Last season, two Wyoming football teams — Lovell and Snake River — finished the season undefeated.
As it turns out, the 2011 season was dead-on average for producing state champions with goose eggs in the loss column — and, actually, pretty close to average in producing a state champion with several losses, too.
Since the first consensus state champion was recognized in 1921, a total of 271 teams have won state championships. Of those, 130 (48 percent) were undefeated and 109 (40 percent) were both unbeaten and untied, including Lovell and Snake River last year. (It’s worth noting here that numerous other teams prior to the development of statewide playoffs in 1975 finished unbeaten/untied but did not win state championships.)
It’s one thing to win a state championship by pure force — winning every time you step on the field. It’s another to win after going through some scoreboard adversity. And a handful of Wyoming football teams have won state championships in seasons when they have been far from perfect in the regular season.
In fact, of those 271 championship squads, one actually won a state championship and finished its season with a losing record. That was Upton’s 1961 team, which won the Class B state title despite finishing with a 3-4-1 record. The only playoff game Upton had that season was the state championship game. Upton’s three victories is also the fewest ever victories for a Wyoming state champion. (I’m preparing a blog post all about Upton’s 1961 team; check back here later to read it.)
The records here on wyoming-football.com show one team winning a state title with four victories — Cowley in 1955 — but, despite my best efforts, I feel like several games are missing from the records for Cowley’s 1955 season.
Also, one other team finished at .500 the year it won a state championship: Cokeville in 1987. The Panthers finished 3-5 in the regular season that year but won two playoff games to win the Class 1A championship with a 5-5 record. Cokeville’s five losses that season is the most ever for a Wyoming state champion; nine schools, including Upton in 1961, have won a state championship with four losses. (The other four-loss champions were Laramie and Natrona, which split the AA championship in 1951 at 5-4; Laramie in 1958 (AA, 5-4), Jackson in 1986 (3A, 6-4), Powell in 1987 (3A, 5-4), Star Valley in 1995 (3A, 7-4), Cheyenne Central in 2005 (5A, 7-4) and Big Piney in 2006 (3A, 7-4).)
Besides Cokeville in 1987, the two Laramie seasons of 1951 and 1958, Natrona in 1951 and Powell in 1987 are the only other teams to win state championships in seasons of five total victories.
Unbeaten? Sure, it’s nice and pretty and impressive. But finding a way to eke out a state championship with four or five losses? That’s just straight up rare, ugly and, well, impressive in its own right, too. Winning a title that way takes a lot of moxie and determination — and a little luck, too.