterfinals and Rock Springs 35-6 in the second round.
The case for the Mustangs: No team in 4A started slower than Natrona, which posted shutout losses to Cheyenne Central and Cheyenne East the first two weeks of the season. Since then, Natrona hasn’t been a crew of world-beaters, but the Mustangs won the right games — the playoff games. All of a sudden, the team that started the season as the team couldn’t score is finishing the season as the team that can’t be stopped. Brett Brenton and Jesse Harshman make a nice 1-2 combo on offense; Thomas Robitaille leads a wrecking crew on defense; Riley Shepperson might have the best kicking leg in the state. Most importantly, the gears are meshing at exactly the right time.
The case for the Broncs: We knew all season long Sheridan would be a prime contender to repeat. And aside from a 24-21 loss to Gillette in the Energy Bowl, Sheridan has made good on that assumption. They have 4A’s top defense and top passing offense. They protect the ball: QB Drew Boedecker has a 25-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and the team averages less than one turnover per game. Coy Steel is one of the best deep threats in Wyoming, and the defense plays well as a unit. A flexible, diverse and deep offense; an opportunistic, fundamentally sound defense. Sounds like the recipe for a state champ.
The pick
: Class 4A has had remarkable parity the last 20-some years: Only one program, Rock Springs in 2001 and 2002, has repeated as the big-school champion since 1994. And Natrona has won the 4A title every even-numbered year this decade (2010, 2012 and 2014). So the historical precedents against the Broncs are definitely there. But history doesn’t dictate destiny. Natrona proved that last week; now Sheridan can prove that this week. In a little bit of a shootout… Sheridan 42, Natrona 30.

If I picked against your favorite squad this week, no worries. My picks clearly don’t mean much, at least not after last week:

Last week: 6-4 (60 percent). This season: 244-56 (81 percent).

So… who do YOU have winning the five title games this weekend? Leave a comment and let’s chat about all the fun that might go down in the Gem City this weekend.

–patrick

Farson’s football fairy tale is more Sleeping Beauty than Cinderella.

The 2016 season has been the culmination of a long, slow and sometimes painful build for a program that resurrected itself in 2009 after two prior attempts at football in the 1950s and 1980s.

The results of this 21st-century resurrection weren’t promising: The Pronghorns went 1-7, 0-8, 2-7 and 0-8 in their first four seasons of six-man play. Football was back, but Farson was still slumbering.

But then, a turnaround — an awakening — began. Farson was 4-5 in 2013, improved to 6-3 in 2014 and again went 6-3 in 2015.

This season, Sleeping Beauty’s morning coffee finally kicked in.

The Pronghorns tallied their first undefeated regular season, first home playoff game, first playoff victory and, on Friday, will play their first home semifinal game.

The Pronghorns will host Guernsey-Sunrise, a team that knows a thing or two about state football championships. The Vikings won six-man titles in 2009 and 2014, beating Farson in the quarterfinals each time, to add to their 11-man titles from 2004 and 2006. Friday’s game will be the Vikings’ 15th semifinal appearance since playoffs returned to Wyoming’s small schools in 1975.

It’s no surprise to see the Vikings here. In a semifinal round defined by familiarity — at least at the 4A, 3A and 2A levels — Farson’s appearance this week should be bulletin-board material for every team who’s watching this week from home.

Four years ago, Farson was winless.

Now, Farson is undefeated, hosting a semifinal game, on the brink of a trip to Laramie and a shot at a state title.

It’s a fairy tale come true.

Don’t sleep on the Pronghorns.

They’re fully awake.

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However, most classifications snuffed out their Cinderellas — and their Sleeping Beauties — long before this week.

Nine of the 10 teams that played in last year’s state championship games are still alive, and only four of the 20 remaining teams have been removed from the semifinals for more than three seasons.

Rock Springs is in the semifinals for the first time since 2007, but they’re the only team at the 4A, 3A or 2A level that hasn’t reached the semis since at least 2013. The other three 4A semifinalists were all here last year, and the year before, and the year before, and the year before… back to 2010. The 3A teams are all familiar faces, too, while every one of the 2A semifinalists was this deep in the playoffs in either 2014 or 2015.

The 1A 11-man bracket looks fresh with Shoshoni and Pine Bluffs — Shoshoni last reached the semis in 2001, Pine Bluffs in 2003. But Tongue River and Upton-Sundance, the Wranglers’ and Hornets’ opponents, respectively, on Friday, were title-game foes a year ago.

And in six-man, Farson’s appearance is balanced out by perennial contender Guernsey-Sunrise and last year’s state champ (Kaycee) and runner-up (Meeteetse).

At this point in the season, underdogs are few and far between.

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Here’s who I’m picking to win on Friday, with my choices in bold and my not-choices in not-bold:

Friday
Class 4A

(5) Natrona at (1) Gillette: Natrona is capable of winning this game. Gillette — with one loss this season, 27-20, to Natrona, at home — is keenly aware of that. Don’t anticipate any blowouts. (Rematch of 2014 4A title game.)
(3) Rock Springs at (2) Sheridan: This one, too, should be close. But Sheridan has the edge in both home field and previous result (beating the Tigers 24-16 back in Week 4). (First playoff meeting since 2011 quarterfinals.)
Class 3A
(2W) Star Valley at (1E) Douglas: Honestly, this might be the best game not only of the week, but of the season. When they played on this same field in Week 3, Star Valley won 29-28. Expect a similar tight score this time around; this may be a game decided by the kicker. (Rematch of a quarterfinal game from last year.)
(3W) Green River at (1W) Powell: The last time Powell lost, it was to Green River in Week 4. Powell has the home-field advantage this time around, but Green River showed last week — and last season — it knows how to go on the road and win a playoff game. (First playoff meeting since 2012 semifinals.)
Class 2A
(2W) Greybull at (1E) Glenrock: I’ve been looking forward to this game since the end of last season; I’m just surprised it didn’t happen in Laramie. Nevertheless, I’m curious to see if Glenrock’s defense (2A-low 75 points allowed) will slow Greybull’s offense (2A-best 455 points scored). (First playoff meeting since 2009 semifinals.)
(4E) Newcastle at (2E) Big Horn: The Rams have every right to feel fortunate — that the got past upset-minded Pinedale in the first round and avoid West top seed Mountain View in the semis thanks to Newcastle’s upset. And that’s exactly the kind of mindset the Dogies could use to pull another upset. I think the Rams will feel focused, not fortunate. (First postseason meeting.)
Class 1A 11-man
(2E) Tongue River at (1W) Shoshoni: Shoshoni’s most impressive outing of the season came last week in beating Southeast. However, the trick now will be maintaining that consistency against an Eagles team that’s been a model of consistency this season. (First meeting of any kind.)
(3E) Pine Bluffs at (1E) Upton-Sundance: I do think this game will be closer than the Patriots’ 39-0 whitewash of the Hornets in Week 4. The undefeated, defending state champions are still the favorites, though, especially at home. (First postseason meeting; Pine Bluffs last played Upton in the postseason in the 2003 2A quarterfinals and has never played Sundance in the postseason.)
Class 1A six-man
(2E) Guernsey-Sunrise at (1W) Farson: The Vikings are capable of the upset, but the undefeated Pronghorns are riding a season-long wave of momentum (which, by the way, started by beating Guernsey 56-37 in Guernsey) that looks too powerful to topple right now. (Rematch of a 2014 quarterfinal game.)
(2W) Meeteetse at (1E) Kaycee: Man, remember the good old days when these two squads were playing for the state championship? That victory has been a huge catalyst for the Buckaroos’ success into 2016 — and it’s a feeling they’d like to repeat again this week. (Rematch of last year’s 1A six-man title game.)

For a full schedule with kickoff times, click here. For brackets of all five classifications, click here.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, in the quarterfinals, I got three-“quarters” of my picks right. My tallies from last week and this season:

Last week: 15-5 (75 percent). This season: 238-52 (82 percent).

So who’s ready for a trip to Laramie? Who’s poised for an upset? Leave your thoughts and let’s run through what’s possible on Friday… and in Laramie next week!

–patrick

With apologies to the other four classifications, the best set of first round playoff games belongs to Class 1A 11-man.

Nowhere else do we get the intrigue of a No. 1 seed coming is as a decided underdog to a No. 4 seed.

Nowhere else do we get the rematch of two of the state’s best coaches re-staging one of the state’s best games of 2016.

Nowhere else do we see a matchup of teams who beat two common opponents by identical scores and a third common opponent by the exact same margin.

And nowhere else do we see an undefeated, defending state champion hosting a team that qualified for the playoffs by beating the two worst 11-man teams in the state and no one else.

The 1A 11-man drama starts in Shoshoni, where the Wranglers lost their final game of the regular season but won the top seed from the West by winning a coin flip. Coin flip karma kicked in immediately, though: Thanks to the flip, Southeast is coming back to Fremont County.

If you’re a Shoshoni supporter, you’re wondering if being the top seed is actually the worst possible outcome you could have had. After all, Shoshoni has yet to shake the shock of 2015.

Remember that? Remember how Shoshoni was 8-0 coming into last year’s playoffs, the top seed from the West, and not only got beaten but beaten down by East No. 4 seed Southeast?

Remember how they showed up on each other’s regular-season schedules this year? Remember how Shoshoni traveled to Goshen County and came back battered and beaten, 32-13?

Now, even as a No. 1 seed, Shoshoni is the underdog.

And right under that game in the bracket is the game between Tongue River and Cokeville.

Just like Shoshoni-Southeast, Tongue River-Cokeville is another rematch of a 2015 first-round playoff game. Last year, Tongue River and coach John Scott — who knows a thing or two about winning games in Lincoln County from his time as head coach at Kemmerer — went down to Cokeville and beat the Panthers 28-21 on their way to a berth in the state title game.

Cokeville would love to reverse roles this year, and why not? Cokeville’s already gotten some revenge, beating Tongue River this year. It was 12-7. In Dayton. For Cokeville coach Todd Dayton’s 300th career victory. There isn’t a single player in orange and black who’s scared of the trip to Sheridan County.

The other side of the bracket has more mystery but just as much intrigue.

Rocky Mountain and Pine Bluffs will meet in Cowley knowing that the other team is equally as good. After all, they both beat Lusk 35-6, and they both beat Wyoming Indian 70-0, and they both beat Wind River by exactly 41 points (Pine Bluffs 41-0, Rocky Mountain 47-6.) It’s like a mirror.

Finally, defending champ Upton-Sundance is just chillin’. The Patriots enter the playoffs on a 15-game winning streak, the longest active streak in 11-man. For earning the East’s top seed, Upton-Sundance draws Saratoga. And for Saratoga, this has to feel like the scary part of jumping on a trampoline — you don’t know you’re too high until you’ve already made the leap.

The Panthers qualified as the West’s No. 4 seed by beating Wind River and Wyoming Indian, who finished a combined 1-15, with the one win being Wind River’s win over Wyoming Indian. Saratoga itself lost to the East’s lowest-placing team, Lusk; Lusk went 1-7 but beat Saratoga 58-12.

The 1 vs. 4 games in 1A 11-man could not be any more different.

In part, that’s why the 1A 11-man playoff bracket might be the best in the state this season. It’s definitely the best of the quarterfinals.

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Other noteworthy pieces from the first round of the playoffs:

It’s a big week in Sweetwater County. Six-man Farson, which went through the regular season undefeated, will host a playoff game for the first time in program history when it takes on Hanna. Farson is 0-6 all-time in postseason games. Meanwhile, Rock Springs is hosting its first playoff game since 2002, the longest such streak outside of Farson that will be broken this week. …

Tongue River’s playoff run last year was something else. It was also all on the road. This week, the Eagles host their first playoff game since hosting the 3A title game in 2006. …

Pinedale is in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, a postseason drought that had been the second-longest in the state. Cheyenne South, meanwhile, is in the playoffs for the first time in its five-year history. That leaves Wyoming Indian (20 years) and Moorcroft (eight years) with the longest active playoff droughts in the state. …

There’s three first-time matchups in the quarterfinals this year: Pinedale/Big Horn, Saratoga/Upton-Sundance and Burlington/Kaycee. …

Casper rivals Kelly Walsh and Natrona meet in the playoffs for the fifth time in their Oil City rivalry. Natrona has won the previous four, including last year. …

On to the picks, where the team I think will win is indicated in bold and most of them are home teams because this is the playoffs and normally in the playoffs the home team is the favorite so a lot of home teams are bolded because they’re good:

Class 4A
(8) Cheyenne South at (1) Gillette: Gillette beat South 46-28 in their first game against each other this season. It wasn’t that close. And South comes into the playoffs riding a six-game losing streak. So much for momentum. (First playoff meeting.)
(5) Natrona at (4) Kelly Walsh: This will probably be the best game of the quarterfinals, regardless of classification. I go with the Trojans because of the past four weeks: KW is 4-0, including a victory against Natrona; NC is 1-3. Nevertheless, count on a ton of nibbled-off fingernails littering Harry Geldien Stadium by this one’s end. (Rematch of a 4A quarterfinal playoff game from last season.)
(7) Cheyenne East at (2) Sheridan: East has a better-than-average chance to upset Sheridan. The Broncs barely squeaked past the Thunderbirds in Week 3 in Cheyenne (21-16). But the Broncs are at home this time, and that will help. (First playoff meeting since 2013 4A semifinals.)
(6) Laramie at (3) Rock Springs: Laramie is a tough first-round matchup for Rock Springs, and the Plainsmen have the talent and the confidence to pull off the upset. But Rock Springs has the edge in history (beat Laramie 29-21 in Laramie earlier this season) and in offensive firepower (112 combined points the last two games). (First playoff meeting since 1998 4A semifinals.)
Class 3A
(4W) Cody at (1E) Douglas: The Bearcats handled the Broncs fairly easily back in Week 2, 36-12 in Cody. Douglas has the upper hand in the rematch at home. (Rematch of 2014 3A championship.)
(3E) Riverton at (2W) Star Valley: This is the matchup Riverton wanted to avoid. Now? They’ve got to go to Afton to play a team that beat them 49-7 back in Week 2. (First playoff meeting since 2013 3A quarterfinals.)
(4E) Lander at (1W) Powell: Both teams are in the seed they’re in, at least in part, because of a coin flip. But the circumstances are very, very different. (First playoff meeting since 2012 3A quarterfinals.)
(3W) Green River at (2E) Torrington: The top three teams out of the West are all contenders for a title. Oh, and Green River beat Torrington 28-14 in Torrington in Week 3. The Wolves should be confident. (First playoff meeting since 1954 Class A semifinals.)
Class 2A
(4E) Newcastle at (1W) Mountain View: They’ve met in the playoffs in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The home team has won every time. Let’s stick with that trend. And to boot, Mountain View has won 13 straight at home, the longest active home winning streak in Wyoming. (First playoff meeting since 2014 2A semifinals.)
(3W) Pinedale at (2E) Big Horn: The idea of “mystery” is quaint in 2016, when we have Hudl and any other number of ways of getting film on an opponent. Still, it’s fun to think what might happen when two teams who have never played each other, ever, get together. (Obviously, first meeting.)
(4W) Lyman at (1E) Glenrock: Two weeks ago, the Herders went down to Lyman and got a true test before winning 22-12. Glenrock will be ready for the rematch — no sneaking up on them. (First playoff meeting since 2011 2A semifinals.)
(3E) Wheatland at (2W) Greybull: Even though it comes in at 4-4, Wheatland is still the defending 2A champion. But do you think that means anything to the Buffs — who are 7-1, with the lone loss by a single point? (Rematch of a 2A semifinal playoff game from last season.)
Class 1A 11-man
(4E) Southeast at (1W) Shoshoni: As punishment for winning the top seed from the West, the Wranglers draw Southeast — the team that’s been their nemesis the past two seasons — out of the East. It’ll be closer this time, but the Cyclones definitely have the mental edge in this one. (Rematch of a quarterfinal game from last season, obviously.)
(3W) Cokeville at (2E) Tongue River: I know I said Natrona-Kelly Walsh will probably be the best game of the quarterfinals. Looking at this game, though, I might want to change my vote. The road team has won the last two; I think a home team is due to win one. (Rematch of a quarterfinal game from last season, again, obviously.)
(4W) Saratoga at (1E) Upton-Sundance: Upton-Sundance is an undefeated juggernaut right now. Saratoga, politely, is not. (First meeting of Saratoga with the Upton-Sundance co-op; Saratoga last met Sundance in the 2005 2A semifinals and Upton in the 1975 Class B semis.)
(3E) Pine Bluffs at (2W) Rocky Mountain: Of all the picks I had to make this week, this one may have been the most difficult. When you have what appear to be equal teams on paper, you go with the home team. (First playoff meeting since 1994 1A semifinals.)
Class 1A six-man
(4E) Hanna at (1W) Farson: Farson’s unbeaten season has been special. Hanna hasn’t beaten another team in the six-man playoff field. Advantage, Farson. (First playoff meeting.)
(3W) Snake River at (2E) Guernsey-Sunrise: I’ve had a difficult time getting a feel for the Rattlers. If they play to their potential, they can beat anyone in the bracket. If they don’t, the Vikings could win by 30. (First playoff meeting since 2014 1A six-man semifinals.)
(4W) Burlington at (1E) Kaycee: Of all three potential first-round draws for Kaycee, Burlington may be the toughest. The Huskies are capable of hanging with the defending champs. If the Buckaroos don’t play sharp, this is a potential 4 over 1 upset in the making. (First meeting.)
(3E) Midwest at (2W) Meeteetse: Midwest could stay with Meeteetse. But “stay with” and “beat” have different definitions, and the Longhorns are going to be tough for the Oilers to beat. (First playoff meeting since the 2013 1A six-man championship.)

For a full schedule with kickoff times, click here. For brackets of all five classifications, click here.

As for me? Just an amazing week of picks last week is all… Hashtag thanks Kelly Walsh.

Last week: 32-1 (97 percent). This season: 223-47 (83 percent).

The postseason is here. Who’s ready to spring an upset? Who’s ready to start a championship run? Leave a comment and we can talk about it….

–patrick

Let’s walk through a plausible scenario for Friday’s Class 4A football games:

  • Natrona loses to Rock Springs in Rock Springs.
  • Cheyenne East loses to Gillette in Gillette.
  • Cheyenne South summons its early-season magic and beats Sheridan in Cheyenne.
  • And Laramie and Kelly Walsh play until someone wins.

This potential setup would give us a heck of a mess for the fifth through eighth playoff seeds in Class 4A.

With losses by Natrona and East, a victory by South and any kind of an outcome aside from “canceled” in the Laramie-KW game, then Class 4A would finish with four teams at 4-5, tied for playoff seeds 5-8. (I wrote about the outcomes for all those ties here.)

In many ways, the Laramie-Kelly Walsh game is the lynchpin of the 4A playoff seeds. With four teams entering the final week of the regular season at 4-4, this is the only game that has two of those teams facing off. The winner is 5-4 and has the inside track to the fourth seed and a home playoff game, although the fourth seed is no guarantee, even with a victory.

But all it would take is one upset — specifically, South over Sheridan — to turn the 4A playoff seeding from an examination of gridiron supremacy to a mental exercise in tiebreaking procedures. The WHSAA handbook doesn’t even list four-way tiebreaking procedures under its “Football” section. Those are buried elsewhere.

This isn’t new. Class 4A in 2014 had the potential to finish with a four-way tie for seeds 5-8 or even a five-way tie for seeds 5-8 and a loser out. And entering Week 7, there was potential for a six-way tie for seeds 3-8 in 4A, although fortunately we’ll all avoid that conundrum.

Still, the potential 4A playoff seedings this year are a potential mess. But that’s also part of the fun when parity becomes the rule rather than the exception.

+++

Fortunately for the 4A schools involved, none of the 16 potential tiebreaking scenarios would involve a coin flip.

That’s not the case for teams in the 3A East, where coin flips could decide who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t.

Last year, the WHSAA did away with triangular playoffs for teams tied for playoff berths. Now, if teams are tied at the end of the season and a playoff berth is at stake — and all other tiebreaking methods fail — coaches flip coins.

The most likely scenario where this would play out is in the 3A East, where if favored teams Douglas, Riverton and Torrington win as expected, then Buffalo, Lander and Rawlins will all tie for the East’s No. 4 seed. In previous years, the three teams would have settled their differences on the field in a triangular playoff; this year, if that happens, the teams will flip coins, with only one team moving on to the postseason based on the outcome of those flips.

(In a coin flip like this, the odd team is out, and then the team that won the head-to-head game between the two remaining teams is the higher seed — or, in this case, the only seed. You can say that means that the teams decided it on the field, but ultimately it’s still dumb luck.)

The loss of the triangular playoff is kind of sad. I know some coaches hated them, and reasons like lost class time, additional travel and player safety are valid. But I liked the triangulars, if for no other reason they helped settle ties via play. I played in such a playoff in 1998 and, even though we lost, I appreciated the chance to have the differences settled on the field rather than by my coach’s thumb and a quarter.

+++

Other stuff I’m watching this week:

The Lovell-Pinedale game could be a doozy. Both teams have shown they could be spoilers in the 2A playoffs, and Lovell in particular needs the victory to qualify for the postseason. …

Class 1A 11-man has two true qualifying games — Wright at Southeast in the East and Wind River at Saratoga in the West. The winners will be the No. 4 seeds from their respective conferences, the losers will be out. …

I love to see all the rivalry games go down in 3A this week, with Cody-Powell, Riverton-Lander and Star Valley-Jackson all saved for the regular-season finales. All three are critical to playoff seeding, too, giving a little extra kick to each game. …

The only classifications with their eight playoff teams set are Class 4A and Class 1A six-man. In six-man, the game of the week is Snake River at Farson; the Rattlers notched a big OT victory last week against Burlington and could steal the West Conference’s top seed if they can give the Pronghorns their first loss of the season. …

Reminder: Kemmerer’s home game against Lyman could be an unofficial record-setter. A Ranger loss would give Kemmerer 36 consecutive losses, which would be the longest such streak in state history. I wrote about it last week. …

On to this week’s picks, where I’ve decided that consistency is the key to success and remained with my standard of indicating teams I’m predicting to win with bold type:

Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne East at Gillette
Evanston at Cheyenne Central
Laramie at Kelly Walsh
Natrona at Rock Springs
Sheridan at Cheyenne South
Class 3A
Buffalo at Douglas
Cody at Powell
Rawlins at Torrington
Riverton at Lander
Star Valley at Jackson
Worland at Green River
Class 2A
Big Horn at Wheatland
Burns at Newcastle
Greybull at Big Piney
Lovell at Pinedale
Lyman at Kemmerer
Moorcroft at Glenrock
Mountain View at Thermopolis
Class 1A 11-man
Lusk at Pine Bluffs
Rocky Mountain at Wyoming Indian
Shoshoni at Cokeville
Tongue River at Upton-Sundance
Wind River at Saratoga
Wright at Southeast
Class 1A six-man
Hanna vs. Midwest (at Casper)
Kaycee at Normative Services
Lingle at Rock River
Riverside at Burlington
St. Stephens at Meeteetse
Saturday
Class 1A six-man
Guernsey-Sunrise at Hulett
Snake River at Farson
Ten Sleep at Dubois

For a full schedule with kickoff times, click here.

Lander’s victory to end a 23-game losing streak was awesome for the Tigers. But it really screwed with my picks. Snake River was the only other team to win despite not being bolded in my list.

Last week: 30-2 (94 percent). This season: 191-46 (81 percent).

We’re here. Week 8. Any surprises you see coming down the pike? Leave a comment and let’s commiserate over the last week of the regular season!

–patrick

“Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity?”

“Yes! Crisitunity!”

The crisis: Kemmerer’s losing streak is now reaching historic proportions.

The opportunity: On Friday, the Rangers can end the streak.

Kemmerer has now lost 34 consecutive games dating back to 2012. Only one streak — Rawlins’ 35-game losing streak from 2008-12 — is longer than the one the Rangers are on now.

A loss on Friday in Lovell assures Kemmerer of tying the ignominious record; a loss Friday coupled with a loss next week to Lyman would give the Rangers 36 consecutive losses, and the state record.

Not that they want it.

As I said with Rawlins in 2012, no school deserves this. However, Kemmerer’s streak is a bit more difficult to live through than Rawlins’ streak, particularly because the Rangers’ senior class faces the possibility of going all four years of their high school football careers without a single varsity victory.

Kemmerer went 0-8 in 2013, 0-8 in 2014, 0-8 in 2015 and, so far, 0-6 in 2016. (Add on four losses to close 2012, and that totals 34.)

Rawlins, even at the depths of its losing streak, never went four straight full seasons without a victory. And yet, Kemmerer — despite being on the brink of a state record — would not be the first Wyoming high school football team to go through a four-year winless streak, to graduate a class of seniors who never knew what a varsity gridiron victory feels like.

In fact, two Wyoming programs went five years without victories, graduating two consecutive classes of seniors who went without a W. The first to do so was Fort Washakie, which went from 1936-40 without a victory; however, the Indians greatly reduced the number of games per season after 1937. Fort Washakie went 0-7, 0-6-1, 0-2, 0-3-1 and 0-1, respectively, in those five years.

The other program to go five years without a victory was Big Horn, which went from 1959-63 without winning a game (0-5, 0-6, 0-4, 0-5, 0-6).

Four other programs at five other times have graduated a senior class without a victory. Chronologically, they were Sundance (0-7, 0-8, 0-6 and 0-6 from 1951-54), Hulett (0-8, 0-8, 0-8 and 0-7 from 1975-78), Wyoming Indian (0-7, 0-7, 0-7 and 0-7 from 1976-79) and Greybull, twice (0-8, 0-8, 0-7 and 0-8 from 1978-82; 0-7, 0-7, 0-7 and 0-7 from 1997-2000).

Hanna also went from 1993-96 without a victory, going 0-7 in 1994, 1995 and 1996, but the Miners did not field a team in 1993.

If Kemmerer is going to turn around its fortunes, it will need some help. Since 2013, every one of the Rangers’ losses has been by a double-digit margin. This season, Kemmerer’s closest game was a 34-0 loss to Mountain View. Kemmerer’s been outscored this season 275-13.

The “crisitunity” Kemmerer faces Friday against Lovell is the same one the Rangers have faced in every game the past 34 games.

Eventually, Kemmerer will win a game again, and this crisis will stop.

Until then, every new game is an opportunity.

+++

Other games that deserve some extra-special attention this week:

Laramie has won four games in a row for the first time since 2000. Now, the Plainsmen host Gillette in what might be the biggest regular-season football game in Laramie since, oh… Who knows? I still think the Camels are the favorites — Gillette has won 18 straight true road games, one of the longer such streaks in state history — but Laramie is playing well and playing with confidence. …

Riverton can make a real mess of the 3A East if it can beat Douglas. The Wolverines have put up 49, 61 and 54 points their past three games; the Bearcats have given up 6, 6 and 0 points their past three games. Irresistible, immovable, etc. …

In the 3A West, four teams (Green River, Cody, Star Valley and Powell) are tied for first at 2-1. Green River plays at Cody this week. Frankly, I don’t see how this conference doesn’t end up, one way or another, with a shared conference title. …

The marquee game in 1A 11-man is Pine Bluffs at Tongue River. Both teams are looking sharp right now, and both are threats to play in Laramie. However, the winner of this game will be in much better shape to do so. …

The top of the 1A six-man West is unbelievably competitive: Farson, Burlington, Snake River and Meeteetse are a combined 21-4. This week, Burlington heads south to play Snake River in a game that could decide who has to hit the road in the first week of the playoffs and who stays home. Should be a good one in Baggs. …

Playoff implications

The playoff implications are all over the place this week. They’re too numerous to mention right now. A full breakdown of playoff possibilities will be posted ahead of Week 8. I got you. In the meantime, here’s a quick glance at the top and bottom of the food chains:

Glenrock has already won the 2A East. This week, three squads could win the top seeds from their conference with victories: Douglas in the 3A East, Mountain View in the 2A West and Kaycee in the 1A six-man East. In addition, Gillette could wrap up 4A’s top seed with a victory and a Sheridan loss to Natrona; Shoshoni could win the 1A 11-man West with a victory and if Cokeville somehow loses to Wind River; and Farson could win the 1A six-man West with a victory and a Burlington victory against Snake River. The 3A West is the only conference that definitely will NOT have a clear-cut top seed after Week 7, no matter what happens.

Evanston, Rock River, Dubois and Ten Sleep have been eliminated from playoff contention; several more teams could be eliminated this week.

For the record: Kemmerer could still qualify for the playoffs. Opportunity…

This week’s picks, with projected winners in bold, as is tradition:

Thursday
Class 4A
Cheyenne East at Evanston
Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne South at Rock Springs
Gillette at Laramie
Kelly Walsh at Cheyenne Central
Sheridan at Natrona
Class 3A
Douglas at Riverton
Green River at Cody
Jackson at Powell
Lander at Rawlins
Star Valley at Worland
Torrington at Buffalo
Class 2A
Big Horn at Moorcroft
Big Piney at Mountain View
Glenrock at Lyman
Kemmerer at Lovell
Newcastle at Thermopolis
Pinedale at Greybull
Wheatland at Burns
Class 1A 11-man
Cokeville at Wind River
Pine Bluffs at Tongue River
Saratoga at Rocky Mountain
Southeast at Lusk
Upton-Sundance at Wright
Wyoming Indian at Shoshoni
Class 1A six-man
Dubois at St. Stephens
Farson at Riverside
Hulett at Lingle
Rock River at Guernsey-Sunrise
Saturday
Class 1A six-man
Burlington at Snake River
Meeteetse at Ten Sleep
Midwest at Kaycee
Normative Services at Hanna

For a full schedule with kickoff times, click here.

I pick games every week. Then I record how many picks I get right and how many I get wrong. Here are those tallies from last week:

Last week: 26-6 (81 percent). This season: 161-44 (79 percent).

Now, I turn to you. Which teams are most likely to take advantage of their opportunities this week? Leave a comment and let’s talk!

–patrick

When the 2016 schedule came out last November, we knew immediately that Oct. 7 was going to be a big day in Class 3A.

That was the day Green River was going to go to Afton to play Star Valley.

Friday’s game took on special significance about 11 months ago, when both teams advanced to the state championship game. The title game didn’t match up to the two teams’ regular-season game — Star Valley won the regular-season game 16-15 on a last-play field goal but won the title game 31-15 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate.

Now, they’re meeting in the game after “the game” that defined this longstanding rivalry, one that dates back to 73 previous meetings and 67 years. And the stakes? Still high.

Granted, given Star Valley’s surprising 22-14 loss to Powell last week, Green River has inherited its own destiny in a way it couldn’t have foreseen prior to this week. Even so, Green River comes into Friday’s game as Class 3A’s lone undefeated team at 5-0, while Star Valley enters as the classification’s defending state champion and a team that could still earn a conference championship, and maybe the top seed for the playoffs, if it can win out.

The game speaks to the bigger challenges of playing in the 3A West.

The conference is loaded with programs who have proven they know how to win. Last year’s state champ (Star Valley), last year’s runner-up (Green River), last year’s conference champ (Jackson), the 2014 3A champ (Cody), the 3A champ from 2011-13 (Powell)… they’re all in the conference. The only team not listed in that Murderer’s Row is Worland — a team that comes into Week 5 with a 3-2 record and riding a mini-resurgence, as well.

For now, the Wolves are sitting at the top of that heap.

And of all the teams chasing them, the Braves may be the best equipped to knock them down.

The one thing we know? It won’t be easy for either team. In the 3A West, it never is.

Other games I’m watching closely this week, for a litany of reasons that I can only begin to explain here: The obvious 4A game of the week is Rock Springs at Gillette. Campbell County has been unkind to the Tigers — they’re just 1-9 in Gillette all-time, last winning there in 2001. With Gillette, Rock Springs and Sheridan all sitting at one loss apiece, this game might decide home-field advantage in the playoffs. …

Evanston is playing for its playoff life this week; a loss to Kelly Walsh in Casper would eliminate the Red Devils from 4A postseason contention. …

The Buffalo-Riverton game is really intriguing now that the Wolverines are starting to make things click. …

Greybull is undefeated but going on the road to Mountain View could prove to be a big challenge. Don’t be surprised to see the southern Buffalos make things tough on the northern Buffaloes and maybe even sneak out a victory. …

Glenrock could clinch the 2A East championship this week. A victory in Burns assures the Herders of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs — something no other team in the state can earn on their own this week. On the other side of the 2A playoffs, Lyman and Kemmerer will be rooting hard for each other this week. If they both lose, they’re both out of the postseason chase. …

I don’t know what to think of Shoshoni anymore, which is why I’m keeping a ton of attention on the Wranglers’ game with resurgent Rocky Mountain. I honestly don’t know what to expect; finals of 14-12 or of 38-6, in either direction, wouldn’t be surprising to me. …

Meeteetse and Farson have built a nice rivalry in six-man. Some of the luster is gone after Meeteetse’s loss last week, but the Longhorns could ruin the Pronghorns’ plans for a top seed if they can bounce back this week.

On to the picks. This is where I like to try to make a fool of myself by predicting winners of games organized and facilitated by adults but played (almost exclusively) by people legally defined as children. The groups of children I think will play the best are in bold type:

Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne Central at Sheridan
Evanston at Kelly Walsh
Laramie at Cheyenne East
Natrona at Cheyenne South
Rock Springs at Gillette
Class 3A
Buffalo at Riverton
Cody at Jackson
Green River at Star Valley
Powell at Worland
Rawlins at Douglas
Torrington at Lander
Class 2A
Glenrock at Burns
Greybull at Mountain View
Kemmerer at Pinedale
Lovell at Lyman
Moorcroft at Wheatland
Newcastle at Big Piney
Thermopolis at Big Horn
Class 1A 11-man
Pine Bluffs at Southeast
Rocky Mountain at Shoshoni
Saratoga at Cokeville
Tongue River at Wright
Upton-Sundance at Lusk
Wyoming Indian at Wind River
Class 1A six-man
Dubois at Burlington
Guernsey-Sunrise at Hanna
Lingle at Kaycee
Normative Services at Rock River
Snake River at St. Stephens
Saturday
Class 1A six-man
Meeteetse at Farson
Midwest at Hulett
Riverside at Ten Sleep

For a full schedule with kickoff times, click here.

My picks last week? Not great. I hope to redeem myself this week, but I also like upsets. The struggle is real.

Last week: 23-9 (74 percent). This season: 135-38 (78 percent).

How about you? Who do you think has the best chance to pull an upset this week? Who’s cruising straight to Laramie in mid-November? Leave a comment…

–patrick

Today, when we think about successful six-man football programs in Wyoming, we don’t think about Glenrock or Big Horn.

Yet, if we had asked the same question in 1941, the top two teams that would immediately come up would be the Herders and Rams.

These two programs renew their rivalry on Friday in Glenrock, with the Herders ranked first and the Rams second in my Class 2A rankings. They’re both perennial contenders for the 2A championship, and as 2A East Conference rivals since 2009, they’ve developed a healthy, competitive, high-stakes rivalry.

Key games between them, though, didn’t start in 2009. In fact, their first game against each other ended up being one of the most important games in state history.

On Nov. 20, 1941, Glenrock beat Big Horn 22-20 in the state’s first regional six-man playoff game — and its last meaningful six-man game for several years.

Much like most six-man programs of the era, both programs were taking baby steps into that playoff. The Big Horn program was in only its third year, having started football in the fall of 1939. Glenrock, meanwhile, had started its program in 1923 but had gone through extended periods without a team; the 1941 season was just the Herders’ ninth and, like Big Horn, was just its third season since starting back up in 1939.

However, Big Horn was a fast study and won the Northeast district six-man crown in 1941, while Glenrock picked up on the game just as fast and won the Southeast district. The two teams met in Sheridan, neither knowing what to expect; what they got was more than 1,000 fans to show up at Central Field to watch the two teams fight it out for the regional title. The Herders won in a thriller.

Less than three weeks later, America was jumping headlong into World War II, and smaller programs struggled to continue during the war years. Big Horn didn’t have a team from 1944-47; Glenrock skipped the entire 1942 season. When statewide playoffs came back to Wyoming in 1948, though, there was a six-man division — thanks in big part to the success of the Big Horn-Glenrock regional playoff back in 1941.

Six-man, eight-man and nine-man have come and gone in waves in Wyoming. Big Horn and Glenrock haven’t. They’ve consistently been among Wyoming’s best teams, with Glenrock sporting a .613 winning percentage and Big Horn a .593 entering the season.

Oh by the way, they’re both undefeated this year.

When they take the field tonight in Glenrock, keep in mind the influence of this rivalry goes way beyond the two teams involved.

+++

Week 5 is also a huge rivalry week in Class 4A, as the Energy Bowl between Gillette and Sheridan, the Oil Bowl between Natrona and Kelly Walsh and the Capital Bowl between Cheyenne East and Cheyenne Central will all be played.

It’s an interesting dynamic in Cheyenne, where both East and Central have already lost to 2016 Cheyenne city champion South. The Capital Bowl isn’t what it used to be, not only this year but every year from here on out, thanks to South’s entry.

That old feeling may also be dying in northeastern Wyoming, where Friday’s Energy Bowl may be the last one to feel like an Energy Bowl. With Thunder Basin High School set to open in Gillette in 2017, the rivalry between the Camels and the Broncs can’t help but be diminished, if even slightly, by the new rivalry brewing between cross-town rivals in Gillette.

Oh, sure, the Energy Bowl will always be important. The Camels and Broncs will always have a special place in each other’s hearts. But it won’t be THE game like it is today, and I’m sad to see that dynamic disappear.

One parallel we can draw is in the Laramie-Cheyenne Central rivalry, once the king of Wyoming rivalries. The addition of East, and eventually South, in Cheyenne changed the dynamics of the rivalry between the Plainsmen and Indians. Laramie may say Central is its biggest rival; Central, thanks to almost 60 years staging off against in-city rival East, may not say the same in return.

That said, this year’s Energy Bowl — a rematch of last year’s 4A title game — promises to be plenty special, with the top-ranked and undefeated Broncs hosting the once-beaten Camels in a game that has deep playoff implications in addition to the rivalry angle.

That angle may mean less and less in years to come.

And that’s why the stands at Homer Scott Field should be full on Friday. Even if you have no rooting interest, this may be your last chance to see this rivalry in all its splendor, as everything it can be.

Other games I’m watching closely this week: The Cheyenne South-Laramie game is interesting: South won its first three, but comes in having lost two in a row, while Laramie lost its first three, but comes in having won two in a row. … Likewise, the Oil Bowl between Natrona and Kelly Walsh pits a couple teams that could be really good, or really bad, or kind of average, maybe. Perhaps the real identities of these Mustangs and Trojans simply need a rivalry game to show themselves. … When the schedule came out in November, Douglas at Torrington figured to be the biggest 3A East game of the year. Nothing I’ve seen since then makes me think any differently. … The Worland-Cody game will be a heck of a litmus test for the upstart Warriors — and a heck of a challenge for the already-in-season-saving-mode Broncs. … Rivalries aren’t just a 4A thing this week: Big Piney and Pinedale will face off in their annual Sublette County showdown, too. … Wheatland at Newcastle could be the best game of the week; both teams need to keep pace with Big Horn and Glenrock, but only one can. …  Kaycee and Guernsey-Sunrise are the only two teams left undefeated in 1A six-man East play. The winner maintains its own playoff destiny. … It’s nice to see the Burlington-Meeteetse game back on the schedule, especially when both teams appear to be on their game.

Picks. Bold = winner.

Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne East at Cheyenne Central
Cheyenne South at Laramie
Gillette at Sheridan
Natrona at Kelly Walsh
Rock Springs at Evanston
Class 3A
Douglas at Torrington
Jackson at Green River
Lander at Buffalo
Riverton at Rawlins
Star Valley at Powell
Worland at Cody
Class 2A
Big Horn at Glenrock
Big Piney at Pinedale
Burns at Thermopolis
Lyman at Greybull
Moorcroft at Lovell
Mountain View at Kemmerer
Wheatland at Newcastle
Class 1A 11-man
Cokeville at Wyoming Indian
Lusk at Tongue River
Shoshoni at Saratoga
Southeast at Upton-Sundance
Wind River at Rocky Mountain
Wright at Pine Bluffs
Class 1A six-man
Burlington at Meeteetse
Hanna at Lingle
Kaycee at Guernsey-Sunrise
Rock River at Midwest (at Natrona County HS, Casper)
St. Stephens at Riverside
Saturday
Class 1A six-man
Farson at Dubois
Hulett at Normative Services
Ten Sleep at Snake River

My picks last week: Above average for the season, below the mark of 100 percent I shoot for every week.

Last week: 26-6 (81 percent). This season: 112-29 (79 percent).

Week 5 is going to be fun this season. With so many key games and rivalries being played this week, it can’t help but set the course for several teams whose fates remain in question. So who do you think is going to rise to the occasion this week? Leave a comment and we can talk about it….

–patrick

By the end of the night on Friday, only one Class 4A team will remain undefeated.

We know that because Sheridan and Rock Springs, the last two undefeated 4A teams, will play each other Friday night in Rock Springs.

But we also didn’t expect this a week ago.

A week ago, the Broncs and Tigers were among four undefeated teams. Then something happened we haven’t seen much of in Class 4A in half a decade: the unexpected. Winless Kelly Walsh smoked undefeated Cheyenne South and one-win Natrona went on the road and beat undefeated Gillette.

All of a sudden, four became two. This week, two gets whittled down to one.

That one remaining team, all of a sudden, becomes the favorite for the Class 4A title.

The parity 4A has shown has been a remarkable break from the past. As I mentioned earlier this year, since 2011, Gillette, Cheyenne East, Natrona and Sheridan have been a combined 136-4 against the other six teams in the classification.

So far this year, those “big four” programs are 7-3 against the other six — nearly as many losses through four weeks as through the past five years.

The kinds of things we’re seeing in 4A this year are things we haven’t seen in years. However, the idea that any team can beat any other team in the 4A classification is actually more typical than the “big four” patterns of the past few years.

In short, 2016’s unexpected nature isn’t the anomaly; the consistency from 2011 to 2015 was.

So when the Broncs and Tigers meet on Friday, anything is possible.

It’s nice to be able to say that again — especially if you’re from Rock Springs, or Evanston, or Cheyenne South, or Kelly Walsh, or Cheyenne Central, or Laramie.

Other games I’m watching closely this week: Staying in 4A, as noted, Gillette and Cheyenne South were both undefeated entering last week. They both suffered losses to teams with losing records. It only makes sense to have them play each other this week, so that’s what will happen — and I’m curious to see who responds to their loss better. … Cheyenne Central-Laramie is under the radar, but it could be the best game of the week regardless of class. … Conference play starts in 3A this week. Plan on at least one upset, because 3A. … Mountain View might be the team with the best chance of chasing down Greybull in the 2A West. But first, the Buffalos will have to survive a long, tough road trip to Lovell. … Pinedale-Lyman might be for a playoff spot by the time it’s all said and done. … The 1A 11-man East schedule is stacked this week. Pine Bluffs heads north to face Upton-Sundance, while Tongue River goes south to face Southeast. Together, those four teams are a combined 12-1 this season. Honestly, any combination of teams could win and I wouldn’t bat an eye. … Rocky Mountain has never beaten Cokeville; the Grizzlies are 0-11 all-time against the Panthers, the most one-sided series that will be played this season in any classification. However, the Grizzlies have a chance this week to break that streak once and for all — but they’ll have to do it in Cokeville. … This week’s slate of six-man games is pretty meh, but the Lingle-Midwest game in Casper could be a nail-biter.

The picks for this week are below. By now, I hope you know how this works: projected winners in bold. For a full season schedule with kickoff times, click here.

Thursday
Class 1A 11-man
Shoshoni at Wind River
Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne Central at Laramie
Evanston at Natrona
Gillette at Cheyenne South
Kelly Walsh at Cheyenne East
Sheridan at Rock Springs
Class 3A
Buffalo at Rawlins
Cody at Star Valley
Douglas at Lander
Jackson at Worland
Powell at Green River
Torrington at Riverton
Class 2A
Glenrock at Wheatland
Greybull at Burns
Kemmerer at Big Piney
Mountain View at Lovell
Newcastle at Big Horn
Pinedale at Lyman
Thermopolis at Moorcroft
Class 1A 11-man
Pine Bluffs at Upton-Sundance
Rocky Mountain at Cokeville
Saratoga at Wyoming Indian
Tongue River at Southeast
Wright at Lusk
Class 1A six-man
Guernsey-Sunrise at Normative Services
Hanna at Rock River
Lingle vs. Midwest (at Casper)
Riverside at Meeteetse
St. Stephens at Burlington
Ten Sleep at Farson
Saturday
Class 1A six-man
Kaycee at Hulett
Snake River at Dubois

Meanwhile, I had an almost perfectly average week with my picks last week. Thanks, 4A parity… thanks a lot. 🙂

Last week: 25-7 (78 percent). This season: 86-23 (79 percent).

How about YOU? Who’s poised to pull an upset this week and bring parity to its own classification? Leave a comment and let’s talk week 4! (Already the halfway point of the regular season…)

–patrick

Stop me if you’ve heard this one recently:

This Star Valley-Douglas game should really be something…

Wait, stop? Already?

OK, yeah. Makes sense. Star Valley and Douglas have been playing a lot of football against each other recently — about as much as two teams can.

They’ve played each other six times the past three seasons, once in the regular season and once in the playoffs every year since 2013. Douglas won all four in 2013-14; Star Valley won both in 2015.

Douglas reached the Class 3A title games in 2013 and 2014; Star Valley won the 3A title in 2015.

Yeah, the Bearcats and Braves have built a nice little rivalry, in part because of the high stakes on the line when they play each other the second time around in a season.

When they renew this rivalry on Friday in Douglas, only bragging rights will be on the line. Even so, those bragging rights are as big as they come at this point in the season. Star Valley is ranked first in my Class 3A rankings, while Douglas is second in my rankings.

Yep, this game should really be something.

What’s amazing to me is how quickly this rivalry has grown. The two programs have played each other 10 times since 2010 after only three meetings in the previous 4.5 billion years. Friday’s game makes 11 meetings in seven years.

Even though Douglas has won seven of those 10 most recent games, Star Valley won both meetings last year. Star Valley’s championship momentum carried over into 2016, as the Braves have three pretty dominant victories this year (average score 44-13).

But Douglas has learned from its struggles in 2015, including its two losses to Star Valley, and started 2016 with victories by 24 and 35 points.

If the current trends hold, that 12th meeting in seven years could be in Laramie in November.

That game would really be something.

Other games that are intriguing on paper that I hope will be just as intriguing in person: For the first time all season, I’m picking Cheyenne South to win a game. About time, dude; South is 3-0 and has already secured the Capital City championship for the first time. Bison are legit. … Cheyenne East is 1-2 but still a threat; the two losses are by a combined four points. Watch out, Sheridan. … I don’t know what to make of either Buffalo or Worland just yet. It helps that they play each other this week. Buffalo’s 2-0 with victories by 6 and 1; Worland is 1-1, losing by 6 and winning by 2. I think this one might be close, too. … This week has the biggest scheduling question of the year. Big Horn goes to Kemmerer, while Cokeville goes to Tongue River. Why, oh, why, isn’t Big Horn going to Tongue River and Cokeville going to Kemmerer? Way fewer miles on the road, at least, and maybe better games because of that. … Most impressive 0-2 team in 2A might be Big Piney. Punchers have fought hard in a couple close losses; I’m curious to see how they do against Lyman. … The Lovell-Greybull game decided the 2A West last year. They play again Friday. … The Upton-Sundance/Shoshoni game lost some luster after the Wranglers got throat punched by Southeast. How will Shoshoni respond? … How about St. Stephens starting 2-0? The Eagles’ toughest test so far comes this week against a strong Farson squad. Meanwhile, the two other undefeateds in the 1A six-man West (Meeteetse and Snake River) meet in what might be the biggest game of the week, and could be the biggest game of the year, at the six-man level. Watch out for the Rattlers at home. … Last but not least, Cokeville head coach Todd Dayton could pick up career win No. 300 when the Panthers play Tongue River on Saturday. It’d be interesting to see coach Dayton get the victory in his first coaching trip to the town of Dayton.

Here are my picks for Week 3, with anticipated winners in bold and anticipated upset-makers in regular type. For a full season schedule with kickoff times, click here.

Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne South at Kelly Walsh
Laramie at Evanston
Natrona at Gillette
Rock Springs at Cheyenne Central
Sheridan at Cheyenne East
Class 3A
Cody at Lander
Green River at Torrington
Rawlins at Jackson
Riverton at Powell
Star Valley at Douglas
Worland at Buffalo
Class 2A
Big Horn at Kemmerer
Glenrock at Newcastle
Lovell at Greybull
Lyman at Big Piney
Moorcroft at Burns
Pinedale at Mountain View
Wheatland at Thermopolis
Class 1A 11-man
Lusk at Rocky Mountain
Southeast at Saratoga
Upton-Sundance at Shoshoni
Wind River at Wright
Wyoming Indian at Pine Bluffs
Class 1A six-man
Dubois at Riverside
Farson at St. Stephens
Meeteetse at Snake River
Midwest at Guernsey-Sunrise
Normative Services at Lingle
Rock River at Kaycee
Saturday
Class 1A 11-man
Cokeville at Tongue River
Class 1A six-man
Burlington at Ten Sleep
Hulett at Hanna

My picks last week were not too bad, but by no means do I think my good fortune last week will have any carryover to this week. Here’s where I stand for the year:

Last week: 27-4 (87 percent). This season: 61-16 (79 percent).

Who’s ready to win this week? Which game has your attention? Leave a comment and share with us what you’re ready for in Week 3!

–patrick

For two schools just 23 miles and a couple dozen students apart, Lingle and Guernsey-Sunrise have taken decidedly different paths since the last time they played football against each other.

The longtime rivals haven’t faced each other since Oct. 3, 2008 — the last game between the two before the Vikings left for the new six-man classification.

Since then, they’ve both found success in separate ways. Lingle has advanced to the 1A 11-man playoff semifinals five times, finishing once as runner-up (2009). Guernsey-Sunrise has won a pair of state championships at the 1A six-man level, going undefeated in 2009 and 2014.

Now that Lingle has made the move to six-man, the North Platte valley rivalry can renew once again.

And what a rich rivalry it is.

From 1952 to 2008, the Doggers and the Vikings/Longhorns/Miners played each other every season, and Lingle also played Guernsey in 1951. They stayed joined despite shifting play structures, playing in six-man together from 1951-56, eight-man from 1957-63 and 11-man from 1964-2008 (playing each other even through Lingle’s dip into nine-man in 1989 and 1990 and Guernsey-Sunrise’s hybrid nine-man season in 1998).

However, Lingle and Guernsey didn’t play each other from 1940-50, when Guernsey moved to six-man football but Lingle stayed in 11-man; Sunrise and Lingle had a similar gap from 1941-50.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

After seven years apart, the Vikings and Doggers renew their rivalry on Friday in Lingle. In the terms of the 2016 season, this game represents an opportunity for one of the two teams to get back on track; both teams lost their season openers Saturday.

In terms of history, though, this game has much bigger implications for a rivalry that’s been dormant for far too long.

Now that Lingle and Guernsey-Sunrise are again in the same classification, they might be back together on each other’s schedules for another 56 consecutive years.

Other games I’ll be watching closer than others this week, because attention is finite and I must devote my brain’s resources accordingly: Obviously, East-South is the marquee game in Class 4A this week. South is 2-0 (and after the last few years, the Bison deserve it) and East is one two-point conversion away from 2-0. If South can somehow pull this one off, my goodness, I think the good folks south of I-80 in Cheyenne will be ready to make coach Dan Gallas the mayor. Or the governor. … Rawlins-Green River is the only 3A game that pits two undefeated teams. Arguably, Green River’s one W is more impressive than Rawlins’ two, but I’m interested to see if the Outlaws can push the Wolves and maybe pull the surprise. … Bridger Valley Bowl, Mountain View-Lyman, is always worth your attention. Even though Mountain View won and Lyman lost last week, I thought both teams had eye-catching Week 1 outings — Mountain View limiting 1A Cokeville, Lyman hanging tough with 3A Rawlins. … Rocky Mountain was impressive in its opener, beating Kemmerer by 40. The Grizzlies, for their success, get to play Upton-Sundance in Week 2. Maybe, just maybe, the Griz will be better than we think? … Shoshoni travels to Yoder to play Southeast in the biggest revenge game of the week. Southeast, of course, ended Shoshoni’s undefeated season in the 1A 11-man quarterfinals last week. The Wranglers would love to exact some measure of revenge; the Cyclones would love to show their victory was no aberration. … The two best teams in six-man last week may have been Burlington (winners by 70) and Farson (surprisingly easy winners on the road against a good Guernsey-Sunrise team). It doesn’t seem right that they play so soon in the schedule. It’s got all the feeling of a Week 8 potential conference-championship-deciding kind of game.

Here’s what I think will happen this week, with the teams I think that will finish with more points than their opposition in bold:

Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne Central at Gillette
Cheyenne East at Cheyenne South
Evanston at Sheridan
Kelly Walsh at Rock Springs
Laramie at Natrona
Class 3A
Douglas at Cody
Lander at Jackson
Powell at Buffalo
Rawlins at Green River
Riverton at Star Valley
Worland at Torrington
Class 2A
Big Piney at Lovell
Burns at Big Horn
Greybull at Kemmerer
Mountain View at Lyman
Newcastle at Moorcroft
Thermopolis at Glenrock
Wheatland at Pinedale
Class 1A 11-man
Pine Bluffs at Wind River
Rocky Mountain at Upton-Sundance
Saratoga at Lusk
Shoshoni at Southeast
Tongue River at Wyoming Indian
Class 1A six-man
Guernsey-Sunrise at Lingle
Midwest at Normative Services
Snake River at Riverside
Saturday
Class 1A 11-man
Wright at Cokeville
Class 1A six-man
Burlington at Farson
Kaycee at Hanna
Meeteetse at Dubois
Rock River at Hulett
Ten Sleep at St. Stephens

Picks last week were respectable; I’m climbing out of the awful hole I dug for myself in Zero Week. That said, to the teams I did not pick to win, a short message: Upsets make me happy. Prove me wrong, and I’ll be the first to praise you. So, by all means, prove me wrong! No bitterness on this end…

Last week: 27-6 (82 percent) This season: 34-12 (74 percent).

Which game has YOU excited for Week 2? Many teams begin conference play this week… Which game catches your attention as a key game to start a conference slate? Leave a thought below and we can talk about the start of something cool.

–patrick

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