The Sheridan-Natrona County game scheduled for Friday already has implications.
Natrona is ranked first in the Wyopreps.com coaches and media poll; Sheridan is second. Sheridan won the state title last year and also in 2009; Natrona won it all in 2010, beating Sheridan in the championship game.
But the history of this series goes deeper than this season, and certainly much deeper than the past few.
Friday’s game is a milestone: It’s the 100th time in a 92-year span that Sheridan and Natrona County will play each other. Only three other series in Wyoming — Laramie-Central, Lander-Riverton and Cody-Powell — have tallies of more than 100 games.
And what a series the Bronc-Mustang series has been.
Seven of those 99 previous games have been for state championships. Several other games in this series have put teams into — or kept them out of — the playoffs.
Indeed, what has heightened this rivalry has been the success of both programs. Natrona and Sheridan are two of the three schools in Wyoming that have more than 500 victories. Counting last week’s wins, Natrona leads all Wyoming programs with 540 victories, while Sheridan is third all-time with 507.
A simple glance at the calendar tells you just how important the rivalry is to both schools. The two schools were Armistice Day rivals. Prior to 1950, Nov. 11 was the traditional day that Wyoming’s high schools had set aside to play their biggest rivals. Actually, the first Natrona-Sheridan game was played on Armistice Day, 1921. The two schools played on or near Armistice Day from 1933-49, when the Armistice tradition ended; after that, the two schools, from 1950-64, played each other in both schools’ last regularly scheduled game of the regular season.
When they met for the first time in 1921, the Broncs came down to Casper and came away with a 7-0 victory — by far the closest game of the season for Sheridan, which finished 7-0 and outscored its opponents 266-6.
It stayed close early: Six of the first seven games the two schools played against each other were decided by a touchdown or less.
Then came 1936-38, when Natrona and Sheridan played against each other in three consecutive state championship games. The home team won each time — Sheridan twice, Natrona once — and all three title-game victories in that span were shutouts. After the WHSAA eliminated postseason football after the 1938 season, the two teams played in November 1939 for the unofficial state title; Natrona ended Sheridan’s perfect season with the 20-7 victory and earned the state championship in doing so.
While the four-year stretch from 1936-39 represents the peak of the rivalry, recent Sheridan-Natrona games have meant just as much.
In 1985, a 17-13 loss to unbeaten Natrona was the only loss for Sheridan; the loss kept the Broncs from playing in the state championship game, a game Natrona won.
The two teams played classic defensive playoff games in both 1995 and 1996. Sheridan won a Class 4A semifinal game 7-0 over Natrona in 1995; Natrona won the 4A title game 7-0 over Sheridan in 1996.
And, of course, Natrona beat Sheridan in the 2010 4A title game, avenging the only loss they had that season in the process.
Of the 99 previous contests, the 1957 game most typified the rivalry. The two schools met on Nov. 1 in Casper with the state title on the line, but couldn’t separate themselves and played to a 7-7 tie. They shared the state championship that year.
Since the series started in 1921, Natrona and Sheridan have played every year but 1924 and 1970, when the two teams couldn’t find room on the schedule, and 1961, when a snowstorm wiped out the final game of the season. The two teams also tried to play each other twice in 1920, but both games were canceled.
No one knew that, in 1920, those canceled games would postpone the 100th meeting of these two proud programs back to the second week of the 2012 season.
And while the serendipity fan in me would have much more liked to have seen this game be the 2011 season finale — a fantasy spoiled by Cheyenne East in last year’s 4A semifinals — the fact that the 100th meeting is here rather than last November does nothing to dim one of Wyoming’s strongest rivalries.
Here are this week’s picks, with projected winners in bold:
Natrona JV at Moorcroft
Cheyenne East at Laramie
Cheyenne South at Cheyenne Central
Kelly Walsh at Evanston
Natrona at Sheridan
Rock Springs at Gillette
Cody at Lander
Green River at Douglas
Powell at Riverton
Worland at Buffalo
Big Horn at Greybull
Lovell at Wright
Thermopolis at Glenrock
Tongue River at Lyman
Class 1A 11-man
Lingle at Saratoga
Normative Services at Rocky Mountain
Shoshoni at Upton-Sundance (at Upton)
Wyoming Indian at Pine Bluffs
Class 1A six-man
Dubois at Midwest
Farson at Meeteetse
Hanna at Kaycee
Burlington at Big Piney
Kemmerer at Wind River
Lusk at Burns
Mountain View at Cokeville
Newcastle at Southeast
Riverside at Pinedale
Wheatland at Rawlins
Jackson at Teton, Idaho
Snake River, Idaho, at Star Valley
Torrington at Mitchell, Neb.
Saturday, Sept. 1
Class 1A six-man
Guernsey at Hulett
Snake River at Ten Sleep
For the full schedule including kickoff times, click here.
Last week: 14-1 (.933). This season: 14-1 (.933).
What do you think? What are your picks for the first full weekend of football statewide? Post some thoughts below.