Class 1A six-man, noon
Guernsey-Sunrise Vikings (1E, 10-0) vs. Dubois Rams (1W, 8-2)
Series record: Tied 2-2.
Last meeting: Guernsey-Sunrise beat Dubois 60-12 on Sept. 6 in Guernsey.
State championships: Guernsey-Sunrise 3, most recent in 2009. … Dubois 1, in 2012.
Previous title game record: Guernsey-Sunrise, 3-5. … Dubois, 1-2.
The path to Laramie: Guernsey-Sunrise blasted Farson 65-8 in the quarterfinals and rallied past Snake River 72-40 in the semifinals. … Dubois beat Midwest 74-14 in the quarterfinals and topped Meeteetse 68-32 in the semifinals.
The case for Guernsey-Sunrise: When the season started, I called on the Vikings’ Brady Esquibel to lead this team to victory. Esquibel has been stellar, but his supporting cast — especially standouts Austin Quynn and Treasure Hollister — have been the ones to turn far-off championship dreams into actual championship possibilities. And that defense, best in six-man, is rock solid.
The case for Dubois: The Rams started 1-2, with losses to Guernsey-Sunrise in Week 1 and Farson in Week 3, before they found themselves. Since that loss to Farson, the Rams have been unbeatable, winning both close games and blowouts. And the past month, they’ve been unstoppable, winning big every time out. Like the last couple years, though, the Rams’ first few players have to do the job; they’re talented, but not deep.
The pick: Guernsey-Sunrise beat Dubois 60-12 in Week 1. So this one seems easy. But I’d venture to say that Dubois has improved more since that game than Guernsey has. Now, I don’t think the Rams have improved enough to cover a 48-point, mercy-rule loss from early September, but this one will be much closer the second time around. I still like my preseason favorites, though. Guernsey-Sunrise 58, Dubois 46.
Class 3A, 3 p.m.
Douglas Bearcats (1E, 9-1) vs. Cody Broncs (1W, 9-2)
Series record: Douglas leads 6-0.
Last meeting: Douglas beat Cody 13-7 on Sept. 12 in Cody.
State championships: Douglas 5, most recent in 2010. … Cody 3, most recent in 1991.
Previous title game record: Douglas, 5-7. … Cody, 3-5.
The path to Laramie: Douglas outlasted Star Valley 38-13 in the quarterfinals and shut out Torrington 27-0 in the semifinals. … Cody destroyed Rawlins 61-6 in the quarterfinals and topped Riverton 42-34 in the semifinals.
The case for Douglas: Defense. Douglas has it. The Bearcats have consistently been one of the best, if not THE best, defenses in 3A. RB Colter Haman and QB Haize Weber lead an offense that’s just diverse enough to keep teams off-balance. And Douglas has already beaten Cody once this year, in Cody.
The case for Cody: What I like about Cody is that they’ve consistently shown improvement — not only from last year to this year, but within the last 11 weeks, as well. After a 1-2 start, the Broncs have won eight in a row, most of those by wide margins. Maybe most importantly, in terms of straight-up talent and athletic ability, Cody has the deck stacked with guys like Carter and Cameron Myers, Noah Rivera, Blake Hinze and Brayden Feusner.
The pick: I think the September meeting of these two teams was a case of two teams prodding for weaknesses with the idea that a postseason meeting might be possible. I don’t think either team showed what it was truly capable of doing, and both coaches kept some plays in their pockets. That’s why this one will be a higher-scoring contest than September’s. Even so, both teams have stacked defenses (the top two in 3A by a wide margin), something you’ll see come up big in the fourth quarter. Douglas 28, Cody 24.
Class 2A, 10 a.m.
Big Horn Rams (1E, 10-0) vs. Mountain View Buffalos (1W, 9-1)
Series record: Big Horn leads 1-0.
Last meeting: Big Horn beat Mountain View 47-22 on Nov. 15, 2013, in Laramie.
State championships: Big Horn 4, most recent last year. … Mountain View 3, most recent in 1997.
Previous title game record: Big Horn, 4-8. … Mountain View, 3-6.
The path to Laramie: Big Horn survived in the postseason, beating Lovell 23-12 in the quarterfinals and Wheatland 28-21 in the semifinals. … Mountain View blasted Thermopolis 60-0 in the quarterfinals and Newcastle 52-14 in the semifinals.
The case for Big Horn: After winning each of their first seven games by 25 points apiece, the Rams have won their last three by margins of 13, 11 and 7. It would be easy to look at those results and say the Rams are struggling. I see something different. I see a team that’s learned how to win close games as well as shutouts. I see a team that hasn’t had to lose to regain its focus. And I see a team that takes nothing for granted. Oh, and in case you forgot, this program has won 18 games in a row.
The case for Mountain View: To go undefeated through 2A West Conference play takes something special. Not only did Mountain View do that this season, it did so emphatically; each of Mountain View’s nine victories has been by at least 30 points. The senior backfield pair of Cade Covington and Austin Houskeeper is unparalleled for both talent and experience, and they — and all their senior classmates — have something to prove in their final game with the Buffalos.
The pick: Back in August, I called for this: a Mountain View-Big Horn rematch. And I said if the Rams found consistency under center, they’d win another title. Big Horn has that. So let’s stick with what got us here. Big Horn 34, Mountain View 28.
Class 1A 11-man, 1 p.m.
Cokeville Panthers (1W, 11-0) vs. Lusk Tigers (1E, 9-0)
Series record: Cokeville leads 4-0.
Last meeting: Cokeville beat Lusk 13-12 on Nov. 16, 2013, in Laramie.
State championships: Cokeville 21, most recent last year. … Lusk 5, most recent in 2002.
Previous title game record: Cokeville, 20-6. … Lusk, 5-8.
The path to Laramie: Cokeville shut out Tongue River 55-0 in the quarterfinals and knocked out Lingle 36-7 in the semifinals. … Lusk thumped Riverside 55-0 and beat Upton-Sundance 44-12 in the semifinals.
The case for Cokeville: It’s Cokeville, and in Wyoming, that’s basically all you need to say. This year, though, Cokeville has more going for it than just tradition. The Panthers have their biggest senior class in coach Todd Dayton’s three-plus-decade tenure. They’ve got a quarterback in Jace Petersen who would have been just Wyoming’s third four-time all-state selection had he not been injured as a sophomore (perhaps not coincidentally, the only year since 2010 where Cokeville hasn’t won the state title). They’ve got the momentum of 21 consecutive victories and the confidence only consistent success brings.
The case for Lusk: If anyone can stand up to Cokeville, it’s Lusk. The Tigers have the talent and the physical ability to stand up to the Panthers, with Derick VandeBossche, Martin Fitzwater and Logan Lamar running behind a formidable offensive line. Their defense is stout and capable, giving up fewer than 100 yards per game. Aside from a 16-6 regular-season W against Upton-Sundance, Lusk has won every game by at least 32 points.
The pick: Here we are again. Lusk and Cokeville played each other for the 1A 11-man title in 2013. And 2010. They’ve emerged as the classification’s flagship programs. It’s only right they’re playing in the title game. As much as I like Lusk — and as much as that program deserves a title after championship-game losses in 2010, 2012 and 2013 — Cokeville has been great not only for 1A, but for Cokeville. This may go down as one of the best Panther teams in program history. And that’s saying something. Lusk will make it tough on them, though. Cokeville 27, Lusk 20.
Gillette Camels (3, 9-2) vs. Natrona Mustangs (1, 11-0)
Series record: Natrona leads 38-18.
Last meeting: Natrona beat Gillette 47-7 on Sept. 19 in Gillette.
State championships: Gillette 4, most recent in 2008. … Natrona 16, most recent in 2012.
Previous title game record: Gillette, 4-7. … Natrona, 9-5.
The path to Laramie: Gillette bumped Laramie 48-3 in the quarterfinals before beating Cheyenne East 34-31 in double overtime in the semifinals. … Natrona topped Evanston 55-12 in the quarterfinals and shut out Sheridan 27-0 in the semifinals.
The case for Gillette: Honestly, after losing six players to suspension earlier this week, the Camels’ outlook is shaky. In cases like this, one of two things happens: Either the team rallies and plays better than before to make up for the losses, or it falls apart completely. On the plus side for Gillette? If any school can overcome a talent deficit, it’s the deep and prepared Camels. And the team is riding a crest of momentum that only a double-overtime victory can give a team. If Gillette can use that momentum to their advantage, rally around its losses and keep its confidence inflated, it will be more dangerous than anyone can anticipate.
The case for Natrona: No 4A team has been as steady as the Mustangs. A 14-7 victory against East aside, NC has won every game by at least 24 points. Only two teams have cracked double digits on the scoreboard against one of the stingiest 4A defenses in recent memory. Offensively, the dual-quarterback system of Casson Burgen and Josh Harshman has worked well and kept opposing defenses out of rhythm. And last but not least, no one has beaten Natrona yet this year.
The pick: The longer NC lets Gillette hang around, the more dangerous the Camels become. The Mustangs need at least two big plays early in this game to quell the Camels’ semifinal/rallying vibes. If NC can do that… Natrona 38, Gillette 14. If not…
Last week: 9-1 (90 percent). This season: 248-55 (82 percent).
For the sixth year in a row, War Memorial Stadium will play host to the five championship games. The weather forecast doesn’t look good — near freezing and windy on Friday, cold and snowy on Saturday — so if nothing else, promise me two things: (1) dress warm, and (2) stay safe on the roads. One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was driving from Laramie to Casper after the 2011 title games. Shirley Basin and Sybille Canyon were closed, so I drove to Cheyenne and then around to Casper; the only problem was that I-80 closed on me about 20 minutes after I left town. I slid off the road twice. It took me more than an hour and a half to get from Laramie to Cheyenne, and then another four hours from Cheyenne to Casper. Don’t do what I did. At least I was dressed appropriately….