From Sheridan trying to extend its state record of championships to 28 to Encampment trying to win its first in just its third year back, the 2021 Wyoming high school football title games won’t be short on intrigue.
Each of the five championships, back at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie after the 2020 games were at host sites due to COVID-19, has interesting historical perspective.
The Class 3A game between Cody and Jackson is the only rematch from 2020, but Lyman in 2A is also going for a repeat championship. Meanwhile, the two teams in the 1A nine-man title game have never played in Laramie before this weekend, and new champs are guaranteed in 4A, 1A nine-man and 1A six-man.
Here is a quick look at all five championship games:
Class 4A, 4 p.m. Saturday
Rock Springs (2, 10-1) vs. Sheridan (1, 10-1)
Series record: Sheridan leads 27-4-2.
Last meeting: Sheridan beat Rock Springs 27-24 on Sept. 17 in Sheridan.
Last playoff meeting: Sheridan beat Rock Springs 35-6 on Oct. 30, 2020, in a Class 4A quarterfinal game in Sheridan.
State championships: Rock Springs seven, most recently in 2002. … Sheridan 27, most recently in 2019.
Previous title game record: Rock Springs, 5-7. … Sheridan, 17-7.
The path to the title game: Rock Springs took care of Kelly Walsh 42-21 in the quarterfinals and thumped Cheyenne East 55-34 in the semifinals. … Sheridan wiped out Cheyenne Central 48-14 in the first round and beat Natrona 38-24 in the semifinals.
The case for the Tigers: The best argument for Rock Springs is a simple one — the best offense and the best defense in Class 4A belong to the same team, and it’s the Tigers. That combination rarely fails. Rock Springs has a diverse offense that gets lots of people involved, and QB Brock Bider takes care of the ball well. And the defense plays consistently, with eight of nine regular-season opponents being held to 18 points or less.
The case for the Broncs: No team is better at creating opportunities for itself than Sheridan. With a turnover ratio of plus-24, the Broncs have consistently put themselves in positions to have success. Colson Coon is a 1,000-yard back and leads Class 4A in touchdowns, and a menagerie of players contribute to an efficient defense. Oh, and something about 27 state championships.
The pick: For some reason, a three-point margin was the margin of choice for several 4A games this year, including five games in the span of three weeks. One of those was Sheridan’s 27-24 victory against Rock Springs. The Broncs had a few things going for them in that game, though, including the big one — the game was in Sheridan. Is a neutral site enough to swing a game those extra points? … Rock Springs 24, Sheridan 21.
Class 3A, 3 p.m. Friday
Jackson (2W, 9-2) vs. Cody (1W, 10-0)
Series record: Cody leads 23-8.
Last meeting: Cody beat Jackson 21-15 on Oct. 22 in Cody.
Last playoff meeting: Cody beat Jackson 34-31 on Nov. 14, 2020, in the Class 3A championship game in Cody.
State championships: Jackson three, most recently in 2007. … Cody six, most recently in 2020.
Previous title game record: Jackson, 3-2. … Cody, 6-5.
The path to the title game: Jackson scored a ton in the quarterfinals to beat Buffalo 75-27 and held on to beat Douglas 28-20 in the semifinals. … Cody eased past Worland 40-7 and nudged out Star Valley 24-17 in the semifinals.
The case for the orange-and-black Broncs: Any conversation about Jackson inevitably starts with the Broncs’ high-octane offense and multiple weapons, as 3A’s top rusher (Brody Hasenack) and passer (Sadler Smith) and three of the top five receivers (Nate Keipert, Colter Dawson, Sam Scott) are in Jackson. But the defense has been more than up to the task, with Dawson’s monster efforts accentuated by players in good schemes around him.
The case for the blue-and-gold Broncs: The defending state champions have won 15 consecutive games going back to last year, seemingly not missing a beat from 2020 to 2021. Class 3A’s second-best offense (behind Jackson) and second-best defense (behind Douglas) has been an unbeatable combination, and the Broncs have done so behind the spread-the-love team approach that has been coach Matt McFadden’s calling card his entire time in Cody.
The pick: The Week 8 classic these two teams staged in Cody isn’t far from either team’s mind, as a Cody touchdown in the waning moments provided the difference in a 21-15 victory. Both teams have had similar playoff experiences — opportunities set up by easy first-round victories were nearly squandered by second-half slowdowns in the semifinals. Regardless, this is the championship matchup, the rematch, we’ve been waiting a whole year to see. It won’t disappoint. … Cody 31, Jackson 28, in overtime.
Class 2A, 10 a.m. Saturday
Lovell (2W, 9-1) vs. Lyman (1W, 11-0)
Series record: Lyman leads 11-10.
Last meeting: Lyman beat Lovell 34-15 on Sept. 17 in Lovell.
Last playoff meeting: Lyman beat Lovell 22-20 on Nov. 10, 2012, in the Class 2A championship game in Laramie.
State championships: Lovell two, most recently in 2011. … Lyman five, most recently in 2020.
Previous title game record: Lovell, 2-5. … Lyman, 5-1.
The path to the title game: Lovell beat Upton-Sundance 21-8 in the quarterfinals and had little trouble with Torrington, winning 35-7 in the semifinals. … Lyman topped Big Horn 42-20 in the first round and knocked out Wheatland 38-28 in the semifinals.
The case for the Bulldogs: Lovell’s offense is one big game of whack-a-mole; when a defense focuses on one, the others can make them look silly. The defense is opportunistic and plays big when it needs to, resulting in the best scoring defense in 2A. And Lovell has won seven in a row since that early loss to Lyman and is looking like an entirely new team.
The case for the Eagles: Put simply: Lyman has won 18 in a row and 22 of 23 the past two seasons. The defending 2A champs are built for efficiency, with QB Ashton Houskeeper leading the team in passing and rushing, Rho Mecham leading the defense in TFLs, sacks and bruised dreams and McKoy Smith being indispensable on both sides. It’s a group that knows how to win, and they keep proving that fact over, and over, and over.
The pick: To find success in 2A, you have to be able to run the ball, and you have to be able to stop the run. So it’s no surprise the top two rushing offenses and the top two rushing defenses are meeting in the title game. Although it would be easy to look at that Week 3 game and decide this is Lyman’s game to lose, Lovell learned a lot from that loss and has been playing lights-out ever since. It’ll be close, and tough, and a struggle, and one mistake could make the difference. … Lyman 26, Lovell 21.
Class 1A nine-man, 1 p.m. Saturday
Rocky Mountain (2W, 9-1) vs. Shoshoni (1W, 9-1)
Series record: Rocky Mountain leads 14-13.
Last meeting: Shoshoni beat Rocky Mountain 27-10 on Sept. 10 in Cowley.
Last playoff meeting: Rocky Mountain beat Shoshoni 59-6 on Oct. 23, 1998, in a Class 1A-Division I quarterfinal game in Byron.
State championships: Rocky Mountain four, most recently in 1998. … Shoshoni two, most recently in 1985.
Previous title game record: Rocky Mountain, 4-1. … Shoshoni, 2-0.
The path to the title game: Rocky Mountain dispatched defending champ Southeast 37-22 in the first round and came back to beat Pine Bluffs 30-24 in the semifinals. … Shoshoni shut out Wright 55-0 in the quarterfinals and did the same to Wind River 27-0 in the semifinals.
The case for the Grizzlies: Rocky’s offense keys through QB Carsyn Weber, who leads the Grizzlies in both rushing and passing. The defense is consistent and has multiple players who can make a big play. And after winning eight in a row, including the defending champs (Southeast) and the odds-on, undefeated favorites (Pine Bluffs) in the playoffs, they’re justifiably confident.
The case for the Wranglers: A mid-season, nonconference loss to Pine Bluffs aside, the Wranglers have been in control of every single game they’ve played so far. They haven’t given up a point in the playoffs and boast the classification’s toughest defense and its most opportunistic. Pehton Truempler is a 1,000-yard back, Alex Mills a 1,000-yard passer, and four players are 120-point defensive men. What more do you need?
The pick: Either way, one program will win its first state title this century. The question will be which team — neither of which has ever played in a title game at The War — handles the new surroundings the best. Neither team lacks focus or discipline, and in that kind of matchup, things like depth, execution and momentum are amplified. Closer than Week 2, but a totally different game. … Shoshoni 30, Rocky Mountain 26.
Class 1A six-man, noon Friday
Encampment (2W, 8-1) vs. Snake River (1W, 9-0)
Series record: Encampment leads 2-1.
Last meeting: Snake River beat Encampment 66-24 on Sept. 10 in Baggs.
Last playoff meeting: First playoff meeting.
State championships: Encampment zero. …. Snake River three, most recently in 2019.
Previous title game record: Encampment, 0-0. … Snake River, 3-1.
The path to the title game: Encampment whaled on Guernsey 68-0 in the quarterfinals and outlasted Dubois 56-36 in the semifinals. … Snake River overwhelmed Kaycee 62-8 in the first round and barely advanced past Meeteetse 47-46 in the semifinals.
The case for the Tigers: Who doesn’t love the underdog story? From not even existing to state title game in less than four years, Encampment has proven right every hope the community had when it brought the program to life in 2019. They’re deep but also top-heavy; they’re diverse but also specialized. In short, they’re everything a six-man team should be — and they’re in the title game for a reason, not for a fluke.
The case for the Rattlers: Six-man’s most efficient offense (9.6 yards per play) and stingiest defense (3.8 yards per play) on the same team? Makes sense that Snake is unbeaten. The only team to come close to the Rattlers was Meeteetse (twice) and non-playoff Farson; every other victory, including the one against Encampment, hovered past the 40 margin. Health is the big question.
The pick: In a version of the game often defined by offense, the state’s top two defenses will decide the title. To be clear, there will be plenty of offense. Usually at some point in a six-man game, though, one team will make a series of defensive stops to take control of the game’s pace. The problem is when both teams do that at the same time — and both of these Carbon County rivals are capable of that. … Snake River 47, Encampment 37.
Here are the results of my picks from last week and this season:
Last week: 8-2 (80 percent). This season: 257-49 (84 percent).
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