Something special is happening in Gillette on Friday.
In just its second season, Thunder Basin is hosting its first playoff game in program history when the ‘Bolts take to the field against Cheyenne Central.
For Thunder Basin to have accomplished that feat so quickly is nearly unprecedented in recent state history.
Since 1980, eight programs (Wright, NSI, Kaycee, Farson, Snake River, Cheyenne South, St. Stephens and Rock River) have either started or restarted programs from scratch. Three other programs (Rocky Mountain, Riverside and Upton-Sundance) combined programs to form something new.
Of those 11 programs, the only one to host a playoff game in its first season was six-man Snake River in 2009. The only one to host its first playoff game in its second season was six-man Kaycee.
In fact, of 11-man programs, Thunder Basin is the fastest to its first home playoff game, beating Campbell County companion Wright by one year — the Panthers hosted a playoff game in their third season as a program.
The ‘Bolts’ run of success this season is a testament to how fast they built their own identity and program after splitting from the Gillette Camels two years ago. It also comes at a cost to football in Gillette — the Camels have now lost 19 games in a row after losing most of the city’s best players to the new school on the south side.
Nevertheless, the ‘Bolts are hosting a playoff game sooner than any other new 11-man program in recent memory. For the Thunder Basin program, that’s worth celebrating.
However, the ‘Bolts would celebrate even more if they could host another one next week.
Outside of Thunder Basin, for Wyoming this is a pretty standard-looking playoff bracket. Wright is in the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and Kemmerer is in the playoffs for the first time in five years, but everyone else has been a recent visitor to the postseason, and all the other hosts have been recent hosts. The rich get richer?
Here’s some pics, wait, I mean picks, with the bold team expected to be the winning team:
(8) Kelly Walsh at (1) Natrona: Natrona won the Oil Bowl by 30 points three weeks ago. That sounds about right. The Mustangs have been playing well all season and will be big favorites against their cross-town rivals. (First playoff meeting since 2016 quarterfinals.)
(5) Laramie at (4) Cheyenne East: East won the first matchup 31-14 a month ago. Laramie could put up more of a challenge this time around, though — but the Thunderbirds are still the favorites. (First playoff meeting since 2001 quarterfinals.)
(7) Cheyenne Central at (2) Thunder Basin: How much has changed since Week 0, when the ‘Bolts popped the Indians 47-0? Well, plenty has changed. But that doesn’t mean Thunder Basin still shouldn’t win this game going away. (First playoff meeting.)
(6) Rock Springs at (3) Sheridan: The rumors of the Broncs’ death have been highly exaggerated. Sheridan’s still in the hunt for a four-peat, and they’re very, very dangerous this time of year. (First playoff meeting since 2016 semifinals.)
(4E) Worland at (1W) Star Valley: I expected a much bigger fall-off this year in Afton. The fact that the Braves went undefeated in conference play and earned the top seed out of the west (again) is proof that the program is strong and sustainable. (First playoff meeting since 2007 quarterfinals.)
(3W) Cody at (2E) Douglas: ‘Member last year, when Cody was a 3-seed and ended up as state champs? ‘Member how they were on the same side of the bracket as Star Valley? I betcha Cody does, and I bet the Broncs are feeling mighty confident right now. (First playoff meeting since 2016 quarterfinals.)
(4W) Evanston at (1E) Torrington: Torrington has been rolling. But Evanston will put up a tough fight — something that should help the Trailblazers get into playoff mode and prepare for what’s to come. (First meeting since 1985 title game.)
(3E) Lander at (2W) Jackson: The two best coaching jobs in 3A this season were by John Scott in Lander and David Joyce in Jackson. It’s kind of fitting that they face off in the first round. If they continue on their current trends, this could be a title-game matchup in a few years. (First playoff meeting since 2004 quarterfinals.)
(4W) Kemmerer at (1E) Buffalo: It’s great to see Kemmerer back in the playoffs. Shame it’ll have to end so soon. Buffalo’s loaded for a title run, and that will show on Friday. (First meeting since 1995 quarterfinals.)
(3E) Wheatland at (2W) Greybull: People have been sleeping on Wheatland all year. This is the time for the Bulldogs to show just how good they are — and I think they’ll take advantage. (Rematch of a 2017 quarterfinal. And a 2016 quarterfinal.)
(4E) Thermopolis at (1W) Mountain View: After a Week 1 stumble, Mountain View has been the powerhouse everyone thought they might be entering this season. Remember, last year’s title march started by shutting out Thermopolis at home in the first round. … (Obviously, a rematch of a 2017 quarterfinal.)
(3W) Big Piney at (2E) Glenrock: Big Piney put together a really nice season. However, it’ll take a Herculean effort to overcome the Herders in Glenrock. (Rematch of a 2017 semifinal.)
Class 1A 11-man
(4W) Wind River at (1E) Big Horn: The Rams have been crushing teams all season. There’s little reason to think the Cougars are going to be the one to stop that trend. (Rematch of a 2017 quarterfinal game.)
(3E) Pine Bluffs at (2W) Shoshoni: Shoshoni is 2-6 and a No. 2 seed. That tells you all you need to know about the West Conference this season. (First playoff meeting.)
(4E) Wright at (1W) Cokeville: Beating a top-seeded Cokeville team, in Cokeville? The black-and-gold Panthers better hope they didn’t use up all their luck on that coin flip last week. (First playoff meeting.)
(3W) Rocky Mountain at (2E) Upton-Sundance: In a word: tradition. These two teams have met in the quarterfinals in 2014, 2015 and 2017. U-S has won all three, by scores of 48-14, 39-12 and 39-22. (Obviously, a rematch of a 2017 quarterfinal.)
Class 1A six-man
(4E) Hulett at (1W) Farson: Hulett did a really nice job in the last three weeks of the season, overcoming an 0-4 start to make the postseason. The Red Devils’ “reward” is playing unbeaten and favorite Farson in the first round. (First playoff meeting since 2015 quarterfinals.)
(3W) Snake River at (2E) Kaycee: The Buckaroos’ four-peat attempt will face some severe challenges. The challenge the Rattlers present might be too tough for Kaycee to overcome. (First playoff meeting since 2015 semifinals.)
(4W) Burlington at (1E) Hanna: Here it is: My upset call for the week. The West Conference was significantly deeper and tougher than the East Conference this season, and while Hanna is unbeaten and talented, Burlington has been tested more and should be more hardened for a playoff run. (First playoff meeting.)
(3E) Guernsey at (2W) Meeteetse: The Longhorns are senior-laden and confident. If they don’t overlook the Vikings, they should be in good position to continue their postseason. (First playoff meeting since 2015 quarterfinals.)
For a full schedule including kickoff times, as well as results from past weeks, click here. Click on “Quarterfinals” 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: 27-3 (90 percent). This season: 212-56 (79 percent).