Technically, only one conference champion is guaranteed to be crowned this week.

Either Kaycee or Midwest will win the 1A six-man East Conference championship when the two programs face each other Friday night in beautiful downtown Midwest.

Oh, sure, four other programs can win their respective championships this week, too: Torrington in the 3A East, Glenrock in the 2A East, Mountain View in the 2A West, Cokeville in the 1A 11-man West. Also, Sheridan could win 4A’s top seed with a victory and a Cheyenne East loss to Rock Springs, while Star Valley would win the 3A West with a victory and a Green River loss to Jackson.

But it’s possible that every single one of those teams could lose on Friday. That’s why Kaycee-Midwest is so intriguing — unless it ends in a tie or is postponed or we see the destruction of the Earth between now and about 9:30 p.m. Friday, the top seed from the 1A six-man East Conference will be sewn up at the conclusion of this game.

Midwest has been a nice surprise this season. The Oilers have won four in a row since losing to Burlington 44-40 to open their season. Every game has been a little bit closer than the last one, though — from a 62-point victory against NSI to a 45-point victory against Guernsey-Sunrise to a 36-point victory against Lingle to a 13-point victory against Hulett.

Meanwhile, 32 miles to the north, top-ranked Kaycee has been perhaps the most dominant six-man team the state has ever seen.

The Buckaroos have won their past 25 games, but by far the 2017 season has been the most dominant. With first-year head coach Tony Rouse leading a deep senior class, Kaycee has outscored its opponents 370-26 this season, including its last three by 224-0.

Week 7 is always a little strange, because so many potential playoff scenarios exist. By my math, only three of the state’s 65 teams (Jackson, Wright, Wyoming Indian) have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs (see below for more on Wyoming Indian). And no matter what happens, two conferences (1A 11-man East and 1A six-man West) are guaranteed NOT to have a conference champion by the time Week 7 is done.

That’s why Friday’s game in Midwest is so interesting. It’s nice to have a little certainty in uncertain times.

+++

Other stuff on my sonar for Week 7:

The Kelly Walsh-Thunder Basin game is the most intriguing game on the 4A schedule. Thunder Basin is stronger than it’s been all season thanks to the return of running back Austin Clemetson, who came back last week. A ‘Bolts victory gives them all the tiebreakers necessary for a home playoff game, and that’s super helpful. …

Greybull’s surprising loss to Lovell last week turned the 2A West into a big quagmire. Right there in the middle of the mess with Greybull are Lyman, Pinedale and Lovell. They’ll play on Friday (Greybull at Lyman, Pinedale at Lovell), and I honestly have no idea what to expect in either game. …

The only interclass game of the week is really interesting. It’s the two “Bigs” (Big Horn and Big Piney) meeting halfway in Riverton. And they’re both 5-1 coming into the game. Could be a hidden gem of a game on that neutral field on Friday. …

Evanston against Worland in the 3A West could be a really close game. Both teams need this victory to stay in the playoff race, and that may bring out the best in both squads. …

Wheatland has been resurgent of late and could steal a home playoff game if they can top Newcastle. …

I’m interested to see how much of a challenge one-loss Burlington can give undefeated Snake River in Burlington. …

+++

On to this week’s picks. As usual, the predicted winners are in bold, because to change that tradition now would just be silly:

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

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

My picks were made last week. By me. I made the picks. Most of them were right. Here’s how many:

Last week: 27-4 (87 percent). This season: 179-29 (86 percent).

+++

Chiefs forfeit final two games: Wyoming Indian will forfeit its final two games of the year, as reported by Brady Oltmans of the Casper Star-Tribune on Twitter on Tuesday. The Chiefs were scheduled to play Shoshoni this week and Rocky Mountain in Week 8; they were 1-5 prior to ending the season early.

+++

With the playoffs a scant couple weeks away, what teams do you see as the ones ready to make a late-season run? Post a comment so we can dig deep into week 7!

–patrick

Post updated 9:01 a.m. Oct. 12, 2017, to reflect Lingle’s playoff possibility.

How Big Horn and Upton-Sundance have missed each other the past few seasons defies a convenient explanation.

Big Horn hasn’t played Upton since the two teams played in the 2004 2A championship against each other and hasn’t played Sundance since 2008.

That’s weird. In Wyoming terms, they’re pretty close to each other — it’s 160 miles from Big Horn to Sundance and 147 from Big Horn to Upton. And they’re in the same classification and conference for every single other sport.

Also, the past three years, the schools have been dominant in their respective classifications:

  • In 2014, Big Horn was 10-1; Upton-Sundance was 6-4.
  • In 2015, Big Horn was 7-2; Upton-Sundance was 10-1.
  • In 2016, both programs finished 10-1.

Tally that up, and combined the past three seasons, Big Horn and Upton-Sundance are 53-10. Not too shabby.

However, despite being close in proximity, enrollment and success, the two programs tallied those records in different football classifications — 2A for Big Horn, 1A 11-man for Upton-Sundance.

This year, though, football classification shakeups brought this rivalry back to the fore. Big Horn is in the smallest 11-man division for the first time since playing in Class 1A Division II in 2000. Upton-Sundance, meanwhile, has been in the 1A 11-man ranks for the entirety of its co-op, remaining playoff eligible through a quirk of WHSAA rules that allows co-ops to claim only partial enrollments of schools.

In other words, Big Horn has been the small guy in the big division for a long time, while Upton-Sundance has been the big guy in the small division for a long time.

That changed this year, when Big Horn — after winning the 2A title in 2016 — came back to the 1A ranks and joined Upton-Sundance in the same classification (and the same conference) for the first time in football.

As expected, both teams have continued their streaks of dominance amid the conference restructuring. The Rams are 4-1, the lone loss by a single point in overtime to defending 1A 11-man champ Pine Bluffs and the four victories all by at least 28 points, while the Patriots are 6-0, their closest game last week’s 28-14 victory against Southeast.

In terms of the 2017 season, this game is critical for both programs as the 1A 11-man playoff race finds its form.

In terms of the rivalries that exist between the three schools — and the two programs — the game is more than just an opportunity to gain a better playoff seed. It’s an opportunity to revive a dormant regional rivalry between two programs that have consistently displayed excellence.

+++

Other games that look like they’re halfway decent:

The 3A East showdown between Torrington and Douglas could be for the conference crown. They’re the only two teams in the conference who are still unbeaten in league play. Winning Friday is no guarantee of a title, but the team that wins will be in control of its own destiny. …

The Bridger Valley Bowl is always interesting, full stop. Mountain View has the edge, but in a rivalry game, Lyman could be dangerous. Also, don’t overlook the Sublette County rivalry bubbling between Big Piney and Pinedale. …

The only interclass game of the week has Kemmerer at Lusk, and it could be a tight one. If it was in Kemmerer, maybe I’d go with the Rangers, but with almost 400 miles between the two communities — who are playing each other for the first time, by the way — the edge goes to the home team. …

Oh yeah, it’s rivalry week in 4A. Capital Bowl with East-Central, Oil Bowl with Kelly Walsh-Natrona, Energy Bowl with Sheridan-Gillette… and yet the best game in 4A might be Thunder Basin facing off against Rock Springs. Both teams desperately need this one to keep any dreams of a home playoff game alive. …

+++

On to some picks. As usual, the team I anticipate winning is bolded. Because the reverse of that would just look ridiculous and confusing. I have standards.

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

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

Thank goodness Evanston is off this week. They can’t screw up my picks. They were the *only* team to do so last week. Oh well. Maybe this week I finally have a perfect week in the regular season? Meh. It’s more fun when it’s not predictable.

Last week: 30-1 (97 percent). This season: 152-25 (86 percent).

So what rivalry in Week 6 are you most happy to see — revived or not? Post your thoughts in a comment and let me know!

–patrick

The Rawlins football program is desperate for success.

The Outlaws’ football history is filled with more troughs of frustration than peaks of success; with 471 losses over 93 seasons, Rawlins has lost more games than any other program in Wyoming.

But this season is different.

What Rawlins has done through five games in 2017 already has the Outlaws on track for their most memorable campaign in almost two decades. With its 5-0 start, a record at least at .500 is guaranteed — and that’s something that has happened just twice (1999 and 2000) in the past 30 years of Outlaw football.

This week, the Outlaws will have the chance to show they aren’t just settling for .500.

However, when 5-0 Rawlins hosts 4-0 Douglas on Friday night, the Outlaws will play in unfamiliar conditions. The last time Rawlins as many as five consecutive games was in 1999 and 2000; the Outlaws won their last game in 1999 and then went 9-0 to win the 3A championship in 2000. Prior to that, Rawlins hadn’t won five in a row since winning six straight to open the 1986 season.

Rawlins’ opponent on Friday is in a completely different historical era.

Douglas has won at least five straight games eight different times since 1999, including a 30-game winning streak from 2008-10. And the last 17 times Rawlins and Douglas have played, Douglas has won; Rawlins hasn’t beaten Douglas since the 2001 regular season.

The fact that Rawlins comes into the game not only undefeated but with perhaps a slight edge speaks volumes to what the coaches and players have been able to do since Corey Wheeler took over as head coach in 2014. The former Cheyenne Central star immediately led Rawlins to a 4-5 mark, then slipped back to 2-6 before again finishing 4-5 last year.

Last year’s Outlaws started 4-1 before losing their final four games.

This year’s Outlaws are proving they learned lessons from that frustrating finish.

Slowly but surely, Rawlins’ desperation for success has morphed into an expectation of success.

+++

Other games that might be halfway decent this week:

Beyond Rawlins-Douglas, the other 3A East games are also big this week. After losing to Rawlins last week, Buffalo needs to beat Torrington to keep any hopes for a home playoff game alive. Meanwhile, Lander and Riverton face off in the Fremont County rivalry after both losing last week in their conference openers, meaning both teams will be on edge that much more. …

Star Valley’s trip to Cody might be interesting. Even though the Broncs lost to Green River last week, they’ve proven they have the ability to play close with anyone in 3A, including the top-ranked Braves. But Star Valley has owned this series, winning 10 straight in Cody since the early 1990s. …

The battle of tough nonconference schedules comes to a head in the 2A East when Wheatland (which played three 3A foes in Weeks 1-3) plays Glenrock (which played two 3A foes and top 2A contender Greybull in Weeks 1-3). They both won their conference openers last week. …

Upton-Sundance has a potential trap game this week in its venture to Yoder to play Southeast. The Patriots have Big Horn next week, and if they get caught looking ahead, the Cyclones might be an upset-maker. …

The toughest game of the week to pick may be Lingle at Hanna. Barring a late-season upset of some kind, the winner of this game likely makes the playoffs, and the loser is likely out. That means both teams should feel a little urgency, which can be either a blessing or a curse. …

+++

Here are the Week 5 picks. Winners, or so I think.

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

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

Here’s how well I did last week. This should give some hope to those teams I didn’t bold. I’m wrong often enough to feel good about your chances.

Last week: 26-6 (81 percent). This season: 122-24 (84 percent).

So who’s your boo for Week 5? Who’s ready to spring a big upset? Leave a comment so we can talk about it!

–patrick

Everything — except history — will be on Thunder Basin’s side when the ‘Bolts face Gillette on Friday.

The game will be the first between the new Gillette rivals, the beginning of a rivalry that will likely live for decades and develop its own rich character and flavor.

The short-term football history between the intra-city foes is pretty simple: When the returning seniors and juniors got to choose their school, most of them chose Thunder Basin. Because of that mass migration south, Thunder Basin has a better-than-average chance of ending a streak of bad luck for first-year programs playing intra-city rivals for the first time.

The ‘Bolts are a respectable 2-2; losses to Cheyenne East and Sheridan the past two weeks have slowed their momentum a bit, but they’re still one of the better Class 4A teams in Wyoming.

The Camels, meanwhile, are 0-4, outscored 251-19 while playing with what mostly amounts to a junior-varsity team.

Yes, Thunder Basin will probably win the first “Coal Bowl.” However, while the short-term history might be on Thunder Basin’s side, long-term history is on Gillette’s side: Schools playing an intra-city foe in their first season have had historically bad luck, going 0-5 all-time.

Those losses include:

In 1960, Cheyenne East lost its first game to Cheyenne Central 13-7. (East beat Central 7-6 the next season.)

In 1965, Kelly Walsh lost its first game to Natrona 12-7. (Kelly Walsh first beat Natrona 8-7 in 1969.)

In 2011, Cheyenne South lost its first game to Cheyenne Central 63-0 and its first game to Cheyenne East 49-6. (South first beat Central 31-28 in 2014 and first beat East 31-28 last season.)

And, in 1908, University Prep lost its first game to Laramie 6-5. (Prep never beat Laramie, going 0-10-1 all-time.)

Thunder Basin will probably break this 109-year-old trend. After all, who needs history when you’re barely a month old?

If somehow Gillette pulls this one off, though, we can chalk it up to more than a century of history stacked against the ‘Bolts.

+++

A few other games that have me rubbernecking to check them out:

I didn’t anticipate that the Week 4 game between Rawlins and Buffalo would match up two undefeated teams. But here we are. And the winner might secure home field in the playoffs by late October in what’s turning into a weekly gauntlet in the 3A East. …

Last year’s 2A runner-up, Greybull, is off to a somewhat surprising 1-2 start. That makes Friday’s game against Pinedale — which started 2-0 in conference play — all of a sudden a make-or-break game for the Buffaloes. …

Tongue River travels south to play Pine Bluffs in a rematch of last year’s 1A 11-man title game. That feels like a lifetime ago. Nevertheless, in a competitive 1A 11-man East where only one team has a losing record right now, this is a big one. …

East-Natrona ought to be a good one. Even though East is undefeated, Natrona is still the favorite. I’m sure that will get East fired up. …

I’m curious to see how Cody stacks up on the road against Green River. The Wolves should win, but the Broncs have shown some pluck this season and I think they’ll be tougher than people might anticipate. …

Shoshoni’s been outscored 135-0 this season; Wind River’s been outscored 132-20. Someone will get off the schneid when they play each other; the winner’s likely headed for the playoffs. …

The only interclass game this week (Mountain View at Jackson) is actually really intriguing. Curious to see how the Buffalos do punching above their class against the winless Broncs. …

+++

Picks. Bold for winners. Obviously.

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

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

I pick every game every week. And I tally how well I do. But you knew that, right?

Last week: 27-5 (84 percent). This season: 96-18 (84 percent).

+++

On Rock River: As reported a couple weeks ago, Rock River has decided to forgo its varsity season. Longhorns coach Doug Spriggs said via email to wyoming-football.com this week the Longhorns will play a junior varsity schedule this year. The Longhorns have only six healthy players on their roster right now, Spriggs said; four of those hadn’t played varsity football prior to this season.

“It was not in the best interests of our student athletes or programs future to take on the juggernaut of six-man varsity football given these circumstances,” Spriggs wrote.

Spriggs said Rock River will run its junior high program this season and intends to field a high school varsity team in 2018.

+++

After this week, we’ll be halfway through the season. Who’s been your surprise team so far? Who’s been doing exactly what you expected? Leave a comment and let’s talk!

–patrick

History won’t matter much on Friday night in Big Horn.

About half the time, when a defending state champion plays a defending state champion, the matchups prove to be a year late — at least one of the two teams had its better team in its championship year. The other half of the time, though, the matchup gives us a memorable meeting between two squads eager to prove their success spans multiple seasons.

That is the history facing Week 3 combatants Pine Bluffs at Big Horn, each team a defending champion — Big Horn in 2A last year, Pine Bluffs in 1A 11-man.

Friday’s game will be the 23rd time in state history two defending Wyoming state champions face off against each other. In about half of the 22 previous defending champion showdowns, at least one of the teams went on to win another state championship.

The most memorable state champ vs. state champ series of games came right around the turn of the century, with three games involving the same two programs. In 2000, Lusk and Southeast played each other as defending 2A and 1A champs, respectively. Lusk won easily, but both teams went on to win their respective state championships. A year later, they played twice — this time as 2A rivals — and Southeast won both rematches, including the one in the state championship game.

Similarly, in both 1953 and 1954, defending Class AA champ Sheridan played defending Class A champ Worland. In 1953, Sheridan won 18-0, and both teams went on to win titles; in 1954, the Warriors beat the Broncs 14-12, later winning yet yet another Class A championship.

Southeast also played Guernsey-Sunrise twice in 2007 when both were defending champions; the second time they met was in the 1A championship game.

Oddly enough, Kemmerer played TWO defending state champions in 2008. Kemmerer, the defending 3A champ, played defending 4A champ Jackson and defending 2A champ Riverside that season. Kemmerer won both.

Nineteen of the 22 champ vs. champ games were regular-season games; the aforementioned 2A title game in 2001 and 1A title game in 2007, as well as a 1991 Class 1A 11-man semifinal between defending 1A-11 champ Cokeville and defending 1A nine-man champ Lingle, were the only times two defending state champions faced each other in the postseason.

The defending champ vs. defending champ games, with the year of the game, the winner and the score:

Worland/Sheridan 1953, Sheridan 18-0 (both went on to win state titles)
Worland/Sheridan 1954, Worland 14-12 (Worland went on to win state title)
Powell/Sheridan 1958, Sheridan 21-14 (Sheridan went on to share state title)
Cody/Laramie 1959, Cody 12-6
Cody/Green River 1977, Cody 41-20
Mountain View/Cokeville 1985, Mountain View 28-0
Big Piney/Cokeville 1989, Cokeville 36-14 (Cokeville went on to win state title)
Cokeville/Lingle 1991, Cokeville 31-6
Sheridan/Cody 1992, Sheridan 28-18 (Sheridan went on to win state title)
Big Piney/Cokeville 1999, Big Piney 22-6
Southeast/Lusk 2000, Lusk 40-0 (both went on to win state titles)
Southeast/Lusk 2001, Southeast 21-7 and Southeast 14-7 (second meeting in state title game)
Big Piney/Cokeville 2002, Cokeville 25-12 (Cokeville went on to win state title)
Glenrock/Big Horn 2004, Big Horn 49-6 (Big Horn went on to win state title)
Sundance/Upton 2006, Sundance 17-0
Southeast/Guernsey-Sunrise 2007, Southeast 30-12 and Southeast 28-12 (second meeting in state title game)
Jackson/Kemmerer 2008, Kemmerer 39-0
Kemmerer/Riverside 2008, Kemmerer 51-6
Glenrock/Burns 2009, Glenrock 49-13
Mountain View/Cokeville 2015, Mountain View 18-15

We’ll have to wait until the postseason to figure out if Friday’s Pine Bluffs-Big Horn showdown is a classic in the making or a game that came a year too late.

History aside, we already know the game is important for 2017: Both Big Horn (which moved to 1A 11-man from 2A after last season) and Pine Bluffs enter Friday’s game at 2-0. This meeting is key for playoff seeding and the East Conference championship race.

Even in this moment, though, we can appreciate the relative rarity of aligning circumstance that provides this game’s backdrop, no matter what history’s judgment ultimately is.

+++

Every game in Week 3 has my attention, but some games have my attention more than others:

The best game of a lackluster 4A slate might be Rock Springs visiting Kelly Walsh. Both teams are 2-1 and already jockeying for playoff seeding. …

It’ll be interesting to see if the first meeting between Sheridan and Thunder Basin carries with it the same intensity of an Energy Bowl game between Sheridan and Gillette. Do we have a budding new rivalry, or will the change actually take some of the life out of the Sheridan-Gillette rivalry? …

It’s nice to see the Star Valley-Evanston rivalry back on the schedule. This game will be their 90th meeting, and that much history counts for a lot. …

I think Glenrock has what it takes to knock off Riverton. The Herders, No. 1 in 2A, beat 3A foe Lander with relative ease last week. Riverton’s a step up, and the game is in Fremont County, and it’ll be close, but I like what the Herders are putting together this season. …

The second-best interclass game might be between aforementioned Lander playing 2A Thermopolis. The Bobcats have been much improved, surprising everyone but themselves in the process. They might give the 3A Tigers a fight at LeRoy Hayes Field. …

Don’t be surprised to see Big Piney give Greybull a run for its money. The Punchers almost beat Mountain View last week and should be a confident bunch heading north this week. …

Upton-Sundance is the favorite against Lusk, but the Tigers should feel good about their 2-0 start. They’ve been impressive, especially on defense. We’ll see if they can slow down a Patriot attack that’s rolling early this season, though. …

Also, this will be the first game for the U-S Patriots in Sundance since 2014, as the squad christens the new field (with lights!) in that community. A new elementary school went on top of the old football field, so it only makes sense a new football field would go on top of the old elementary school. …

The showdown between Guernsey-Sunrise and Midwest could be for a home playoff game this year. I’m going with the Vikings, but it’s a really tentative pick, especially with the Oilers at home. …

The hardest game of the week to pick was Hanna-Hulett. I have no idea what to expect. …

Oh yeah. Rawlins-Wind River. How did this game get scheduled again? …

Here are this week’s picks, with the team I think will win in bold and the team I’m ready to have surprise me in regular type:

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

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

I pick every game every week. And I tally how well I do. But you knew that, right?

Last week: 30-3 (91 percent). This season: 69-13 (84 percent).

So who do YOU have as a potential sleeper for Week 3? What game do you think will be the best of the bunch? Leave a comment below and let’s talk September football.

–patrick

Two of the most highly anticipated games of 2017 will be played on Friday.

One matches up the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Class 4A, the other matches up the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in Class 3A.

Can’t get much better than that, can it?

Let’s start in 4A, where Natrona and Sheridan renew their longstanding rivalry with one of their most highly anticipated regular-season games in their long history. In addition to being the top two ranked teams at this point in the season, they’re also reprising their state title game from a year ago when Sheridan beat Natrona 56-28 in Laramie.

Sheridan’s presence in the title game wasn’t a surprise. The Broncs were the defending champs and had been the class of 4A all season in 2016.

Natrona’s was. The Mustangs lost by shutout in their first two games of 2016 — the first time the program had ever been shut out in consecutive games to start a season — but a junior-laden team improved significantly throughout the season and upset Gillette to make it to the title game.

Friday’s game could be a classic. Natrona lost little to graduation and is ready to unseat Sheridan as 4A’s top team. Sheridan lost more to graduation than Natrona did but remains 4A’s two-time defending champ and plenty loaded itself.

In the first four games of the season, Sheridan and Natrona are a combined 4-0, outscoring their foes by a combined 226-13. Yeah, 226-13.

For both teams, this is their first, and maybe biggest, test of 2017.

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Meanwhile, a similar scenario is unfolding in Class 3A, where Torrington makes the 1,000-mile round-trip across the state to Afton to play top-ranked Star Valley.

This will be the first time Star Valley and Torrington have played each other in the regular season. And, boy, did they pick the right year to do so.

The Braves, like Sheridan, are a two-time defending champion. Torrington, however, has been a perennial contender the past few years but has yet to survive the gauntlet of the 3A playoffs to reach a title game.

In 2014, the Trailblazers lost to conference foe Douglas in the semifinals. In 2015, the Braves beat the Trailblazers in Torrington in the semifinals to end their season. And in 2016, Green River came to Torrington and beat the Blazers at home in the quarterfinals.

But Torrington was junior-heavy last year, and only one of the Trailblazers’ seven all-state players graduated. In short, Torrington is loaded this year, and they’re ranked third in 3A (and second in my ballot).

The Trailblazers wasted no time in smoking rival Wheatland 56-6 in Week 1. Star Valley, meanwhile, has beaten a pair of stubborn out-of-state foes in diverse ways: 55-42 against Spring Creek, Nevada, and 28-14 against Preston, Idaho.

Both teams want to prove they’re the team to beat in 3A. And they both want a mental edge against the other, just in case they meet again as expected in Laramie.

Any other week, it would be the biggest game in the state.

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Even though there are 33 games on the schedule this week, a few of them are more intriguing than the others. These are those:

I picked both Buffalo and Worland to lose last week. They both won. Now they’re playing each other. Someone’s going to be 2-0, and whichever team wins on Friday will have established a ton of momentum. …

Thunder Basin-East could be interesting if for no other reason than East has looked much better than I anticipated while Thunder Basin has been a bit slow to warm. Even so, both teams are 2-0, and trying to keep pace with Sheridan and Natrona will be a season-long process. …

Cody-Evanston could be for a playoff spot by the time the 3A West cools down. …

Big Piney looked sharp in beating Wind River last week. Against Mountain View, we’ll see if the Punchers are for real. …

The undercard game of the week could be Newcastle playing in Upton against Upton-Sundance. Or it might be Pinedale (which looked WAY better than I expected in beating Lyman last week) heading to Cokeville. Both games pair 2A schools playing on the road against 1A 11-man schools, and I always like it when the little guys have home-field against the big guys. …

On to this week’s picks, with the teams I anticipate winning noted in bold and the teams I anticipate doing better than I think in non-bold:

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

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

My Week 1 picks went how Week 1 picks typically go — a few more surprises than usual. Nevertheless, I did OK:

Last week: 26-7 (79 percent). This season: 39-10 (80 percent).

Who are the teams you think have a chance to pull off a Week 2 upset? Who are the favorites who are ready to avoid such an upset? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about all the fun this week presents us.

–patrick

Heading into last season’s Class 2A semifinals, the Glenrock-Greybull rivalry was no rivalry at all.

The teams shared little history and no parity. In four previous meetings — two in the regular season, two in the postseason — Glenrock had never lost to Greybull.

Then 2016 came along.

Greybull picked apart Glenrock in the 2A semifinals, winning 26-0 and ending Glenrock’s undefeated season in the process.

For Glenrock, the loss was unexpected. The only other time a Herder squad entered the playoffs unbeaten and failed to reach the state championship game was all the way back in 1949.

Greybull, meanwhile, advanced to its first state championship game in 33 years, losing to Big Horn in the 2A title game.

Eleven days after Glenrock’s loss, schools from across the state met in Casper for the statewide scheduling meeting. With schools now allowed to schedule their own nonconference games, Greybull and Glenrock found their way to each other to schedule a Week 1 rematch of last year’s semifinal showdown.

The game quickly became one of the most highly anticipated nonconference games of the season — and maybe the biggest nonconference game in 2A this year. Greybull and Glenrock both figure to be at the top of 2A again this year, and Friday’s game in Greybull will show us a lot about how both teams figure to fit into the championship race.

In the process, the two schools are developing a nice, new little rivalry, one based on mutual success rather than geographical proximity.

If they meet again in Laramie, don’t be surprised to see them show up on each others’ nonconference schedules again in 2018.

That’s what rivals do.

+++

Here’s the other games that have piqued my curiosity in Week 1:

Cheyenne East-Kelly Walsh is the only 4A game that matches up two teams who won in Zero Week. East piled up a school-record number of points in knocking off Gillette, but KW probably worked harder to beat Laramie. Seeing how that success manifests itself this week will be fun. …

The one week of nonconference play in six-man gives us some interesting matchups, but none more interesting than Guernsey-Sunrise traveling to Farson. In my preseason rankings, I had Farson at No. 2 and Guernsey at No. 3, so expect a good one. …

Staying in six-man, Midwest at Burlington and Snake River at Lingle are potential first-round playoff matchups. It’s nice to see those games on the schedule for Week 1. …

Cokeville playing at Mountain View could be a great game. The Buffalos are one of 2A’s best, and 1A dynamo Cokeville has proven year in and year out it has the ability to play with 2A’s best. …

Kemmerer’s best chance this season to break its losing streak may come at home this week against 1A Saratoga. On paper, the two teams match up similarly in depth and size. What they hey… I think the Rangers get this one. …

On to this week’s picks, where the teams I project to win the scheduled game are indicated with thicker lettering:

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

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

As usual, I’m tallying my success on my picks, mostly so you can make fun of me when I get stuff wrong. Here’s how I did last week, minus a game that ended up being a triangular jamboree:

Last week: 13-3 (81 percent). This season: 13-3 (81 percent).

Most teams in the state donned pads against a different team last week. But most of what happened in Zero Week was for practice’s sake than for the final records’ sake. That changes this week. So who’s ready to pull a season-opening upset? Post a comment and let’s chat about the uncertainty of the start of a new season.

–patrick

Thunder Basin may be on the verge of the best first season for a Wyoming football program in more than half a century.

Then again, it’s not like the competition from other first-year programs has been stiff.

Of the 16 programs who have started or re-started their football programs since 1960, only two finished those first seasons with winning records — NSI in 2000 and Kaycee in 2009. And only five of those 16 finished their seasons with more than one victory. Combined, those 16 programs went 26-90-1 (.226) in their first seasons. From best to worst, those seasons are:

NSI 2000: 6-2
Kaycee 2009: 6-4
Wright 1984: 3-4
Snake River 2009: 3-4
Cheyenne East 1960: 2-6-1
Dubois 1968: 1-4
LaGrange 1961: 1-5
Encampment 1988: 1-5
Rock River 2014: 1-6
Bow-Basin’s first full season, 1973: 1-7
Farson 2009: 1-7
Goshen Hole 1966: 0-5
Wyoming Indian 1972: 0-6
Kelly Walsh 1965: 0-8
St. Stephens 2013: 0-8
Cheyenne South 2011: 0-9

Thunder Basin could top them all.

It might be unfair to heap this much expectation on a startup program. But Thunder Basin shouldn’t be considered a startup. Most of the players on the roster — and most of the coaches, too — were part of Gillette’s 9-2 season last year.

The only thing new about the program is the name. And the stadium. And the uniforms. And the idea that Gillette has to (eventually) split its talent pool in half.

The true startup this year is Gillette. The Camels have had just one losing season since 1997, and even that was 4-5. This year, though, with a new coach hired in mid-July and almost no players with varsity experience, the traditional powerhouse Camels are likely to struggle this fall. Both seasons start Friday, with Gillette traveling to Cheyenne East and Thunder Basin hosting Cheyenne Central.

However, the Camels’ success — not the ‘Bolts’ — will either validate or indict Gillette’s enrollment experiment. The decision to allow incoming seniors and juniors to choose their school may give Thunder Basin unprecedented success in its first season, but that may come at the expense of the Camels’ tradition.

Of course, the 2019 season — when both schools will have a full senior class of students who couldn’t choose their schools — will be the programs’ ultimate validation. Or their ultimate indictment.

Until then, the city of Gillette will have a startup that looks like a traditional power and a traditional power that looks like a startup.

+++

Some other things I’m keeping an eye on this week:

In Star Valley, the defending 3A champs host Spring Creek, Nevada, which finished as the Silver State’s runner-up in its equivalent of 3A last year. On paper, it looks like a great game between two programs who saw a lot of success last season. It also has historic significance: it’s the first game in Wyoming history against a Nevada program. Back in 2012, I calculated Wyoming’s records against out-of-state opponents. Nevada was nowhere on the list. It will be after Friday. …

Rock Springs-Sheridan is an intriguing 4A game. I’m curious to see how the Tigers stack up against last year’s champs. With one of the most experienced lines in 4A, I think a lot of folks are underestimating what Rock Springs could do this fall. …

It’ll be interesting to see how Evanston plays against Riverton in the Red Devils’ 3A debut. Could be a good game in Fremont County. …

When I was talking to coaches for the Wyoming high school football preview magazine (out soon!), the first-year coach who impressed me most was David Joyce, who takes over at Jackson after stints as head coach at several schools in Colorado and Arkansas. He has a history of turning around struggling programs, and he has already done so in a western ski resort town (Vail, Colorado). He’s a great fit for Jackson and if the Broncs buy into what he can teach them, I think they can be contenders again soon. The Joyce era starts Friday against Teton, Idaho, which beat Jackson 40-0 last year. …

The season actually starts today (Aug. 24) with Upton-Sundance going to Lead-Deadwood, S.D. The Aug. 24 date is tied for the earliest start to a season in state history; Wyoming also had Aug. 24 games in 1979, 2001 and 2012. …

+++

On to the picks, which I make by bolding the team I think will win the game:

Thursday
Interstate
Upton-Sundance at Lead-Deadwood, S.D.
Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne Central at Thunder Basin
Cheyenne South at Natrona
Gillette at Cheyenne East
Kelly Walsh at Laramie
Rock Springs at Sheridan
Class 3A
Douglas at Powell
Evanston at Riverton
Interclass
Shoshoni at Greybull
Interstate
Altamont, Utah, at Lyman
Custer, S.D., at Newcastle
Rawlins at Moffat County, Colo.
Spring Creek, Nevada, at Star Valley
Teton, Idaho, at Jackson
Saturday
Class 1A six-man
Meeteetse at Hulett
Interclass
Kemmerer at Cokeville
Saratoga at Laramie JV

The remainder of the Zero Week schedule, including scrimmages and jamborees, includes:
Friday: Glenrock at Pine Bluffs; Mountain View at Green River; Tongue River at Buffalo JV.
Saturday: Big Horn, Moorcroft at Wright; Big Piney, Pinedale at Lander; Buffalo at Lovell; Burns, Lusk, Torrington, Wheatland at Southeast; Farson at Evanston JV; Guernsey-Sunrise, Lingle at Midwest; Riverside, Ten Sleep at Kaycee; Rocky Mountain at Powell; Thermopolis, Wind River, Worland at Cody.

Teams without a game/scrimmage/jamboree this week: Burlington, Dubois, Hanna, Moorcroft, NSI, Rock River, St. Stephens, Snake River, Wyoming Indian.

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

For any folks new to this blog, a reminder: I make picks for fun. When I’m wrong, I own it and enjoy it; upsets are usually more fun than predictability anyway! So if I didn’t pick your favorite team to win, don’t take it personally. High school football is a game, and games are fun.

+++

As usual during Zero Week, here is a reminder of the rules I use to determine whether a Zero Week contest is a game or is something else:

  • 1. Was the game played with four 12-minute quarters with normal timing rules?
  • 2. Were officials used? And were normal rules of play instituted for the game?
  • 3. Was score kept?

If these three criteria are met, I call it a game and record it as such on this site.

+++

Finally, the 2017 season is here! What are you most looking forward to for this season? Leave a comment and let’s talk about the upcoming season, Zero Week or any other fun stuff you want to talk about.

–patrick

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

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