One sure thing about championship weekend? We’ll have five new state champions this year.
None of the five state champs from 2019 made it to the 2020 championships, the first time that’s happened since 2015.
Some consistent championship winners aren’t here — in fact, none of the 10 teams remaining is among the group of seven Wyoming programs with double-digit football championships to their name.
But that doesn’t mean the fields will be peppered with teams who don’t know their way around a title game.
Of the 10 teams playing this weekend, only Jackson (last title in 2007) hasn’t played in a title game in the past decade. Thunder Basin was here last year; Torrington and Farson each made it this far two years ago.
Another added twist to the 2020 title games is their locations — Cheyenne, Cody, Torrington, Yoder and Farson, not Laramie. The officials in charge of developing COVID-19 protocols rightly decided large gatherings of people from all over the state may not be the best idea, so, for at least one year, championship games are at host sites — another wrinkle in a season full of them.
Here are breakdowns for each championship game, as well as my choices:
Class 4A, 1 p.m. Saturday
Thunder Basin (3, 9-2) at Cheyenne East (1, 10-1)
Series record: Thunder Basin leads 4-1.
Last meeting: Thunder Basin beat Cheyenne East 34-28 on Aug. 28 in Gillette.
Last playoff meeting: Thunder Basin beat Cheyenne East 27-21 on Nov. 8, 2019, in a Class 4A semifinal in Gillette.
State championships: Thunder Basin zero. … Cheyenne East four, most recently in 2013.
Previous title game record: Thunder Basin, 0-1. … Cheyenne East, 4-3.
The path to the title game: Thunder Basin eked out a 19-14 victory against Natrona in the quarterfinals before thumping Kelly Walsh 55-14 in the semifinals. … Cheyenne East blew out Laramie 49-7 in the first round and topped Sheridan 31-21 in the semifinals.
The case for the ‘Bolts: Thunder Basin is consistent on both sides of the ball — the ‘Bolts are second in Class 4A in both offense and defense. The offense has great balance, with RB Jaxon Pikula and QB Ryan Baker forming a dangerous backfield pairing. They got their wake-up call in Week 8 against Sheridan, so they’re playing with urgency, not overconfidence. And they’re the only team to beat East this year.
The case for the Thunderbirds: Behind QB Graedyn Buell, East has 4A’s top offense, and it’s not even close. The defense, ranked third in 4A, has been the T-Birds’ silent saviors. And ever since that loss in the opening week to Thunder Basin, East has notched 10 consecutive victories, including their last six by more than 27 points per game.
The pick: If East was playing any other team in the championship, I’d worry about overconfidence. But since the Thunderbirds are playing the only team to beat them this year, I think they’ll come out with the requisite focus needed. Thunder Basin will make it tough on them, though — and if the ‘Bolts can get a defensive or special teams touchdown, the score could flip-flop quickly. … Cheyenne East 38, Thunder Basin 30.
Class 3A, noon Saturday
Jackson (2W, 9-2) at Cody (1W, 9-1)
Series record: Cody leads 21-8.
Last meeting: Cody beat Jackson 48-6 on Oct. 23 in Jackson.
Last playoff meeting: Jackson beat Cody 38-12 on Oct. 26, 2007, in a Class 4A quarterfinal in Jackson.
State championships: Jackson three, most recently in 2007. … Cody five, most recently in 2017.
Previous title game record: Jackson, 3-1. … Cody, 5-5.
The path to the title game: Jackson beat up on Riverton 61-38 in the quarterfinals and scored late to beat Douglas 21-14 in the semifinals. … Cody bopped Worland 51-7 in the quarterfinals and shut out Powell 21-0 in the semifinals.
The case for the (Jackson) Broncs: I’ll say this slowly and clearly so everyone can understand its significance: Jackson leads Class 3A in both rushing and passing offense. That diversity, led by RB Brody Hasenack and QB Sadler Smith, keeps defenses honest. The defense has given up its share of yards, but that unit is better than the numbers show. And after losing big to Cody three weeks ago, Jackson has to be ready for revenge.
The case for the (Cody) Broncs: Cody has the kind of consistency coaches dream of; the Broncs are second in Class 3A in both offense and defense. That’s led to a lot of victories. Moreover, Cody doesn’t rely on any one player or unit to get the job done — eight running backs and six receivers have triple-digit yards this year. And after winning big against Jackson three weeks ago, Cody has to be confident.
The pick: I’m only guaranteeing one thing in this game — it’ll be much closer than 48-6, the score between these two teams in Week 8. Jackson will play much better this time around. The black-and-orange Broncs will keep the pressure on from the start. All that said, the blue-and-gold Broncs, at home, have the edge. … Cody 31, Jackson 24.
Class 2A, 1 p.m. Saturday
Lyman (1W, 10-1) at Torrington (1E, 8-2)
Series record: First meeting.
State championships: Lyman four, most recently in 2012. … Torrington three, most recently in 1990.
Previous title game record: Lyman, 4-1. … Torrington, 2-11.
The path to the title game: Lyman won big a couple times, beating Big Horn 42-7 in the quarterfinals and Upton-Sundance 37-15 in the semifinals. … Torrington topped Cokeville 34-14 in the quarterfinals and beat Mountain View 31-20 in the semifinals.
The case for the Eagles: Lyman wins with a simple formula: overwhelming defense, enough offense. The Eagles lead Class 2A in scoring defense and have allowed the fewest yards of any team in the classification. The offense relies on the run first, but timely passing keeps defenses from committing fully to stopping the run. Aside from a 6-0 loss to Big Piney, Lyman has used that formula to be almost unbeatable.
The case for the Trailblazers: With a junior-heavy roster, and coming off a 1-7 season, I honestly thought Torrington was a year away from competing for a state title. But the Trailblazers have been really consistent all year. Like, scary consistent — you know exactly what you’re getting from this group on a weekly basis. Losing QB Beau Bivens to injury in the semifinals hurts Torrington’s chances, but inspiration — and momentum — are always tough things to track in the minds of teenagers.
The pick: Of the five games this weekend, this is the one I’ve waffled on the most. With 2A’s parity, it’s no surprise that we have such an evenly matched championship game. I’m leaning on an old cliche here, so forgive me, but defense wins championships. … Lyman 20, Torrington 19.
Class 1A nine-man, 5 p.m. Friday
Lusk (2E, 8-2) at Southeast (1E, 10-0)
Series record: Lusk leads 25-20.
Last meeting: Southeast beat Lusk 35-16 on Oct. 16 in Yoder.
Last playoff meeting: Southeast beat Lusk 40-6 on Nov. 10, 2012, in the Class 1A 11-man championship at Laramie.
State championships: Lusk five, most recently in 2002. … Southeast nine, most recently in 2012.
Previous title game record: Lusk, 5-9. … Southeast, 9-2.
The path to the title game: Lusk bombed Greybull 54-0 in the quarterfinals and outscored Rocky Mountain 52-35 in the semifinals. … Southeast blasted Riverside 63-6 in the first round and beat Shoshoni 44-18 in the semifinals.
The case for the Tigers: Nine-man’s most high-powered offense averages 500 yards and more than 50 points per game — and if that isn’t enough for you, what is? With 166 more rushing yards, RB Drake Lamp will crack 3,000 yards rushing this season (yes, you read that right) and is on track to be just the third four-time all-state pick in Wyoming history. Conversely, the defense has been on the field a lot; if the offense weren’t such a quick-striking unit, the Tigers’ D would look a lot better.
The case for the Cyclones: Anyone paying attention saw this coming. Deep and experienced, Southeast has been mowing over everyone in its way — including Lusk, 35-16, in Week 7. Southeast rolls up almost 200 more yards per game than it allows, and they do so with a team approach that spreads out the responsibilities on both sides of the ball.
The pick: It’ll be easy to look at this and concentrate on Lusk’s offense vs. Southeast’s defense. When those kind of matchups happens, look the other way, too: Southeast’s offense vs. Lusk’s defense. I think the Tigers will put up more points than they did a month ago, but Southeast still has the edge. … Southeast 38, Lusk 28.
Class 1A six-man, 1 p.m. Saturday
Meeteetse (2W, 8-1) at Farson (1W, 10-0)
Series record: Meeteetse leads 7-6.
Last meeting: Farson beat Meeteetse 35-16 on Oct. 17 in Farson.
Last playoff meeting: First playoff meeting.
State championships: Meeteetse two, most recently in 2013. … Farson one, in 2018.
Previous title game record: Meeteetse, 2-2. … Farson, 1-2.
The path to the title game: Meeteetse thumped Guernsey 63-7 in the quarterfinals and then nudged out Kaycee 46-38 in the semifinals. … Farson shut out Hanna 70-0 in the quarterfinals and came back to beat Encampment 42-41 in the semifinals.
The case for the Longhorns: Meeteetse has been one of six-man’s most surprising teams this fall. With only one loss — to Farson in Week 7 — the Longhorns have shown a penchant for both pluckiness and toughness. A defense that’s shallow but consistent deserves a lot of praise, and Dace Bennett keys the offense both with his arms and his legs.
The case for the Pronghorns: Let’s start with 10-0: Farson’s record this year. Behind an offense and a defense that both rank second in 1A six-man, few teams have challenged the Pronghorns. When they have been challenged, they’ve responded well, including in last week’s 42-41, come-from-behind victory against Encampment. Farson also has one of six-man’s deepest rosters.
The pick: Historically, undefeated teams do really well in six-man championship games. Farson has the depth and the experience to win their second title in three years — but Meeteetse won’t be patsies. … Farson 48, Meeteetse 37.
Here are the results of my picks from last week and this season:
Last week: 8-2 (80 percent). This season: 235-62 (79 percent).
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