Pine Bluffs had one of Wyoming’s finest six-man football teams in 1948.
Through a five-game regular season, the Hornets went 5-0, defeating their opponents by a combined 229-13. Through that, they earned the Southeast District championship and the right to host the Southwest District champ, Jackson, in a playoff semifinal.
Pine Bluffs won that game 43-24 before hosting — and losing to — Byron in the six-man title game seven days later.
No one knew after the Byron game that Pine Bluffs would have to wait 69 more years before hosting another playoff game.
Finally, on Friday, the Hornets break that streak when they host Saratoga in a Class 1A 11-man quarterfinal game.
Since losing to Byron for the 1948 six-man title, Pine Bluffs has played in 19 playoff games; of those, 18 were on the road and one (last year’s 1A 11-man title game) was at a neutral site. Three of those 19 were championship games.
Pine Bluffs won its first state championship last year, winning the 1A 11-man championship after winning two road playoff games. This year, the Hornets enter the postseason undefeated, riding a 12-game winning streak into a historic first-round game against Saratoga, the fourth seed from the West Conference.
If the Hornets have their way, the wait between Friday’s home game and the next home playoff game won’t be another 69 years; it’ll be seven days.
Home is where the helmet is: While Pine Bluffs’ 69-year streak is by far the longest home playoff-less streak to end, a couple other programs are also hosting playoff games for the first time in a while.
Despite a ton of recent success, including a 3A runner-up finish in 2015, Green River is hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2011. Big Piney, meanwhile, is hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2007, while Hanna is hosting its first postseason matchup since 2010 and Burlington is hosting its first since 2012.
Playoff qualification streaks: Wind River and Worland are both in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, breaking long streaks of missing the postseason in the process.
Meanwhile, Gillette is missing the playoffs for the first time in 27 years. Natrona now has the state’s longest active streak of playoff qualifications, with this year being the Mustangs’ 26th consecutive postseason appearance.
Repeat matchups: Of the 20 first-round matchups, seven pit teams that have already played each other once this season. Obviously, that’s the case with all four Class 4A games, but the other three are all rematches of Week 1 games: Cody vs. Buffalo in 3A, and Midwest vs. Burlington and Guernsey-Sunrise vs. Farson in 1A six-man.
On to the picks, with projected winners in bold, as usual, because tradition is important:
(8) Cheyenne Central at (1) Sheridan: The Broncs are undefeated and rolling right now. The Indians couldn’t stay within 30 points of Sheridan back in Week 1, and with the Broncs on fire AND at home, they should cruise easily into the semifinals for the 10th consecutive year. (First playoff meeting since 2014 4A quarterfinals.)
(5) Thunder Basin at (4) Kelly Walsh: KW beat Thunder Basin just two weeks ago, 21-7, in Gillette. This one might be closer, but the Trojans still have the advantage over the ‘Bolts. (First playoff meeting. Duh. This is Thunder Basin’s first season.)
(6) Rock Springs at (3) Cheyenne East: Just like KW-Thunder Basin, this game was played two weeks ago, and East had little trouble in a 31-6 victory. This one, too, might be closer than the regular-season game, but this one, too, should go to the team that won this matchup 14 days ago. (First playoff meeting since 2015 4A quarterfinals.)
(7) Laramie at (2) Natrona: It’s hard to discern too much from the regular-season matchup, which was back in Week 3. Natrona won that game 42-10 — the first of six consecutive victories for Natrona. Laramie meanwhile, has gone 2-3 down the stretch and was outscored 89-21 in its final two games. (First playoff meeting since 2011 4A quarterfinals.)
(4W) Worland at (1E) Torrington: Torrington has won six in a row and has shown no mercy in that stretch, the closest game being a 34-6 victory against Buffalo. Worland will be game, but the Trailblazers have too much talent to overcome in this one. (First playoff meeting since 1989 3A semifinals.)
(3E) Douglas at (2W) Green River: This will be a weird one. Both teams come into this game after shutout losses in Week 8 — Douglas 17-0 to Buffalo, Green River 21-0 to Star Valley. Success in this one may belong to the team that can overcome their Week 8 loss faster mentally. (First playoff meeting since 2012 3A quarterfinals.)
(3W) Cody at (2E) Buffalo: When these two teams met in Week 1, Buffalo eked out a 10-7 victory. Now, eight weeks later, this game becomes a test to see which team has improved more. And both teams can claim that. This one may be the best game of the week. Overtime? (First playoff meeting since 2010 3A semifinals.)
(4E) Rawlins at (1W) Star Valley: Rawlins’ turnaround continues to be one of 2017’s most interesting takeaways. In terms of the 3A playoffs, though, it’s a footnote to the Braves’ push for a third consecutive championship. (First playoff meeting.)
(4W) Lovell at (1E) Glenrock: Lovell went through a stretch in Weeks 3-5 when it went 0-3 and lost those games by a combined 77-7. The Bulldogs’ turnaround — winning three straight to qualify for the playoffs — means they come in hot. But Glenrock’s been hot all season. (First playoff meeting since 2015 2A semifinals.)
(3E) Newcastle at (2W) Big Piney: I love, love, love this matchup. Senior-heavy Big Piney has been solid all season long; baby-faced Newcastle has grown a lot since losing three straight in Weeks 2-4. Don’t forget: Newcastle went on the road in the 2A quarters last year and pulled off a huge upset. (First playoff meeting since 2006 3A quarterfinals.)
(3W) Greybull at (2E) Wheatland: Of all the 2 vs. 3 matchups, this one could give us more excitement than any other. Honestly, it’s a toss-up; I like Wheatland’s consistency just as much as I like Greybull’s explosiveness. When in doubt in the playoffs, go with the home team…. (Rematch of a 2016 2A quarterfinal game.)
(4E) Thermopolis at (1W) Mountain View: Don’t read too much into Mountain View’s loss last week to Greybull. The Buffalos already had the No. 1 seed from the West wrapped up. Against the Bobcats, they’ll show why they’re still among 2A’s best. (First playoff meeting since 2014 2A quarterfinals.)
Class 1A 11-man
(4E) Southeast at (1W) Cokeville: The only possible way Southeast pulls the upset here is if the conditioning the Cyclones got by playing in a much tougher East Conference gives them the mental toughness to stick with the Panthers. Cokeville, though, is absolutely crushing teams right now. (First playoff meeting since 2013 1A 11-man semifinals.)
(3W) Wind River at (2E) Big Horn: The Cougars are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Rams are in the playoffs for the 19th consecutive year. History and tradition side with the home team. (First playoff meeting since 2002 2A semifinals.)
(3E) Upton-Sundance at (2W) Rocky Mountain: In 2013, 2014 and 2016, Rocky Mountain has hosted first-round playoff games. The Grizzlies are 0-3. The Patriots are likely to extend that mark to 0-4. (First playoff meeting since 2015 1A 11-man quarterfinals.)
(4W) Saratoga at (1E) Pine Bluffs: The defending 1A 11-man champs are unbeaten and at home. The Hornets should have little trouble dispatching the Panthers, who come into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. (First playoff meeting.)
Class 1A six-man
(4W) Meeteetse at (1E) Kaycee: Kaycee has outscored its opponents this season 528-32. Moving on… (Rematch of a 2016 1A six-man semifinal.)
(3E) Midwest at (2W) Burlington: Midwest is absolutely capable of winning this game, and I won’t be surprised if the Oilers go on the road and get this one. The Huskies beat the Oilers back in Week 1 by a 44-40 score, and I think that will narrow Burlington’s focus this week. (First playoff meeting since 1991 1A nine-man semifinals.)
(3W) Snake River at (2E) Hanna: The Rattlers might be the best team in the West, but they caught the short end of the coin in the 1-2-3 flip. Hanna is solid, but Snake River is dangerous. (First playoff meeting since 2014 1A six-man quarterfinals.)
(4E) Guernsey-Sunrise at (1W) Farson: The Pronghorns will be smarting after losing last week, but I think they’ll have enough in the tank to beat the Vikings — a team they thumped 60-13 back in Week 1 in Farson. (Rematch of a 2016 1A six-man semifinal.)
For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.
I keep track of the games I pick, because it’s good for self-loathing:
Last week: 26-6 (81 percent). This season: 229-41 (85 percent).
So here we are. The playoffs. Who’s ready for a Pine Bluffs in 2016 kind of run, where road games are no sweat? And who’s ready to carry their top seed and their home-field advantage all the way to a title? Leave a comment to help me get my mind right.