I think I’ve used this simile before on this site, but it’s so apt that I’m going to use it again. I have heard the championship game of a season is like the ending of a great mystery novel. It brings closure, resolution, a sense of certainty to all the twists and turns you’ve seen transpire before you.
This weekend, we have some opportunities to see something special in each of the five games. Two teams — Sheridan and Snake River — enter Laramie with 30 consecutive victories apiece behind them. In 3A, the two most dominant programs of the decade meet yet again in a rivalry that, despite the familiarity, never seems to get old. Class 1A nine-man will deliver a champion from two teams, neither of which have ever played in War Memorial Stadium. And 2A could deliver us the best game of the weekend, just as it has each of the past couple years.
Class 4A, 4 p.m. Saturday
Cheyenne East (2, 10-1) vs. Sheridan (1, 11-0)
Series record: Sheridan leads 33-15.
Last meeting: Sheridan beat Cheyenne East 44-37 on Sept. 29 in Cheyenne.
Last playoff meeting: Sheridan beat Cheyenne East 34-23 on Nov. 12, 2022, in the Class 4A championship game in Laramie.
State championships: Cheyenne East five, most recently in 2020. … Sheridan 29, most recently in 2022.
Previous title game record: Cheyenne East, 5-4. … Sheridan, 19-7.
The path to the title game: Cheyenne East topped Rock Springs 42-14 in the quarterfinals and outlasted Natrona 17-10 in the semifinals. … Sheridan rolled over its first two playoff opponents, beating Kelly Walsh 59-0 in the quarterfinals and Thunder Basin 62-7 in the semifinals.
The case for the Thunderbirds: In almost every statistical measure, East’s offense may be the best we’ve ever seen. In total yards, attempts per game, touchdowns — East leads it all, by wide margins. Cam Hayes is piling up huge numbers at quarterback; Drew Jackson is one of the state’s top rushers and receivers; a variety of receivers force teams to cover the whole field. The defense, ranked No. 2 in the state, has shown up, as well — and for as fast as East’s offense moves, the fact that its defense has kept up is astonishing.
The case for the Broncs: A huge chunk of the recipe that works for Sheridan is that the Broncs never, ever beat themselves. They’ve had just six turnovers this season, fewest in 4A, while forcing 28, the most in 4A. That’s why teams with more efficient offenses or better defenses on paper struggle when they go up against the Broncs — because if you want to beat Sheridan, you have to be basically perfect in every aspect of the game. That’s the recipe that has led to 30 consecutive victories, eight titles in 14 years and the chance for a three-peat.
The pick: The past seven Class 4A championship games have all been decided by at least nine points. This might be the year that breaks the streak. Couple Sheridan’s 44-37 victory against the Thunderbirds back in Week 5 in Cheyenne with both teams’ dominance against the rest of the 4A field, and you have a game that could be one of Wyoming’s all-time classics. Sheridan 38, Cheyenne East 35.
Class 3A, 3 p.m. Friday
Cody (2W, 10-1) vs. Star Valley (1W, 10-1)
Series record: Star Valley leads 27-13.
Last meeting: Star Valley beat Cody 41-14 on Oct. 6 in Cody.
Last playoff meeting: Star Valley beat Cody 14-7 on Nov. 11, 2022, in the Class 3A championship game in Laramie.
State championships: Cody seven, most recently in 2021. … Star Valley 13, most recently in 2022.
Previous title game record: Cody, 7-6. … Star Valley, 12-10.
The path to the title game: Cody blasted through both of its first two playoff opponents, defeating Douglas 42-14 in the quarterfinals and Evanston 52-14 in the semifinals. … Star Valley ran roughshod over Worland 62-0 in the first round and knocked off Buffalo 30-19 in the semifinals.
The case for the Broncs: Find me a more consistent team than Cody over the past four seasons. I’ll wait. Already, Cody is guaranteed its fourth consecutive double-digit victory season, its fourth consecutive title game appearance. Cody’s offense fits its strengths, and now the Broncs are No. 1 in 3A in rushing, by a lot, and have the No. 1 offense overall. Moreover, the Broncs are 41-3 over the past four seasons. The only worry? All three of those losses have been to Star Valley.
The case for the Braves: It’s almost scary how efficient the Braves have bene this year. Their only loss came to Idaho powerhouse Sugar-Salem, and aside from Powell (24-21), every victory has been by double digits. Their offense is diverse and keeps opposing defenses guessing. And if defense wins championships, as the old cliche goes? Then look no further than Star Valley, which has 3A’s No. 1 defense.
The pick: I mean, here we are again. Dynasty vs. dynasty. Which one is extended, and which one is delayed? Class 3A’s two most dominant programs will extend to a decade of dominance, either way, as one of these two teams will have won the 3A title in each of the past 10 years. For now, I think the way the Braves handled the Broncs in Week 6 is the decider, but, hey — you never know. Just look at last year. Star Valley 30, Cody 20.
Class 2A, noon Friday
Torrington (2E, 8-3) vs. Big Horn (1E, 9-1)
Series record: Big Horn leads 3-1.
Last meeting: Big Horn beat Torrington 33-27 on Sept. 22 in Torrington.
Last playoff meeting: First playoff meeting.
State championships: Torrington four, most recently in 1990. … Big Horn eight, most recently in 2022.
Previous title game record: Torrington, 2-12. … Big Horn, 8-10.
The path to the title game: Torrington won a pair of close ones, beating Cokeville 21-14 in the first round and previously unbeaten Mountain View 25-19 in the semifinals. … Big Horn had little trouble with a pair of West Conference foes, beating Lovell 49-28 in the quarterfinals and Lyman 34-14 in the semifinals.
The case for the Trailblazers: At the halfway point of the season, Torrington was 2-3 and, let’s face it, not a very attractive title contender. Then, just like in the movies, Torrington took off its glasses. Since then, it’s been six straight victories, including two gritty playoff victories against some of the best teams the West Conference had this season. The ‘Blazers’ defense has been stout all season — six of seven conference opponents couldn’t get past single digits — and the offense has been consistent, if not flashy. This is a group that certainly is more confident now than when it first played Big Horn, and even then it was a down-to-the-wire 32-27 loss. That team, but confident? Look out.
The case for the Rams: Remember when Big Horn was 0-1 after a double-overtime loss to Lovell? Yeah, no one else does either. Because nine straight victories have boosted the Rams to Laramie. That run included a 7-0 East Conference mark and suspiciously easy victories against that aforementioned Lovell team and last week’s 20-point win in the semis against consistent contender Lyman. The Rams’ offense is 2A’s best, and the defense — which often sees the field a lot due to its offensive efficiency — does enough to keep the Rams’ W-train a-rollin’.
The pick: The 2A title game the past two years has more or less come down to one play. This game has similar markings, although I’d wager that the scoring will be more robust than those two (which finished 8-6 and 8-7, by the way). Get ready for another thriller, probably pretty similar to the first, with a fourth-quarter break benefitting the team that eventually takes it all. Big Horn 34, Torrington 30.
Class 1A nine-man, 1 p.m. Saturday
Big Piney (2W, 9-1) vs. Wind River (1W, 8-1)
Series record: Big Piney leads 6-2.
Last meeting: Wind River beat Big Piney 28-21 on Sept. 21 in Pavillion.
Last playoff meeting: First playoff meeting.
State championships: Big Piney eight, most recently in 2006. … Wind River one, in 1997.
Previous title game record: Big Piney, 8-2. … Wind River, 1-1.
The path to the title game: Big Piney ousted Pine Bluffs 28-14 in the first round and beat previously unbeaten Lingle on the road 51-27 in the semifinals. … Wind River blasted Lusk 68-6 in the first round and scraped past Southeast 32-30 in the second round.
The case for the Punchers: In these kinds of games — Wind River the No. 1 offense in nine-man, Big Piney the No. 1 defense — it’s easy to get hung up on looking at that matchup. But usually, when these kinds of matchups happen, it’s the other one — Big Piney’s offense vs. Wind River’s defense — that ends up making or breaking the game. That’s where the Punchers may have an advantage, with the No. 3 offense in nine-man that has shown both diversity and consistency. Moreover, Big Piney’s only loss was to Wind River in Pavillion; put them on a neutral field, and things just might be different.
The case for the Cougars: Wind River started slow, through no fault of their own. Their first two opponents (Saratoga and St. Stephens) canceled on them. Entering Week 3, they could have easily been called the least experienced team in the state. But a deep senior class overcame the challenge that might have sunk other teams, and together they’ve won eight in a row. With eventual three-time all-state pick Cooper Frederick leading the state’s No. 1 rushing offense (and No. 1 offense, total), the Cougars have been unstoppable so far.
The pick: Wind River won the first matchup between these two teams this season, and in watching the highlights, I keep coming away with the feeling that the Cougars had fortune on their side. In a 28-21 victory, Wind River got a kick return touchdown and a pick-six to augment their efforts. I keep feeling like game will come down to something similar; whoever creates the unexpected play creates the championship. Big Piney 32, Wind River 27.
Class 1A six-man, 10 a.m. Saturday
Snake River (1S, 9-0) vs. Burlington (1N, 9-1)
Series record: Snake River leads 7-1.
Last meeting/last playoff meeting: Snake River beat Burlington 55-8 in the Class 1A six-man championship on Nov. 12, 2022, in Laramie.
State championships: Snake River five, most recently in 2022. … Burlington two, most recently in 1994.
Previous title game record: Snake River, 5-1. … Burlington, 2-3.
The path to the title game: Snake River stayed unbeaten with two playoff victories, topping Hulett 74-20 in the quarterfinals and beating Dubois 47-22 in the semifinals. … Burlington beat Farson 64-20 in the quarterfinals and needed a ton of points to outlast Encampment 80-73 in the semifinals in the highest-scoring playoff game in state history.
The case for the Rattlers: It’s simple. In 30 consecutive games, the Rattlers have come out on top in every single one. Snake River has the talent, the tradition and the momentum. In that streak, only two games have ended with one-possession differences; in the past two years, only one team has stayed within 16 points; and this year, the Rattlers’ closest game has been a 25-point victory. As long as the Rattlers continue to look at Saturday as a competition and not a coronation, they should be fine.
The case for the Huskies: Maybe last year, the stage was just a little too big, the lights a little too bright, and losing 55-8 in the championship game was an awakening to just how hard it can be to win a title. The Huskies won’t have such problems this year. No Wyoming team has beaten the Huskies, their lone loss coming to Custer, Montana, and only one game — last week’s 80-73 shootout against Encampment — resulted in a scoring difference of less than 21 points.
The pick: Back in July, I called for a Snake River-Burlington title game. And I even gave a score prediction. Why change that now? Snake River is still at the top of the class, and Burlington, while still a formidable opponent, is still the underdog this weekend. Snake River 49, Burlington 33.
Here are the results of my picks from last week and this season:
Last week: 8-2 (80 percent). This season: 263-47 (85 percent).
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