The fourth in a five-part season preview continues today with a look at Class 3A.
Four questions to answer
Can Powell repeat? Yes. The talent that Powell returns is second to none in 3A this fall — five all-state choices, including two seniors and three juniors, will help anchor the Panthers’ repeat chances. The better question might be: Who can stop Powell from repeating?
Is Green River still in a post-Powell hangover? We’ll see, although I doubt it. The Wolves again have the potential to be one of the best teams in 3A, but the way last season ended — by giving up a 45-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds to go — can’t help but affect a team’s psyche. For their part, the Wolves are still the defending West Conference champs, and the title still goes through Green River. That reality alone should help bring the Wolves back from that tough loss to finish last season.
Is this Riverton’s breakthrough year? Probably. The Wolverines have been pointing to this season for at least two years now as their possible breakout season. The combo of Xavier Webb and T.J. Galey, both returning all-state choices, gives the Riverton offense a tandem option that no team in 3A can match. And with Douglas rebuilding/reloading, Lander going through a transition and Buffalo refocusing with a new coach, this might be Riverton’s best shot to win the East.
How will Buffalo do with a new coach? The answer is much more long and complicated than I have room for here. Any time a program goes through the tumult the Buffalo program did last year, there will be some unforeseen repercussions. How new coach Rob Hammond and his staff handle those unanticipated changes — good or bad — will help define the Bison’s success on the scoreboard.
Four players to watch
Vince Sleep, Powell. He made this list last year. He’ll make it again this year. As a junior, he led Powell in both solo tackles and tackles for loss. Already a two-time all-state selection, opposing coaches know Sleep will be a handful as the anchor of the Panthers’ defense.
Ty Etchemendy, Douglas. Even on a team full of seniors, it was hard to overlook the junior Etchemendy last year. He was Douglas’ leading receiver last year, but also played running back and defensive back and returned a few kicks, as well, and his efforts earned him an all-state nod. He’ll be asked to take on even more as a senior.
Xavier Webb, Riverton. If this really is Riverton’s breakthrough year, it’ll be on Webb to prove it. The Wolverines’ quarterback was an all-state choice last fall, completing 55 percent of his passes (99 of 181) for 1,241 yards and 12 touchdowns; he’ll need a similar, or maybe even slightly better, effort this year to help the Wolverines get over the top.
Aaron Fenner, Buffalo. Few players combine offense and defense as well as Fenner. He led Buffalo in rushing yards, receiving yards and defensive points as a junior last season. It’s hard to ask for an encore of that performance, but Fenner will likely need to be just as integral a part of the Bison’s effort to help his team back into the playoff hunt this season.
Four key games
Green River at Douglas, Aug. 31: This is probably the most highly anticipated nonconference game of the season in any classification. And it just so happens to pop up in Week 1. Both teams are eager to show they are the true favorites in 3A this fall; a victory here will go a long way to proving that point.
Star Valley at Powell, Sept. 28: One of the teams lost in the 3A mix is Star Valley — a team that had a tremendous 2011 season and returns enough players to be a threat in the West again this year. A victory here over the defending champs would be nice, but the Panthers remember what happened last year in Afton and are probably eager for a bit of payback.
Buffalo at Riverton, Sept. 28: The Wolverines have the good fortune of drawing the Bison at home this year. And if they want to prove they belong in title-game talk, this is the game they have to win.
Green River at Powell, Oct. 19: After not playing since 1982, these two teams played each other twice last season, building up enough familiarity with each other to make up for a lot of lost time. This one could again decide home-field advantage in the playoffs — although last year helped prove that home field isn’t everything.
Predicted order of finish
East: Douglas, Riverton, Buffalo, Lander, Torrington, Rawlins.
West: Powell, Green River, Star Valley, Worland, Cody, Jackson.
Completely outlandish, way-too-early title game score prediction
Powell 19, Green River 16
Every current Class 3A team has played every other current 3A team at least twice in the past 90 years — except for these two schools, who have never played each other. Which two current 3A schools am I talking about? Post your guesses as a comment below.
What do you think? Does 3A have more parity than the rest of the classifications in Wyoming? What game are you most looking forward to? What players are poised for breakout seasons? Post some thoughts below and let’s talk 3A football.