Through the first half of the regular season, 56 of Wyoming’s 64 high school football teams have at least one loss.
After Week 5, that number will be trimmed by at least one — and the other six teams have their own challenges to overcome at the just-past-halfway point.
The eight teams still unbeaten are Thunder Basin, Torrington, Evanston, Pine Bluffs, Big Horn, Cokeville, Hanna and Farson. Pine Bluffs plays Big Horn in a match-up of undefeated squads — the only game remaining on the schedule for the rest of the regular season that place potentially undefeated teams against each other.
Pine Bluffs-Big Horn was expected to be one of 1A 11-man’s biggest games in 2018, and seeing both teams come in undefeated is not surprising. The two teams staged a classic in last year’s 1A 11-man title game, with Pine Bluffs eking out a 20-16 victory to preserve an undefeated season, a second consecutive state championship and what is now the state’s longest active winning streak at 19 games.
But it’s easy to forget that they also played a heck of a regular-season game, with Pine Bluffs winning 22-21 in overtime — in Big Horn — during the 2017 regular season.
This year, Pine Bluffs has yet to allow a point, outscoring opponents 130-0 in four consecutive shutouts. Big Horn, though, boasts 1A 11-man’s highest-scoring offense, scoring 47.5 points per game.
Most of the time when matchups like that happen, though, the game will likely be decided on the flipside — how Pine Bluffs’ offense does against Big Horn’s defense.
The winner moves into position to win the 1A 11-man East championship, home-field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs and a huge mental advantage.
Thunder Basin-Natrona was supposed to be the marquee game of Week 5, but then Natrona went and lost to Cheyenne East 22-21 last week, taking a little luster off a game that was one point away from being a showdown of undefeated 4A programs.
Instead, Thunder Basin has emerged as the only remaining undefeated big school, and Natrona is the last major challenge left on the ‘Bolts’ schedule — although, admittedly, 2-3 Rock Springs, 2-3 Kelly Walsh and 3-2 Laramie, the teams remaining on Thunder Basin’s slate, aren’t going to be pushovers.
Thunder Basin’s rise is no surprise. The ‘Bolts needed a year to get their identity set with a new coach and a new program, but since finishing 5-5 last year, they’ve re-assumed the role the Gillette Camels carried before them.
Of course, the Camels’ problem was always finishing — they had 27 consecutive playoff berths from 1990-2016 and reached 13 championship games in that span, but finished just 4-9 in those title games.
If the ‘Bolts can finish as strong as they’ve started, they might start building a new kind of tradition, one inspired by but separate from what’s happened before in Gillette.
When the schedule came out, I figured one team in the Evanston-Cody game would be undefeated. I just didn’t figure it would be Evanston.
The 3A West is flipped like a dolphin at Sea World. Jackson’s rise from consistent loser to consistent winner happened in like a week; since breaking a 16-game losing streak, Jackson hasn’t lost since, winning four in a row, including last week’s 27-7 upset of Cody.
Now, the defending 3A champs face another unexpected challenge in the unbeaten Red Devils, who have benefitted from improved play as well as a soft schedule — none of Evanston’s opponents thus far have a winning record.
Is Evanston for real? For that matter, is Cody?
Similarly, in six-man, another potential undefeated vs. undefeated matchup was thwarted last week when Guernsey beat previously undefeated NSI in a 79-65 shootout. Consequently, this week’s matchup between NSI and Hanna will have a lot less intrigue around it.
Hanna figured to be primed for a breakthrough season this year, and the Miners haven’t disappointed. In four games — all on the road or at neutral sites, by the way — the Miners have been dominant, outscoring opponents 229-41 and winning every game by at least 32 points.
NSI was off to its best start in school history at 3-0 before tripping up against Guernsey. We’ll see how the Wolves rebound.
But the best game of the week may be played in Farson, where the undefeated Pronghorns host the one-loss-but-it-was-to-a-team-from-Canada-so-does-it-REALLY-count Meeteetse Longhorns.
I couldn’t understand why everyone was so down on Meeteetse this year. I figured they’d be solid, probably good enough to push the top teams in the West, win more than a handful of games, maybe get a home playoff game. In the past two weeks, they’ve made good on that, beating both Snake River and Burlington — top-tier six-man teams — while making it look easy.
Farson, though, was supposed to be the class of 1A six-man. So far, that’s been the case, with the Pronghorns rolling up a 308-86 scoring advantage on their four opponents while winning every game by at least 47 points.
The Pronghorns get Meeteetse, Snake River and Burlington in consecutive weeks the next three weeks, a perfect opportunity to prove their championship caliber.
Meeteetse, though, has already proven it has what it takes to stay in that conversation despite the doubters.
And Torrington plays Douglas, and Cokeville plays the Wind River JV.
Several other games are really interesting this week, but rather than spend time talking about them, I’ll spend time making picks. Bolded teams should win, but 2018 has been far from predictable, so don’t just take these choices with a grain of salt — take them with a salt lick.
Green River JV at Cokeville
Star Valley JV at Lyman
Kelly Walsh at Cheyenne Central
Laramie at Cheyenne East
Rock Springs at Gillette
Sheridan at Cheyenne South
Thunder Basin at Natrona
Douglas at Torrington
Evanston at Cody
Jackson at Green River
Lander at Riverton
Star Valley at Powell
Worland at Rawlins
Big Piney at Lovell
Burns at Glenrock
Greybull at Kemmerer
Moorcroft at Buffalo
Mountain View at Pinedale
Wheatland at Thermopolis
Class 1A 11-man
Big Horn at Pine Bluffs
Cokeville JV at Wyoming Indian
Rocky Mountain at Shoshoni
Tongue River at Southeast
Upton-Sundance at Wright
Class 1A six-man
Dubois at Burlington
Lingle at Midwest
Meeteetse at Farson
NSI at Hanna
Lusk at Newcastle
Saratoga at Guernsey-Sunrise
Class 1A six-man
Kaycee at Hulett
Snake River at Riverside
Open: St. Stephens, Wind River.
For a full schedule including kickoff times, as well as results from past weeks, click here. Click on “Week 5” on the top of the page for this week’s schedule.
Here are the results of my picks from last week and this season:
Last week: 21-9 (70 percent). This season: 103-40 (72 percent).
Which undefeated teams will fall this week? Which winless teams might be ready for a victory? Which teams in the middle are ready for a run? Post a comment and let the world know.