Let’s face it: Last year’s opening round of the playoffs was a pretty big, boring dud.
Only two out of 20 games statewide in last year’s opening round were decided by a possession or less — Cody’s 29-26 victory against Douglas and Wheatland’s 21-14 victory against Greybull. Meanwhile, eight games reached running-clock status, including all four first-round games in 1A 11-man.
Although the 2019 quarterfinals probably won’t be running clock-free, they certainly present more possibilities for close games than last year.
Finally, we have some intrigue in the first round of the playoffs.
Class 4A has a pair of intriguing games, with Natrona and East reprising a game that went Natrona won in double overtime in Week 4 and with Rock Springs and Central meeting in a game that finished 36-29 Indians in Week 2. Central is hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2009, and the Indians’ meeting with Rock Springs assures us that it won’t be the Big Four of East, Natrona, Thunder Basin and Sheridan dominating the semis again — and that’s a nice breath of fresh air for Wyoming’s big schools.
Class 3A’s most interesting first-round game matches up East Conference champ Lander, winners of six in a row, against Powell, the team that gave Lander its last, and only, loss of the season. The Panthers won 17-7 in Week 2, in Lander, and has to duplicate that feat to keep its season going — a tough task against a confident Tiger team.
In 2A, the 2-3 games are more or less toss-ups. Rising Lyman hosts a solid Thermopolis team, while Big Piney travels to Burns to play the Broncs for the first meeting between the programs. Both games provide ample opportunities for final-possession magic, because all four teams have shown potential.
Likewise in Class 1A six-man, the 2-3 games (Farson at Hulett, Lingle at Burlington) could go either way. Last year, the West swept the East in the first round, but the East has been improved this year. And with Hanna at 8-0 and Hulett at 7-1, the East has some teams thinking more than just escaping the first round — they’re thinking title.
That leaves us with… oh yeah, Class 1A 11-man, where intrigue is as rare as steak tartare.
Three of the four first-round matchups are rematches of last year’s blowouts (Wind River/Big Horn, Wright/Cokeville, Rocky Mountain/Upton-Sundance). Southeast’s venture to Shoshoni is the only thing new on the playoff schedule, but even that’s not rare — they’ve already met in the quarterfinals in 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016. The East is the better conference, again; Cokeville is the lone exception, again; of the four teams favored to win on Friday, three are headed to 2A next year…
At least in four of the five classes, some intrigue, some unpredictability, is a nice change this year. I’d love more of it. The last couple years have been pretty predictable in the first round:
Oh, man, I just realized… I got every pick right this week. Now 40-0 over the past two years picking quarterfinal games. pic.twitter.com/s62LJKIc9B— Wyoming-Football.com (@WyomingFootball) October 27, 2018
If you’re new to the site, I predict who’s going to win every game by bolding the team I think will have more points at the end. See above; I’m pretty good at this in the quarterfinals. That said, see above; I’m ready to be surprised.
(8) Gillette at (1) Thunder Basin: The Camels aren’t “back,” but a playoff berth is a nice step forward for the program. Thunder Basin has bigger goals. (First playoff meeting.)
(5) Natrona at (4) Cheyenne East: The first meeting this season between these two programs was an all-timer, with Natrona winning in extra time; this one should be, too, and I think the T-Birds are ready for a bit of revenge. (Rematch of a 2018 4A semifinal.)
(7) Kelly Walsh at (2) Sheridan: The Broncs showed last week just how ready they are for a deep playoff run. Playing at Homer Scott Field helps the Broncs’ cause, too. (First playoff meeting since 2017 4A semifinals.)
(6) Rock Springs at (3) Cheyenne Central: I love this matchup. Both programs are eager to prove they belong in 4A’s upper echelon. A victory here might cement that spot for awhile to come, too. (First playoff meeting since 2007 5A quarterfinals.)
(4E) Douglas at (1W) Star Valley: The Braves have been scary efficient all season long. At home, expect more of the same. (First playoff meeting since 2016 3A semifinals.)
(3W) Jackson at (2E) Riverton: Riverton has been a different team since conference play started and will give Jackson a tussle in the first round. But the Broncs are still the favorites here. (First playoff meeting since 2015 3A quarterfinals.)
(4W) Powell at (1E) Lander: I love, love, love this matchup. And even though Powell beat Lander in Week 2, I think Lander’s made some big improvements since then. (First playoff meeting since 2016 3A quarterfinals.)
(3E) Worland at (2W) Cody: This one might be closer than you think. Worland is better than its 3-5 record — and its 28-14 loss to Cody in Week 2 — might imply. Still, look for Cody to move on to the semis. (First playoff meeting.)
(4W) Lovell at (1E) Buffalo: It’s been fun to watch Lovell’s resurgence, and if Buffalo isn’t careful, the Bulldogs could be more challenging than anticipated. The Bison will likely anticipate it, though. (First playoff meeting since 1991 2A semifinals.)
(3E) Thermopolis at (2W) Lyman: I’m torn on this one. Both these programs have legit reasons to feel overlooked, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Eagles sneak out a victory in this one. However, the Bobcats have played more good teams tough. (First playoff meeting since 2010 2A quarterfinals.)
(4E) Wheatland at (1W) Mountain View: The Buffalos have outscored their opponents 397-25 this season. Wheatland’s given up more than 25 points in six of its eight games. (First playoff meeting since 2017 2A semifinals.)
(3W) Big Piney at (2E) Burns: This game REALLY intrigues me, mostly because I love it when programs meet for the first time. Burns by a hair. (First playoff meeting, obviously.)
Class 1A 11-man
(4W) Wind River at (1E) Big Horn: Oh no. With the 8-0 and rolling Rams facing the 1-7 and outscored-160-to-6-in-their-past-three-games Cougars, this one could get ugly fast. (Rematch of a 2018 1A 11-man quarterfinal.)
(3E) Southeast at (2W) Shoshoni: After last year’s aberration, Southeast is back to being Southeast again. Even on the road, the Cyclones are the favorites in this one. (First playoff meeting since 2016 1A 11-man quarterfinals.)
(4E) Wright at (1W) Cokeville: Wright’s gonna put up a fight, but Cokeville is really tough to beat at home in the first round of the playoffs: 25-1 since 1991. (Rematch of a 2018 1A 11-man quarterfinal.)
(3W) Rocky Mountain at (2E) Upton-Sundance: These two teams have met in the first round in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018. The Patriots are 4-0 in those games. Unless the Griz’s young players grow up really fast, make it 5-0. (Rematch of a 2018 1A 11-man quarterfinal.)
Class 1A six-man
(4E) Kaycee at (1W) Snake River: Sorry, Buckaroos. The question isn’t who will win. The question is if Kaycee will even score a point. (Rematch of a 2018 1A six-man quarterfinal.)
(3W) Farson at (2E) Hulett: I desperately want to pick the Red Devils in this one, and don’t be surprised if they prove me wrong against the defending champs. This might be the best game of the week. (Rematch of a 2018 1A six-man quarterfinal.)
(4W) Meeteetse at (1E) Hanna: No one is more aware than Hanna of how easily a promising season can end abruptly. The Miners will be focused. (First playoff meeting since 1989 1A semifinals.)
(3E) Lingle at (2W) Burlington: Victories the past two weeks against Farson and Riverside help show just how improved the Huskies are since their 1-3 start. (First playoff meeting.)
For a full schedule including kickoff times, as well as results from past weeks, go 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: 25-4 (86 percent). This season: 220-52 (81 percent).
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