If history is any indicator, the Class 1A 11-man champion will be decided Saturday in Cokeville.
This weekend, Cokeville hosts Southeast in what may be the biggest nonconference game the state will see this year.
After all, these two programs have faced each other 10 previous times; in every single case, the team that won that game also won a state championship that season.
This makes sense — each of the past 10 games have been playoff games. The Cyclones and Panthers played each other in championship games in 1980, 1999, 2003 and 2011; the other six meetings (1993, 1998, 2000, 2008, 2010, 2012) all came in the semifinal playoff round.
If that doesn’t persuade you, then how about this? The state’s all-time standings by winning percentage helps illustrate how momentous this game is. No two active programs are more successful than Cokeville and Southeast. The Panthers have won more than 72 percent of all their games in program history, the Cyclones almost 67 percent. They’ve combined to win 29 state championships, including one a year every year since 2006.
Both teams have put dents in each other’s records. The series is matched about as evenly as it can be: five victories for Cokeville, five for Southeast. Neither team has beat the other more than twice in a row. And home-field advantage has almost been nil; the home team has only won five of the nine games played in either Yoder or Cokeville (one meeting on neutral turf in Laramie).
For the first time on Saturday, the two programs separated by more than 400 miles but bonded by success will play in a regular-season game.
However, the two teams are meeting under unusual circumstances. They both lost last week — Cokeville to Mountain View, Southeast to Burns. That almost never happens — Week 1 of the 2013 season marked the first time since Week 2 of the 2004 season that Cokeville and Southeast lost in the same week. (That week, Southeast lost to Bridgeport, Neb., 21-20, and Cokeville lost to Big Piney 36-14.) Before that, the last time these two teams had lost in the same week was 1995.
One of these teams will start this season 0-2. For Cokeville, that hasn’t happened since 1987 — a year the Panthers won the state title. Last year, the Cyclones lost their first two — the first time that had happened since 1996 — but recovered to win the state title, in part thanks to beating Cokeville in the state semifinals.
The program’s successes have been bred by a pair of the state’s best coaches.
Among Wyoming coaches with at least 100 career victories, Cokeville coach Todd Dayton’s winning percentage (entering the season) of .842 was the best; Southeast coach Mark Bullington’s winning percentage of .810 ranked him second. Dayton is Wyoming’s all-time winningest coach; Bullington, with 18 fewer seasons as a head coach than Dayton, entered the season tied for third-most victories among active coaches and is in the top 20 all time.
tl;dr: The two best active programs in the state are playing on Saturday, facing each other in the regular season for the first time. You better pay attention.
What else I’m watching this week: Anyone else think Cody-Douglas could be one of the best games of the regular season? I’m curious to see how that one pans out. … Big Horn-Newcastle was one of the biggest games of the regular season a year ago. It doesn’t have the same hype this year (it’s too soon in the season for that), but it could have implications on playoff seeding that are just as big. … Don’t overlook this one: Upton-Sundance at Rocky Mountain. The game pits two 1A programs that beat 2A teams last week, and two programs eager to prove they belong in the same breath as Cokeville, Southeast and Lusk.
Here are this week’s picks, with the projected winners in a type that is, like, thicker than regular type:
Natrona JV at Wind River
Cheyenne East at Cheyenne South (moved from East)
Gillette at Cheyenne Central
Natrona at Laramie
Rock Springs at Kelly Walsh
Sheridan at Evanston
Cody at Douglas
Green River at Riverton
Lander at Star Valley
Powell at Buffalo
Rawlins at Jackson
Torrington at Worland
Big Horn at Newcastle
Burns at Wright
Kemmerer at Lyman
Lovell at Pinedale
Moorcroft at Glenrock
Mountain View at Greybull
Thermopolis at Big Piney
Wheatland at Tongue River
Class 1A 11-man
Lingle at Burlington
Riverside at Pine Bluffs
Shoshoni at Lusk
Upton-Sundance at Rocky Mountain
Class 1A six-man
Farson at Dubois
Guernsey-Sunrise at Hulett
Kaycee at Hanna
Wyoming Indian at Saratoga
Class 1A 11-man
Southeast at Cokeville
Class 1A six-man
Meeteetse at Snake River
Midwest at Normative Services
St. Stephens at Ten Sleep
For a full schedule including kick times, check out the 2013 schedule and results page.
Last week: 22-10 (69 percent). This season: 34-12 (74 percent).
What games are YOU keeping an eye on this week? Did I make any picks that you think are wrong? Post a comment below!