Unlimited money. Unlimited time. A schedule full of Wyoming high school football games.

Two of these, I don’t have.

But if I had all three, and I could spend my Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays parading around the state catching as many of the best games in the state as I could, I’d need a plan.

This is that plan — the games I would watch if I had the time and money to spend the fall the best way I know how.

Week 0: Rock Springs at Sheridan, 6 p.m. Friday; Natrona JV at Lovell, 2 p.m. Saturday. Call this one the week of introductions. With this swing up northern Wyoming, I’m able to see new Rock Springs coach Mark Lenhardt in his 4A debut against the perennially tough Broncs. Then a quick trip over the Bighorn Mountains will give me a chance to see new Lovell coach Nicc Crosby in his debut with the Bulldogs.

Week 1: Riverton JV at Kemmerer, 7 p.m. Thursday; Pinedale at Lyman, 1 p.m. Friday; Laramie at Rock Springs, 6 p.m. Friday; Guernsey-Sunrise at Farson, 1 p.m. Saturday. Southwestern Wyoming has a ton of great games on the docket in Week 1, and I didn’t even get to what might be the best one (Cokeville-Mountain View, inconveniently scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday). I like seeing a Week 1 conference game with Pinedale-Lyman, and I’d be curious to see how Farson stacks up as it starts its title defense.

Week 2: Lingle at NSI, 1 p.m. Friday; Natrona at Sheridan, 7 p.m. Friday; Midwest at Hanna, 2 p.m. Saturday. The Mustangs-Broncs 4A title game rematch is the clear winner on the schedule for Week 2. Before and after, I’d sneak in a pair of six-man games, even though the jaunt from Sheridan to Hanna isn’t a short one.

Week 3: Riverton JV at Shoshoni, 6 p.m. Thursday; St. Stephens at Burlington, 2 p.m. Friday; Douglas at Powell, 6 p.m. Friday; Ten Sleep at Riverside, 2 p.m. Saturday. I’d be curious to see how Douglas looks… and Powell, too, for that matter. Seeing them together is a great option. Around that are a bunch of interesting games that make for easy travel.

Week 4: Natrona JV at Rocky Mountain, 5 p.m. Thursday; Meeteetse at Burlington, 2 p.m. Friday; Jackson at Cody, 6 p.m. Friday; Dubois at Ten Sleep, 2 p.m. Saturday. The Northwest corner gets two straight weeks of attention because, well, that Jackson-Cody game is the most intriguing game on the 3A schedule this year. Everything else is just gravy.

Week 5: Hulett at Kaycee, 2 p.m. Friday; Natrona at Thunder Basin, 7 p.m. Friday. Scenarios exist where I could catch more games, but there’s no way I’d miss Natrona-Thunder Basin, which could be the biggest 4A game of the season.

Week 6: Mountain View at Lyman, 1 p.m. Friday; Jackson at Star Valley, 6 p.m. Friday; Farson at Snake River, 2 p.m. Saturday. Mountain View-Lyman is always good; Jackson-Star Valley could be the most intense 3A game of the year; Farson-Snake River has playoff implications all over it. The drive from Afton to Baggs is a long one, but it’ll be worth it here.

Week 7: Star Valley JV at Cokeville, 4 p.m. Thursday; Riverside at St. Stephens, 2 p.m. Friday; Rocky Mountain at Wind River, 6 p.m. Friday; Hanna at Kaycee, noon Saturday. The Rocky Mountain-Wind River rivalry has taken on a new dynamic now that they play each other twice a year, and it’d be fun to see that play out. And the Hanna-Kaycee game on Saturday could be a fun one in the six-man East Conference.

Week 8: NSI at Kaycee, 1 p.m. Friday; Cheyenne East at Sheridan, 6 p.m. Friday; Lingle at Hulett, 1 p.m. Saturday. The Northeast corner gets some love this week, as the East-Sheridan game is always good and the others are six-man afternoon showdowns that could be just as fun.

What game is your can’t-miss game of the year? Leave a comment below and let’s hash out our road trip plans.

–patrick

As always, Phil Steele’s annual college football preview magazine is a source of inspiration for looking at football, and football stats, in new ways.

Last year, I broke down the Yards Per Point stat that’s highlighted in the Phil Steele preview. This year, though, I wanted to look at something else — the yards per game differential in conference games.

Using last year’s final stats, I broke out the game-by-game statistics and looked at how the yards gained compared to the yards allowed in conference games — and then simply subtracted to find the difference.

Of course, yards aren’t the be-all, end-all statistic to track team strength. No stat is, really, although the closest is obviously a team’s win-loss record. But even wins and losses can sometimes be deceiving, so breaking out yards as a measure of a team’s relative strength can be useful to identify teams that either under- or over-performed based on what we might expect based on how many yards a team gained and gave up.

When I applied this measure to the 2018 Wyoming high school football season, some interesting revelations emerged:

  • Class 2A champ Buffalo was fourth in its own conference in yardage difference.
  • Class 3A Jackson obliterated the rest of the West Conference in yards gained, yet Star Valley went unbeaten in conference play and won the 3A title.
  • There’s a huge gulf between the top and bottom teams in the 1A 11-man East.
  • The teams that went winless in conference play (Gillette, Riverton, Powell, Newcastle, Lovell and Southeast) all finished last in their respective conferences in YPG differential.

Of course, one of the big things you can try to do with this data is compare it to conference standings and compare differences. Teams that finish higher in the conference standings but lower in YPG might have been more fortunate, or won more close games, or won the turnover battle — things that may not carry over to next season. The teams with the biggest differences were Laramie (fifth in 4A, but eighth in YPG) and previously mentioned Buffalo. Two other teams that might have been more “fortunate” in their win-loss records than the YPG would suggest were Big Piney (finished tied for second in the conference standings but was fifth in YPG) and Lander (finished third in the conference but fifth in YPG).

The team that was the least “fortunate” in its win-loss record may have been Thermopolis. The Bobcats finished fourth in the 2A East but were second in YPG differential.

The full YPG stats for conference play are below. (For Class 4A, total yards in all games, regular season and playoff, are included. No stats are included for Class 1A six-man, where per-game stat-keeping is inconsistent, as well as for Wyoming Indian, which played only one conference game.) And if you need a reminder of how the conference standings actually came together last year, click here.

Class 4AOff YPGDef YPGDifference
Natrona410.2206.4203.8
Thunder Basin403.3212.3191.0
Sheridan318.8242.476.4
Cheyenne East341.0323.917.1
Kelly Walsh308.6346.3-37.7
Cheyenne Central272.2316.7-44.5
Rock Springs224.6272.1-47.5
Laramie225.3302.4-77.1
Cheyenne South223.1378.8-155.7
Gillette147.2389.8-242.6
Class 3A EastOff YPGDef YPGDifference
Torrington448.8190.4258.4
Douglas361.6261.899.8
Worland262.2299.4-37.2
Rawlins220.0313.2-93.2
Lander238.0348.4-110.4
Riverton245.6363.0-117.4
Class 3A WestOff YPGDef YPGDifference
Jackson397.6234.8162.8
Star Valley323.0277.445.6
Cody278.4300.6-22.2
Evanston313.8353.6-39.8
Green River249.8299.8-50.0
Powell197.8294.2-96.4
Class 2A EastOff YPGDef YPGDifference
Glenrock417.5170.0247.5
Thermopolis374.8229.5145.3
Wheatland358.2217.2141.0
Buffalo320.3260.360.0
Burns296.3377.5-81.2
Moorcroft198.8332.0-133.2
Newcastle172.7431.2-258.5
Class 2A WestOff YPGDef YPGDifference
Mountain View324.5165.2159.3
Greybull330.5248.881.7
Kemmerer211.2210.50.7
Pinedale245.0263.7-18.7
Big Piney231.3257.4-26.1
Lyman223.6250.0-26.4
Lovell163.2326.7-163.5
Class 1A 11-man EastOff YPGDef YPGDifference
Big Horn434.8194.0240.8
Pine Bluffs313.7189.0124.7
Upton-Sundance411.5290.8120.7
Lusk236.8330.7-93.8
Tongue River199.7303.2-103.5
Wright212.0328.8-116.8
Southeast193.6364.8-171.2
Class 1A 11-man WestOff YPGDef YPGDifference
Cokeville314.3153.3161.0
Wind River218.3223.7-5.3
Shoshoni307.0326.3-19.3
Rocky Mountain147.0283.3-136.3

Note: Big Piney and Lyman totals do not include yards that Lyman’s offense gained against Big Piney. Similarly, Pine Bluffs and Southeast totals do not include yards that Southeast’s offense gained against Pine Bluffs. Those totals were not available in the end-of-year season statistics.

So… whose win-loss record in conference play doesn’t match their yardage difference? What might that say about who’s ready for a breakthrough in 2019? Leave a comment, or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

–patrick

It’s pretty easy to figure out which players are among Wyoming’s top returners this year.

Take a look at last year’s all-conference, all-state and Super 25 listings, and just remove the seniors.

Or (shameless plug alert) read the upcoming annual Wyoming high school football preview magazine, which I wrote again this year with previews on every team in the state and will be out in mid- to late August.

Rarely, if ever, do typical season previews and postseason recognition lists indicate the number of the player’s jersey. However, that’s the most common way for fans to figure out who’s who on the field.

So what if we put together a team of returning players and chose the best players based on the number of their jerseys — choosing only one player per number?

Let’s do this for Wyoming high school football’s 2019 returners.

I’m certainly not the first to do this. The specific inspiration for this post, though, came from one of my former students, Sam Herder, who’s doing something similar for players at the FCS level of college football for HeroSports.

The problem with taking something that’s normally reserved for the NFL or college teams and applying it to Wyoming high schools is that, um… how to put it politely?… not every number has a bunch of good players from which to choose.

One of the things that became readily apparent during the production of this list was that Wyoming high schools rarely use numbers in the 90s. In fact, using last year’s final stats as my starting point, I couldn’t find a single returning player in the entire state at any level who wore number 91, 92, 94, 95, 96, 97 or 98 last year.

Similarly, I couldn’t find a returner who wore 46 or 59, either. A few numbers had only one returner in the state (and, no, I won’t tell you which ones, because I don’t want to embarrass anyone who’s listed below). On the flipside, some numbers — like 1, 2, 5 and 12, among others — were overloaded with talented players who would have easily made this list if they had worn a less-common number.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that any of these returning players will wear the same number this year that they did last year. And there’s a chance that the players listed here may not go out, or may have moved or transferred since the end of last season.

The list here is subjective; it’s my opinion, and I made it for fun. Hopefully, you have fun with it too… and I’m more than happy if you disagree with me. ūüôā

Anyway, here’s Wyoming’s top returning high school football players for 2019 by jersey number:

NumberNameSchool
1Mason HamiltonThunder Basin
2Dax YeradiWright
3Kirby CastagnoJackson
4Chance AumillerCheyenne East
5Garrett CoonSheridan
6Peter GoettlerJackson
7Hunter HaysCody
8Rowen RubyBuffalo
9Andrew JohnsonCheyenne Central
10A.J. YeamanDouglas
11Dawson MaclearyCheyenne Central
12Quinn McCaffertyBig Horn
13Graedyn BuellCheyenne East
14Todd PaisleyWheatland
15Kaden RazaBig Piney
16Seth HymasRock Springs
17Riggen MyersSnake River
18Tristan BlattCody
19Kimball MadsenMountain View
20Devon MercadoWorland
21R.J. CazierStar Valley
22A.J. McCoolJackson
23Favor OkereRock Springs
24Jhett LetellierHulett
25Wyatt DuncanSnake River
26Jeydon CoxJackson
27Hunter KramerGillette
28Jaxon PikulaThunder Basin
29Emory YoosookKelly Walsh
30Rowdy PfeilMoorcroft
31Austin SansoucieMidwest
32David CastilloStar Valley
33Dante WallaceNatrona
34Hyrum HatchBuffalo
35Caden WerbelowRiverton
36Josiah DiversSt. Stephens
37McCaffrey BillingsBig Horn
38Eli DickeyThermopolis
39Carson OlsenPowell
40Drake LampLusk
41James StoneLusk
42Damien MolzahnLusk
43Bryson DavisEvanston
44Logan ColeThermopolis
45Jeremy HarttGuernsey-Sunrise
46No returners identified
47Bryston Jennings*Glenrock
48Luke MullinaxBig Horn
49Nick TalichCody
50Hunter GrossMountain View
51Anthony GravesBuffalo
52Gavin ThomasKelly Walsh
53Cody PinkertonDouglas
54Hansen BradshawLyman
55Nathan SwanstonBuffalo
56Keith ConnorCody
57Riley ShafferThermopolis
58Parker MerrittStar Valley
59No returners identified
60Nate BarnesCokeville
61Brandon Mortenson*Rock Springs
62Brendan Miller*Kemmerer
63Colter Collver*Wind River
64Mitch MillerBurns
65Remington FerreeThermopolis
66Garrett KingCokeville
67Edel Diaz-JaimeDouglas
68Tyler SchaubTorrington
69Parker SchlaterMoorcroft
70Kie FosterRawlins
71Zane TaylorRiverton
72Cam ThomasBig Piney
73Jasper CalderaLusk
74Jeff WilliamsCody
75Corbin HarrisTorrington
76Hunter MeeksMountain View
77Hunter PopeBuffalo
78Jacob KnoblochTongue River
79Reid FosterDouglas
80Brady StoreboCheyenne Central
81Zion GrahamKelly Walsh
82Tyler MoyesCokeville
83Tyson ChristiansenRocky Mountain
84Chase MerrellStar Valley
85Kaden ReddingMeeteetse
86Jaret TaylorCheyenne East
87Johnathon TrueNatrona
88Mason MastellerThunder Basin
89Kaden GautenbeinRiverton
90Hunter BaileyHulett
91No returners identified
92No returners identified
93Garrett OswaldCheyenne East
94No returners identified
95No returners identified
96No returners identified
97No returners identified
98No returners identified
99Rhiley Grubbs*Torrington

*-Jennings wore both 47 and 64 last year; Mortenson wore both 61 and 63 last year; Miller wore both 62 and 77 last year; Collver wore both 63 and 40 last year; Grubbs wore both 55 and 99 last year.

If you have suggestions for folks I should have put in each spot, leave a comment, or consider hitting me up on Twitter or Facebook.

–patrick

To break three-way ties in conference play in 2019, the Wyoming High School Activities Association will use a new step in its tiebreaking procedures, one that incorporates scoring differential in games against the tied teams.

On paper, it’s a small change, one that’s deep down in the WHSAA’s tiebreaking procedures, just a step ahead of flipping a coin.

However, if we retroactively apply the new tiebreaking procedures to past three-way ties, some interesting results emerge.

+++

PREVIOUS PROCEDURES

Before we dive into that, it’s important to understand that the top two elements of Wyoming’s high school football tiebreaking procedures have remained unchanged for more than a decade.

Since 2009, when power ratings were fully eliminated from playoff seeding, the first two steps of the three-way tiebreaking procedure have been (1) head-to-head results of the tied teams, and (2) records of the tied teams against the highest-ranking non-tied team.

After that, though, the tiebreaking procedures have seen multiple iterations — including the new one to be introduced in 2019.

  • In 2010, after the first two steps, tiebreaker steps included (3) overall record; (4) highest winning percentage in road conference games; (5) triangular playoff; (6) coin flip.
  • From 2011-15, steps after the first two were simplified to include just these: (3) triangular playoff; (4) coin flip (skip 3 if qualifying isn’t involved).
  • From 2016-18, triangulars were eliminated, and the third step was the only step after the first two: (3) coin flip.

In 2019, though, after years of stripping away options, the WHSAA is adding one to its procedures. Starting this season, the third step will be point differential among the tied teams in games between those teams (capped at 12 points per game). After that, the coin flip is the last option.

Although other states have used a similar tiebreaker, Wyoming has never used point differential as a tiebreaker for conference standings.

But what if the Equality State had decided to do this a decade ago?

What if we applied the tiebreaking rules to be used this year to break three-way ties in past seasons? Would the results be any different? Would different teams qualify for the playoffs?

That’s what we’re about to explore here.

+++

THREE-WAY TIES, EXPLORED

Since 2009, Wyoming high school football has had 29 three-way conference ties that affected seeding or playoff qualifying.

Of those 29 ties, the new tiebreaker rules come into play in 24 cases — the other five were broken by one of the first two tiebreaker criteria, either the head-to-head tiebreaker or the record vs. higher teams in the conference tiebreaker.

However, in 17 of the remaining 24 cases, the playoff seedings would have been different with a point differential tiebreaker than whatever the previous tiebreaker created. And in six *and maybe seven* cases, the teams that would have qualified for the playoffs under the new tiebreaker rules were different from those who actually did qualify under old tiebreaker rules.

Let’s break down each one of these seven ties, looking at who would qualify for the playoffs with the new tiebreaking system and comparing it to who qualified under the systems in place at the time:

2018 1A 11-man East
Who would have qualified: Lusk
Who actually qualified: Wright
The most recent of the ties that would be settled differently happened last year, where Wright, Lusk and Tongue River tied for the final playoff spot out of the 1A 11-man East Conference. Last year, Wright won a coin flip to earn that last spot; if the exact same tie happened this year, Lusk would qualify for the playoffs with scoring differentials of Lusk +5, Wright +1 and Tongue River -6.

2014 1A 11-man West
Who would have qualified: Burlington
Who actually qualified: Riverside
In this case, Riverside, Burlington and Wind River all tied for the fourth and final playoff spot out of the West. In 2014, they played a triangular playoff for that spot, with Riverside topping Wind River after Burlington withdrew from the triangular altogether. Using a score differential system for the final spot, though, Burlington would have actually earned the last spot (Burlington +8, Riverside 0, Wind River -8).

2013 1A 11-man West
Who would have qualified: Shoshoni
Who actually qualified: Riverside
This season, Burlington, Riverside and Shoshoni all tied for the final two postseason spots. In real life, Burlington earned the third seed by winning a triangular playoff, and Riverside earned the fourth seed after that by virtue of a head-to-head regular-season win. Using a scoring differential, though, would have given Shoshoni the third spot, Burlington the fourth spot and Riverside a spot on the sidelines (Shoshoni +6, Burlington 0, Riverside -6).

2011 2A West
Who would have qualified: Greybull
Who actually qualified: Kemmerer
Thermopolis, Kemmerer and Greybull tied for the final two spots, and in a triangular playoff, Thermopolis emerged with the No. 3 seed and Kemmerer the No. 4 seed. With a scoring differential tiebreaker, though, Greybull would have been third, Thermopolis fourth and Kemmerer out (Greybull +5, Thermopolis 0, Kemmerer -5).

2011 1A 11-man East
Who would have qualified: Pine Bluffs
Who actually qualified: Lingle
This is perhaps the most famous failure of a tiebreaking system to actually break a tie. Lingle, Pine Bluffs and Sundance tied for the final two seeds from the East. After none of the tiebreakers worked, the teams staged a triangular playoff. After the triangular playoff, though, the teams were still tied. So they flipped coins in the parking lot, and Sundance finished third, Lingle fourth and Pine Bluffs out. However, using a scoring differential system, Pine Bluffs would have been third, Sundance fourth and Lingle out (Pine Bluffs +9, Sundance -3, Lingle -6). (By the way, after the 2011 season, the WHSAA added an overtime system to triangular tiebreaker playoffs in case this ever happened again. It didn’t.)

2010 2A East
Who would have qualified: Wright
Who actually qualified: Newcastle
In this case, Newcastle, Burns and Wright tied for two playoff spots out of the East. Newcastle finished third, Burns fourth and Wright out by virtue of a tiebreaker system that was in its last year — one where the “team with the highest winning percentage of away league games” is the highest seed. In this case, Newcastle’s 2-1 road league record beat Burns’ 2-2 and Wright’s 2-2 to earn the third seed, and Burns’ head-to-head victory over Wright got them the fourth seed. In a score differential system, though, Burns would have finished in the third seed, Wright the fourth seed and Newcastle out (Burns +3, Wright 0, Newcastle -3).

BONUS: 2009 1A 11-man West
Who would have qualified: ???
Who actually qualified: Rocky Mountain and Riverside
In 2009, Rocky Mountain, Riverside and Burlington finished tied for the final two playoff seeds. At the time, one of the tiebreakers was overall record. Burlington’s 4-4 was worse than Rocky’s and Riverside’s duplicate 5-3 marks, bumping them out of the playoffs, and Rocky’s victory against Riverside decided who got the third seed and who got the fourth. However, in a scoring differential system, it’s impossible to know how qualifying would go — the scoring differential for all three teams was 0, as each game between these three programs was decided by more than 12 points. In a case like this, were it to happen again in 2019, the spots would be decided by a coin flip.

+++

In 11 other cases, new tiebreaking procedures in place for 2019 would have generated different seeding than what we saw using old tiebreakers. These changes often affected who was at home and who was on the road for the first round of the playoffs and matchups in the first round. Those ties included:

2018 1A 11-man West
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker
: Wind River 2, Rocky Mountain 3, Shoshoni 4
How seeds actually went: Shoshoni 2, Rocky Mountain 3, Wind River 4

2017 3A East
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker
: Rawlins 2, Buffalo 3, Douglas 4
How seeds actually went: Buffalo 2, Douglas 3, Rawlins 4

2017 1A six-man West
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker: Burlington 1, Snake River 2, Farson 3
How seeds actually went: Farson 1, Burlington 2, Snake River 3

2016 3A West
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker: Star Valley 1, Green River 2, Powell 3
How seeds actually went: Powell 1, Star Valley 2, Green River 3

2016 1A 11-man West
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker: Rocky Mountain 1, Cokeville 2, Shoshoni 3
How seeds actually went: Shoshoni 1, Rocky Mountain 2, Cokeville 3

2016 1A six-man West
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker: Burlington 2, Snake River 3, Meeteetse 4
How seeds actually went: Meeteetse 2, Snake River 3, Burlington 4

2015 1A 11-man West
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker: Rocky Mountain 2, Riverside 3, Cokeville 4
How seeds actually went: Cokeville 2, Rocky Mountain 3, Riverside 4

2014 4A
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker: Sheridan 2, Cheyenne East 3, Gillette 4
How seeds actually went: Cheyenne East 2, Gillette 3, Sheridan 4

2010 2A West
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker: Greybull 1, Lovell 2, Lyman 3
How seeds actually went: Lovell 1, Greybull 2, Lyman 3

2010 1A six-man
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker: Kaycee 2, Ten Sleep 3, Hanna 4
How seeds actually went: Hanna 2, Ten Sleep 3, Kaycee 4

2009 3A West
How seeds would be under new tiebreaker: Worland 1, Star Valley 2, Cody 3
How seeds actually went: Cody 1, Worland 2, Star Valley 3

+++

Six three-way ties unaffected by the new tiebreaking procedures include:

2017 1A six-man East: Hanna, Midwest, Guernsey. Goes to coin flip, even with new tiebreaker.
2016 3A East: Lander, Rawlins, Buffalo. Lander won the coin flip in real life and would have won on scoring differential.
2015 4A: Kelly Walsh, Evanston, Laramie. Goes to coin flip, even with new tiebreaker.
2015 3A East: Buffalo, Douglas, Riverton. Goes to coin flip, even with new tiebreaker.
2015 2A East: Wheatland, Glenrock, Big Horn. Goes to coin flip, even with new tiebreaker.
2010 2A West: Big Piney, Mountain View, Pinedale. Big Piney won the overall record tiebreaker in real life and would have won on scoring differential.

And three-way ties that wouldn’t even reach the scoring differential tiebreaker, whether tied in the past or tied in 2019, are:

2018 4A: Cheyenne Central, Kelly Walsh, Rock Springs. Rock Springs beat both head-to-head.
2016 4A: Natrona, Laramie, Cheyenne East. Natrona beat both head-to-head.
2013 1A six-man East: Hulett, Kaycee, Saratoga. Hulett beat the highest-ranking non-tied team.
2011 4A: Cheyenne Central, Cheyenne East, Evanston. East beat both head-to-head.
2010 4A: Gillette, Evanston, Sheridan. Sheridan beat the highest-ranking non-tied team.

+++

The WHSAA also includes language in its handbook about breaking a four-way tie. A four-way tie break would not include scoring differential. However, the WHSAA handbook does not have any language about breaking a five-way tie, or breaking a tie involving more than five teams.

A four-way, five-way or more-way tie in football conference standings has never happened in Wyoming. Yet.

–patrick

Torrington will enter the 2019 season having had back-to-back losses in the Class 3A championship game the past two seasons.

So, naturally, the Trailblazers should be an early favorite for the 3A title, ready to avenge the past two seasons of near-titles.

Right?

Ah, if only it were that simple.

In all, 45 Wyoming high school football teams have lost two championship games in a row. Of those, only six won the title the next year — and two of those instances came in 2018.

So the long-term history is against Torrington, but the fact that this feat was pulled off twice last season is a pretty amazing statistic.

The teams that won championships after back-to-back title-game losses were Natrona and Farson in 2018, Cheyenne East in 2007, Star Valley in 1992, Evanston in 1985 and Hanna in 1952.

In fact, it’s more likely that a team won’t qualify for the playoffs at all than win a title after two consecutive championship losses. That’s happened 13 times, compared to the six title winners. And it’s almost twice as likely that teams who reach the title game again after two consecutive title-game losses will lose on their third try — that’s happened to 11 of the 17 teams who made it back to the championship game for a third chance.

The most heart-wrenching of these instances actually comes from Torrington itself. The Trailblazers had six consecutive runner-up finishes in Class A from 1953 to 1958. Losses in the 1953, 1954, 1955 and 1956 title games were all to Worland; Torrington lost to Powell in 1957’s title game and Cody in 1958.

Losing six consecutive title games is unprecedented in Wyoming. Only one other program in the state — Mountain View from 1999-2002 — has had even four consecutive runner-up finishes.

Here’s a breakdown of the programs who have lost two consecutive title games and how they did in the season immediately after their second title-game loss, with the teams that won titles in bold:

Torrington 2019: ??????
Natrona 2018: Champs
Farson 2018: Champs
Tongue River 2017: Did not qualify for playoffs
Gillette 2016: Semifinals
Douglas 2015: Quarterfinals
Lusk 2015: Did not qualify for playoffs
Lusk 2014: Runners-up again
Buffalo 2009: Semifinals
Big Horn 2009: Quarterfinals
Cheyenne East 2007: Champs
Gillette 2004: Quarterfinals
Gillette 2003: Runners-up again
Star Valley 2003: Semifinals
Mountain View 2003: Semifinals
Mountain View 2002: Runners-up again
Mountain View 2001: Runners-up again
Pinedale 2000: Quarterfinals
Star Valley 1999: Did not qualify for playoffs
Upton 1999: Did not qualify for playoffs
Sheridan 1998: Semifinals
Thermopolis 1998: Semifinals
Lusk 1998: Semifinals
Lusk 1997: Runners-up again
Lander 1996: Did not qualify for playoffs
Lander 1995: Runners-up again
Hulett 1995: Quarterfinals
Buffalo 1994: Quarterfinals
Hulett 1994: Runners-up again
Gillette 1993: Quarterfinals
Star Valley 1992: Champs
Lovell 1992: Quarterfinals
Upton 1989: Did not qualify for playoffs
Cody 1986: Did not qualify for title game
Evanston 1985: Champs
Midwest 1985: Did not qualify for playoffs
Rock Springs 1982: Did not qualify for title game
Riverton 1974: Did not qualify for title game
Worland 1970: Did not qualify for title game
Torrington 1959: Did not qualify for playoffs
Torrington 1958: Runners-up again
Kemmerer 1958: Did not qualify for playoffs
Torrington 1957: Runners-up again
Torrington 1956: Runners-up again
Torrington 1955: Runners-up again
Hanna 1952: Champs

–patrick

Inspired by a¬†previous post outlining the highest-scoring and lowest-scoring playoff teams,¬†this post will look at the opposite — Wyoming high school football teams that won titles with historic defensive efforts or lackluster playoff defense.

Here are the teams that have allowed the fewest points in a three-game title run since the eight-team bracket came into play in 1990, with the number of points allowed per game (quarters, semis, championship) in parentheses:

0 points: Kemmerer (0, 0, 0), 3A 2007 … Wind River (0, 0, 0), 1A DII 1997
2 points: Southeast (0, 2, 0), 1A 2008
6 points: Lusk (6, 0, 0), 2A 2002 … Sundance (0, 6, 0), 2A 2005
7 points: Gillette (0, 0, 7), 4A 2000
8 points: Cokeville (0, 8, 0), 1A 2002 … Glenrock (8, 0, 0), 3A 2008
9 points: Upton (0, 3, 6), 1A 2005
10 points: Natrona (0, 7, 3), 5A 2003
12 points: Glenrock (0, 6, 6), 3A 2003 … Glenrock (0, 12, 0), 3A 2002 … Torrington (6, 0, 6), 3A 1990
13 points: Cokeville (0, 7, 6), 1A 11-man 2014 … Cokeville (0, 7, 6), 1A 11-man 2010 …¬†Cokeville (0, 13, 0), 1A DII 1995 …¬†Lusk (6, 0, 7), 1A DI 2000 …¬†Natrona (0, 13, 0), 4A 1996 …¬†Powell (0, 3, 10), 3A 2012 …¬†Southeast (0, 6, 7), 2A 2001 … Thermopolis (0, 0, 13), 2A 1992 …¬†Worland (0, 0, 13), 4A 2003 …¬†Worland (7, 6, 0), 4A 2001 …¬†Mountain View (14, 0, 0), 2A 1995 …¬†Natrona (7, 0, 7), 4A 2012 …¬†Wheatland (6, 0, 8), 2A 2015

A handful of teams have also won state titles without giving up a single point in a two-game/four-team playoff bracket. Those teams are:

Star Valley, 3A 1996
Midwest, 1A nine-man 1991
Cheyenne Central, 4A 1989
Cokeville, 1A 1988
Lusk, B 1981
Star Valley, A 1961
Sheridan, all-class 1938
Sheridan, all-class 1936

+++

Conversely, the most points given up in a championship playoff run was set by a squad that had little competition for the top spot. Star Valley’s 2016 3A championship team allowed 79 points during its title run, giving up 27 points to Riverton in a 35-27 quarterfinal win, 42 points to Douglas in a 61-42 semifinal shootout and 10 points to Powell in a 27-10 championship-game victory.

Star Valley’s 79 points allowed was 21 points more than any other 11-man championship squad. The 11-man teams that allowed more than 50 points in their championship runs included 10 squads:

79 points: Star Valley (27, 42, 10), 3A 2016
58 points: Cheyenne East (10, 34, 14), 5A 2007
55 points: Star Valley (13, 27, 15), 3A 2015 … Big Horn (14, 19, 22), 2A 2013 … Sheridan (12, 29, 14), 4A 2011 … Big Piney (8, 33, 14), 3A 2001 … Big Piney (7, 20, 28), 2A 2000
54 points: Cheyenne Central (20, 20, 14), 5A 2005 … Rocky Mountain (12, 22, 20), 1A DI 1997
51 points: Sheridan (17, 6, 28), 4A 2016

The most points given up in a two-game bracket is 41 (14, 27), allowed by Riverton in 1994 on its way to the 3A title.

–patrick

It’s way too early for this. That’s never stopped us before. Let’s take a look at 2019’s top five teams in each class, way too early before it’s practical to do so:

Class 4A
1. Thunder Basin: The state’s most dynamic offensive duo will likely be on Gillette’s south side in 2019, with quarterback Mason Hamilton (4A’s top passer last year) and wideout Blaine Allen (4A’s top receiver last year) ready to lead the ‘Bolts to unprecedented heights in 2019. The lines lost several key players, though.
2. Natrona: Running back Dante Wallace highlights a senior class that’s done a lot of winning, including last year’s state title. The Mustangs will be tough to stop with a balanced group of players coming back.
3. Cheyenne East: Class 4A’s most diverse offense in 2019 may belong to the Thunderbirds. Between seniors Christian Anderton and Chance Aumiller and junior Graedyn Buell, East will present troubles for any opposing defense.
4. Sheridan: The Broncs only return one all-state player, senior Garrett Coon, but few programs rebuild as efficiently as Sheridan does. Count on Sheridan being in the championship chase again.
5. Cheyenne Central: New coach Mike Apodaca took some lumps in his first year at Central, but the Indians showed great potential at times. With three returning all-conference players, the Indians return a solid chunk of contributors that could make Central a threat.
Dark horse: Laramie. The Plainsmen were a solid five seed in 4A last year but need to replace a good group of seniors. If that happens as efficiently as coach Clint Reed hopes, Laramie could be a challenger again.

Class 3A
1. Star Valley: By accident or by design, the Braves’ juniors got a ton of experience last year. Five all-state players will be back this fall, including Super 25 pick Chase Merrell and three starting linemen. That will put Star Valley in perfect position to repeat.
2. Cody: The Broncs get back four all-state selections, second only to Star Valley, as well as six total all-conference picks. RB Charlie Beaudrie will be tough to stop, and lineman Keith Conner was a Super 25 pick.
3. Jackson: Jeydon Cox — who broke the 2,000-yard barrier last season — will probably be the most exciting running back in the state next year. But he can’t do it alone. The Broncs lose a big chunk of contributors but should have enough back to prove last year was no fluke.
4. Douglas: I like what the Bearcats have coming back next fall, and it starts with an experienced all-state quarterback in A.J. Yeaman. There are some other holes to fill, but the Bearcats should be competitive.
5. Torrington: The Trailblazers lost a huge senior class, so staying in the title hunt will be challenging. However, they do return a pair of all-conference linemen in seniors Corbin Harris and Tyler Schaub, and that’s a good place to start.
Dark horse: Lander. In a sentence: Don’t discount coach John Scott’s ability to quickly build a competitive program.

Class 2A
1. Mountain View: Almost all of the Buffalos’ key contributors are back in 2019. This includes four two-time all-state choices (Briggin Bluemel, Hunter Gross, Kimball Madsen and Braeden Walk). No team in 2A can match that.
2. Buffalo: The defending 2A champs aren’t going anywhere. The Bison have five returning all-state choices, tied with Mountain View for the most in the class — and those returners aren’t concentrated in any one specific area.
3. Thermopolis: After a couple years of building, the Bobcats may be ready for a breakthrough in 2019. Junior Logan Cole has proven to be a dependable running back, and he’s got a good number of key contributors surrounding him.
4. Greybull: At a glance, the 2A West seems like it doesn’t have the depth it did in 2018. However, the Buffaloes should remain competitive, with all-conference picks Ben Kraft and Felipe Gaytan leading the way.
5. Burns: The Broncs have been leading up to a breakthrough in 2019. Boe Clayson is a dynamic running back, and an experienced group of seniors will help Burns into the playoff chase.
Dark horse: Glenrock. Yeah, it seems weird to see the Herders outside the top five. But with a new head coach and a new set of leaders needing to emerge on both offense and defense, Glenrock is on the outside for now. If the program can preserve its momentum under a new coach, Glenrock should continue to be a winner.

Class 1A 11-man
1. Big Horn: Yes, the Rams lose one of the best senior classes to ever play at this level. At the same time, they return six all-state choices, more than any other program in 1A, and they’ve got momentum and confidence. A repeat will be tough, but this group has that ability.
2. Cokeville: The Panthers do lose eight all-state choices, but they also return five all-conference picks. They absolutely obliterated every other team in the West last year. And no one — no one — reloads like Cokeville reloads.
3. Upton-Sundance: All-stater Jayden Caylor and all-conference pick Kye Taylor have to lead the task of carrying on the Patriots’ tradition. There’s work to do, but U-S has depth and has shown throughout the history of its co-op that it can get players to step up when needed.
4. Pine Bluffs: Brian Steger, an all-state pick, and Donte Jacobsen, an all-conference selection, will be the leaders on a less-experienced but still dangerous Hornet team. They’ll need to build some depth, but if that can happen quickly, they’ll be in the hunt come November.
5. Lusk: The Tigers return four all-conference choices, second to Big Horn in the East, and junior Drake Lamp and senior Damien Molzahn will create a backfield duo most 1A teams would envy.
Dark horse: Rocky Mountain. The Grizzlies had seven all-conference choices in 2018: one senior, five sophomores and a freshman. If Rocky’s youth can prove itself against tougher competition, it could be the team to challenge Cokeville in the West.

Class 1A six-man
1. Hanna: Twins Connor and Shane McGraw are just the starting point for the Miners, who return five all-conference choices and are poised to build on last year’s unbeaten regular season with some postseason victories this time.
2. Snake River: The Rattlers were really competitive last season despite having a senior class small enough to fit on a motorcycle. Riggen Myers provides dynamism, and a host of others from what will be a deep senior class will make Snake River a title threat.
3. Meeteetse: This year’s deep senior class will be gone, but the Longhorns still return enough depth to stay competitive. That charge will be led by a pair of all-conference picks, Asa Eldredge and Kaden Redding.
4. Farson: Ready to play a game of “Who’s that”? The Pronghorns’ senior class will be pretty thin in 2019, but its upcoming junior class is deep and ready to fill the spots vacated by this year’s graduating class.
5. Burlington: Senior Jarom Davidson will be the lone all-conference holdover from last year’s runner-up squad, so the Huskies have some clear rebuilding to do. But the 2018 season should give the program momentum.
Dark horse: Guernsey. The Vikings return three all-conference choices (seniors Alex Delgado, Jeremy Hartt and Justin Malcolm), and all three were key contributors on defense. If the defense can hold up early, the offense could come around late and help the Vikings win in the postseason.

What do you think? Who’s ready for a breakout season in 2019? Which teams are too low? Leave a comment and let’s discuss what might be on the way by the time the 2019 season starts.

–patrick

It’s been almost a month now since Big Horn finished an unbeaten season by demolishing Cokeville 56-3 in the Class 1A 11-man championship game.

Big Horn’s 11-0 season was indeed historic, but until now I hadn’t really considered the true proportions of the Rams’ playoff run.

The Rams lambasted their postseason opponents, beating Wind River 67-8 in the quarterfinals and Pine Bluffs 68-13 in the semis before thumping Cokeville by 53 in the title game. And you get the feeling it could have been worse.

Big Horn’s 191 total points in three playoff games — an average of 63.67 ppg — was impressive regardless. But dig this:

Prior to this year, only one other 11-man team in an eight-team playoff bracket — Cokeville in 2002 — had ever averaged more than 50 points per game in the playoffs on their way to a state title. The Panthers in 2002 were a bit weird, as they scored 54 points in every playoff game (winning 54-0, 54-8 and 54-0). Even I can figure out that that’s an average of 54 ppg; Cokeville totaled 162 points. No other team to win a state title in an 11-man eight-team bracket, instituted in 1990 for most classes, had scored even 150 points total in their three games.

Well, prior to Big Horn’s 191 this year.

The list of teams that have scored at least 45 points per game in the playoffs on their way to a title (in an 11-man eight-team bracket) is pretty short. The Rams rank so high above them all that it seems weird to have them on the same list.

Team Class Year Total Average
Big Horn 1A 11 2018 191 63.67
Cokeville 1A 2002 162 54
Buffalo 2A 2018 149 49.67
Sheridan 4A 1993 149 49.67
Mountain View 2A 1995 148 49.33
Lusk 1A DI 1999 145 48.33
Southeast 1A 2007 144 48
Mountain View 2A 2014 140 46.67
Douglas 3A 2009 140 46.67
Rocky Mountain 1A DI 1998 139 46.33
Big Horn 2A 2004 135 45

Another way to think of it is like this: The Rams averaged 63.67 points per game; 10 other programs have won state titles without even scoring 60 TOTAL points in three games in an 11-man eight-team bracket.

The biggest anomaly in that group is Cokeville’s 1994 Class 1A 11-man title team, which scored only 31 total points in three games — an average of 10.33 per game — but won the title. Cokeville won playoff games that year by back-to-back 7-6 scores in the quarterfinals and semifinals before winning the title game 17-8.

The programs scoring less than 60 points in an 11-man eight-team bracket title run are:

Team Class Year Total Average
Cokeville 1A 11 1994 31 10.33
Glenrock 3A 2003 43 14.33
Natrona 4A 1996 44 14.67
Riverside 2A 2007 48 16
Big Piney 3A 2006 49 16.33
Pine Bluffs 1A 11 2016 52 17.33
Southeast 1A 2008 53 17.67
Guernsey 1A 2006 54 18
Cheyenne East 4A 2013 55 18.33
Cokeville 1A DII 1998 59 19.67

In short: We all knew Big Horn’s 2018 playoff run was impressive. But when we stack it up against other high-scoring playoff runs, the Rams of 2018 clearly stand alone, setting a standard that may go unmatched for years to come.

–patrick

The theory about championship games is that the hot team, not the best team, will come away with the title.

But if “hot” is measured by a semifinal performance, that theory may be misleading.

Inspired by this post, I looked into the margins of victory for semifinal playoff games to see if the teams that won by bigger margins in the semifinals were more likely to win the state championships.

I found that, since 2009 when title games moved to the neutral War (isn’t that an oxymoron?), the teams that win big in the semis are actually LESS likely to win the title game — but just barely.

Since 2009, the team that has won its semifinal game by fewer points is actually more successful in the title game, going 23-22. However, teams that win their semifinal games by wide margins that play teams that won their semifinal games by small margins do have an advantage.

Of the 11 instances since 2009 when a team that won its semifinal game by more than 25 points played a team that won its semifinal game by single digits, the team that won by 25-plus is 9-2 in those title games. The only teams not to uphold this were Douglas in 2014 (won its semifinal by 27, lost the title game to Cody, which won its semifinal by 8) and Tongue River in 2016 (won its semifinal by 31, lost the title game to Pine Bluffs, which won its semifinal by 6). This weekend, this scenario applies to Star Valley (won by 33; opponent Torrington won by 1).

However, simply winning big in a semifinal is no guarantee of title-game success. Of teams that won their semifinal games by at least 30 points, those teams are just 14-11 in title games. This includes five instances of each team playing in the title game after winning their semifinals by at least 30 points, four of those in six-man. This year’s six-man title game matches this scenario.

Looking ahead to this weekend, don’t be fooled by conventional wisdom. Even though it would seem that Star Valley, Buffalo, Big Horn and Farson would have the advantage, having won their semifinals by a wider margin than their opponent, we’ve seen that winning big in the semis guarantees nothing a week later.

–patrick

As you may have heard by now, Torrington reached its second consecutive Class 3A title game by beating Jackson 22-21 on Friday, scoring a touchdown as time ran out before notching the game-winning two-point conversion.

You may have also heard that Jackson supporters were not happy about the way in which the clock was turned on or off in the final few moments of the game — specifically, the final six plays.

Local News 8, the ABC station in Idaho Falls, covered this controversy. Kind of. Unfortunately, the story posted doesn’t match the video of what actually happened. (For example, the story says Torrington never went out of bounds in the final six plays, when Torrington did on its third play of the six; it also notes a fumble “blown dead” that could have happened on the same play, but player and official reactions show that the play was clearly over before the ball came loose.)

So let’s set the record straight.

Well, as straight as we can with gifs.

For this post, I watched the NFHS Network replay of Friday’s game. I timed each play in Torrington’s final drive and compared the announced times on the KGOS/KERM radio broadcast that accompanied the video feed to times I compiled by hand. (The images in this post come from that NFHS Network feed and are used here under fair use journalistic purposes.)

On its final drive, Torrington went 67 yards in 17 plays in 1 minute, 10 seconds. The first 11 plays were pretty standard, with no huge timing problems that I noticed.

The dispute really centers on the final six plays of the game, which Torrington ran in 10.4 seconds without the use of a timeout. (Neither team had any timeouts remaining by this point.) The first two plays were incomplete passes, each running about two seconds off the clock. Let’s take a look at gifs of those two plays.

Play 1

Play 2

 

So far, so good. No controversy. After the first two plays, the announcers from KGOS/KERM radio say the clock is down to 6.3 seconds. I hand-timed these two plays myself and ended up with a similar number of where the clock should be (I had it at 6.0, an acceptable range of difference).

Play 3 is where things start to go a little haywire. On this play, Torrington’s Bryan Lemmon catches a swing pass and is knocked out of bounds. The play takes about 4.6 seconds, according to my stopwatch.

Play 3

This should put the game clock at about 2.2 seconds remaining. (We don’t know what the clock read at this point, because it’s not announced on the audio feed. However, we can assume the clock read more than 2.2 seconds, based on the play call that follows and the reaction of the players after that play.)

Play 4 in the sequence adds to the questions. On fourth-and-1, Lemmon takes a pitch and plows for three yards, reaching the 2-yard line for a first down. The clock stops at this point to reset the chains. By my watch, this play takes 4.1 seconds.

Play 4

The clock starts before Play 5 begins. Play 5 is a spike to stop the clock after the chains are set for the first down. And Torrington does so nice and fast — in 0.9 seconds, according to my watch, from the signal to start the clock to when the ball hits the ground. (In this gif, watch the white hat ref on the right side; also watch the umpire stopping the ball from being snapped until the signal is given to go. This follows proper timing rules.)

Play 5

Play 6 is Lemmon’s 2-yard touchdown. The radio announcers say that, prior to this play, 1.6 seconds remained on the clock. And it doesn’t matter how long this play takes, because (as every player and coach knows) scoring on a play after time has run out is OK as long as the snap happens before the clock runs out.

Play 6

After this touchdown, Lemmon scored on the 2-point conversion to send Torrington back to the 3A title game.

The five plays prior to the game-winning touchdown took, by my stopwatch, 15.4 seconds. The Torrington clock operator said those same five plays took 8.8 seconds.

+++

Ultimately, Torrington won the game, and Torrington will play for a state championship. As Local News 8’s Max Cohan noted on Twitter (via a screencap of an email Cohan says is from Jackson AD Mike Hansen), the WHSAA isn’t in the habit of overruling game officials.

The WHSAA has rarely intervened in cases like this. In fact, I can find only one instance in which the WHSAA has overruled game officials. That came in 1967 in a game between Basin and Byron. Basin originally won 40-34 by scoring in the final minute of their game on Oct. 27, but Byron protested the game’s final 2 minutes, 24 seconds after claiming the officials mis-applied the rules on a fumble. The WHSAA upheld the protest, and the WHSAA forced the two teams to re-play the final 2:24 three days later. No one scored and the game finished as a 34-34 tie, officially.

The only other high-profile questionable timing incident I know of came even further back than that: the final game of the 1955 season between Laramie and Cheyenne Central. Laramie won 18-14 on its home field to claim the Class AA championship, but Cheyenne filed a protest claiming ‚Äútiming irregularities‚ÄĚ gave Laramie an unfair advantage. Two Cheyenne players also punched and tackled an official after he ejected a Cheyenne player. Although the protest was eventually tossed, the timekeeper that day, Edwin Hitchcock, died just days after the game due to a heart attack.

More recently, the most controversial final-play playoff finish came in a Class 5A semifinal game in 2006. In that game, Natrona kicker Garrett Hill’s field goal attempt on the final play of the game was ruled wide left, despite video showing that the kick may have actually gone between the uprights as it went over the top of the left post. Cheyenne East won that game 5-3. Then as now, the WHSAA delegated that responsibility to the officials on the field and supported the ruling the officials made on the field.

The same standard applies here. If Jackson fans have a beef, it’s with the officials, not with the WHSAA. I daresay the beef isn’t even with the timer, who I don’t want to name here (and couldn’t even if I wanted to, because I haven’t asked and don’t plan to). However, if you think you can do better than the officials, prove it by¬†becoming a WHSAA official. It’s a hard and thankless job, especially when we (you and me) can watch replay after replay and critique tenths of a second of their in-the-moment calls and decisions. I thought hard about whether to even post this, because I think many people will use this post as an excuse to trash the game officials and timer even more. Please don’t be that person.

In the course of a 48-minute game, 6.6 seconds slips off the clock, or stays on the clock, easily. To Torrington’s benefit, and Jackson’s dismay, it just so happened these 6.6 seconds came when they did.

–patrick

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