All season long, Class 4A football has had a clear, demonstrable order. Until Friday.
That’s when Rock Springs and Cheyenne Central showed just how interesting the playoffs might become.
Rock Springs rebounded from last week’s demoralizing loss to Kelly Walsh and not only beat Cheyenne East, the Tigers handled the Thunderbirds quite easily. The final score, 27-6, showed just how much the Tigers wanted to (a) make the playoffs, (b) show the rest of 4A they should be taken as a serious contender, and (c) prove last week was an aberration, not a trend. It’s the first time all season a “top six” 4A team (East, Central, Gillette, Sheridan, Natrona, Evanston) has lost to a “bottom four” (Rock Springs, Kelly Walsh, Laramie, South), and in doing so the Tigers Tunguskaed the whole idea of a “top six” and a “bottom four.”
And unsung Cheyenne Central, the team that all season long has been at the bottom of the “top six,” knocked frontrunner Gillette off its tack with a 41-33 victory. The Camels, like Rock Springs, were coming off a rough loss last week, but the Energy Bowl hangover plus the long trip to Cheyenne — as well as an Indian team playing with renewed purpose — proved to be too much for the Camels to overcome. With the playoffs just a couple weeks away, the 4A bracket suddenly looks a lot less predictable.
Third mad props to Lander, which pulled off a big victory at home by knocking off perennial power Buffalo 14-7. The Tigers — who last week were lambasted 45-7 by Douglas — rebounded from that loss in dramatic fashion and beat Buffalo in a low-scoring, hard-fought defensive affair, a game the Bison typically win. With losses to Douglas and Lander, Buffalo’s run of eight consecutive years of hosting a first-round playoff game appears to be over. And it looks like it may be Lander that takes that spot for its own.
Fourth mad props to Burns, which outscored Wheatland 19-0 in the second half to knock off the Bulldogs 36-29. The victory is great for Burns, a team that started the season 0-3 but is now right back in the playoff hunt with three consecutive victories. This is the Burns team we expected to see when the season started. But the loss may be even worse for Wheatland than the victory is important to Burns. After last week’s fourth-quarter collapse against Big Horn, Wheatland has now lost two conference games in a row — and three of four — heading into a crucial game next week against Newcastle. Even a victory against the Dogies might not be enough for Wheatland; even Raquel may not be able to salvage a playoff spot for the Bulldogs. Especially after what happened Friday.
Fifth mad props to Wind River, which kept its playoff hopes alive by beating Burlington 19-13. As I explained earlier this week, every victory is important in the wild, wild 1A West, but this one was especially critical for the Cougars. A loss would have knocked Wind River down to 1-4 in conference play; now, the Cougars are 2-3, tied with Saratoga and Burlington for the fourth and final playoff spot in the west. The Cougars now have to find a way to keep the momentum going as they face their two biggest tests of the season the next two weeks: conference frontrunner Cokeville on the road next week and second-place Riverside at home in Week 8.
Sixth mad props to Pinedale, which picked up its first victory of the season by beating Big Piney 28-20. Obviously, this game was not going to affect the playoff race all that much. Both teams came in winless. But the release and relief the Wranglers gained by beating their cross-county rivals should do a lot for the mentality of the team. The Punchers had beaten the Wranglers in 11 of their past 12 meetings, so to get this victory means a lot to the folks in the northern half of Sublette County — even if it’s the only victory of the season. (By the way, with games against Greybull and Lovell coming up the next two weeks, the Punchers are now staring down the gunbarrel of a winless season. If Big Piney loses those two games, it will be the school’s first winless season since 1969, a 42-year span.)
Saturday edit: Seventh mad props to Kemmerer, which put itself into the thick of the 2A West Conference playoff race by beating Greybull 21-14 on Saturday in Kemmerer. The Rangers had a less-than-impressive resume entering Saturday’s contest, with the team’s lone conference victories coming against winless Big Piney and winless-until-beating-Big Piney-this-week Pinedale and two big losses to Lyman and Thermopolis. Nevertheless, the Rangers are now 3-2 in conference play and can secure a playoff spot in the next two weeks. To do that, though, Kemmerer has to keep the momentum rolling against two of the conference’s better teams: Lovell in Lovell next Friday and Mountain View in Kemmerer to close out the regular season. It’s a tough task, but the Rangers proved Saturday that it’s a task they may just be able to accomplish.
Other stuff I noticed this week:
Buffalo, Kemmerer and Mountain View: The only three teams in the state that have neither won two games in a row nor lost two games in a row. They’ve perfectly alternated wins and losses all season. … Saturday edit: So much for Kemmerer. The Rangers’ win-loss alternating ended with their big victory over Greybull. …
Since losing to Southeast three weeks ago, Lusk has notched three consecutive shutouts. Up next for the Tigers: home dates against Normative Services and Upton to close the regular season. …
I mentioned this early Friday on Twitter, but the fact that two games ended up as 66-6 finals on Friday (both six-man games, Dubois over Hanna and Snake River over Kaycee) was quite unusual. Prior to Friday, the 66-6 final had only been achieved four other times in state history: Powell over Basin in 1940, Wheatland over Newcastle in 1988, Custer/Melstone MT over Meeteetse in 2003 and Midwest over Farson 2010. In addition, Ten Sleep also beat the Riverside JV 66-6 in Zero Week this season. …
I neglected to mention this last week, but I figured better late than never: The Sheridan Broncs’ 38-14 victory over Gillette last week was the 500th victory in Sheridan program history, according to my tallies. The Broncs are just the third program in the state to crack the 500-victory barrier, joining Cheyenne Central and Natrona. Central and Natrona both started the 2011 season with 529 victories. … I also neglected to mention that Sheridan’s 28-0 victory over Rock Springs two weeks ago was coach Don Julian’s 100th career victory as a head coach, spanning his time at both Riverton and Sheridan. Congratulations are (over)due to Don on the achievement.
Here is a quick look at what the playoffs would look like if the season ended today, using current standings and not projections; tiebreakers explained in parentheses:
4A: (8) Laramie at (1) Natrona; (5) Cheyenne East/Evanston at (4) Cheyenne East/Evanston; (6) Cheyenne Central at (3) Gillette; (7) Rock Springs at (2) Sheridan (Rock Springs over Kelly Walsh and Laramie due to win over East; Laramie over KW due to head-to-head win)
3A: (4W) Cody at (1E) Douglas; (3E) Riverton at (2W) Green River; (3W) Powell at (2E) Lander; (4E) Buffalo at (1W) Star Valley (Buffalo over Torrington due to win over Riverton; Star Valley over Green River due to win over Powell)
2A: (4W) Greybull at (1E) Glenrock; (3E) Newcastle at (2W) Lyman; (3W) Kemmerer at (2E) Big Horn; (4E) Burns at (1W) Lovell (Big Horn over Newcastle due to win over Wheatland; Kemmerer over Greybull due to head-to-head win)
1A 11-man: (4W) Wind River at (1E) Southeast; (3E) Pine Bluffs at (2W) Riverside; (3W) Shoshoni at (2E) Lusk; (4E) Lingle at (1W) Cokeville (Wind River over Burlington and Saratoga due to win over Rocky Mountain)
1A six-man: (4S) Hanna at (1N) Dubois; (3N) Kaycee/Ten Sleep at (2S) Snake River; (3S) Farson at (2N) Kaycee/Ten Sleep; (4N) Hulett/Meeteetse at (1S) Midwest (Midwest over Snake River due to win over Farson)
Obviously, these seedings aren’t final and games in weeks 7-8 will prove to be critical for both qualifying and seeding. At this point, no team has cemented its seed yet, although some teams have already qualified.
There were some huge games this week — games we knew would be huge when we saw them on the schedule and games that turned out to be huge because of who won unexpectedly. What was it about this week that was so surprising, amazing or fantastic to you? Post your thoughts below.
This week: 24-7 (77 percent) (not including Saturday’s four games). This season: 166-41 (80 percent).