At the beginning of the season in Class 1A six-man, the talk will be about Kaycee — and rightly so.
The Buckaroos have won three consecutive Class 1A six-man championships and 30 games in a row, tied for second-longest in state history and just five shy of the overall mark of 34 set by Laramie from 1959-63.
However, whether Kaycee even has the opportunity to break that streak, much less win a fourth consecutive six-man championship, is very much in question.
Graduation decimated the Buckaroos’ lineup, and several other teams (Farson, Burlington, Snake River, Meeteetse, Hanna) think this year might be their year. For once, the competition will be strong in six-man.
Four questions to answer
Will Kaycee win a fourth consecutive six-man championship? Probably not. The Buckaroos lost half its team to graduation — yes, half — and will rely on a ton of younger players to stay competitive. That turnover opens the door for Farson, the six-man runners-up the past two years, to come into the season as favorites for the title.
If Farson’s the favorite, who else is in the title chase? Snake River and Burlington. The three teams split the West Conference title last season, and all three return enough firepower to be state title contenders. Farson’s individual talent — always a bigger deal at six-man than 11-man — gives the Pronghorns the upper hand on paper in the preseason, but both the Rattlers and Huskies could be problematic for Farson this season.
Is anyone from the East a contender? Not really. As noted, Kaycee lost a lot of talent, but pretty much every other team in the East did to. Hanna is the lone exception, but most of the Miners’ key players this year are juniors — setting the team up well for a 2019 push but likely making a run at a championship this year more difficult than usual.
Who’s got the best chance to be a surprise contender? Meeteetse. The Longhorns will have six seniors — a ton for six-man — and could compete for the West Conference crown if everything lines up well. We’ll know Meeteetse’s fate early: The Longhorns play Snake River, Burlington and Farson consecutively in Weeks 3-5.
Four (OK, five) players to watch
Lain Mitchelson, Farson. Mitchelson is arguably the best athlete in Class 1A. Also an accomplished basketball player and track athlete, Mitchelson ran for 944 yards, threw for 412 and received for 276, combining for 24 touchdowns. He also led the Pronghorns with almost 20 defensive points per game.
Clancy Gines, Farson. Gines helps give the Pronghorns the physicality they need to be both respected and a little bit feared by opponents. His 954 rushing yards was tops for Farson last year, and he was second (behind Mitchelson) in defensive points per game.
Hunter Rouse, Kaycee. Somehow, these Kaycee quarterbacks just keep getting the job done. Rouse threw for 18 touchdowns last year and had only two interceptions. His ability to control the pace of the game — and protect the ball — will be huge keys as the Buckaroos’ only returning all-state player tries to push his team toward a fourth consecutive six-man championship.
Conor McGraw and Shane McGraw, Hanna. The twin juniors come from good stock; they’re the sons of NFL player Mike McGraw and grandchildren of NFL player “Fum” McGraw. They’re starting to make their own names, too. Conor was all over the field last year and led Hanna in receiving and defensive points, while Shane led the Miners in rushing yards and also split time throwing the ball, too.
Four key games
Snake River at Burlington, Sept. 7. The Rattlers and Huskies are both trying to challenge Farson’s supremacy in the West Conference. However, the team that can’t get this victory in Week 2 to open conference play will be chasing not only Farson but also the team that wins this game — and that’s going to be a tough spot this season.
Meeteetse at Farson, Sept. 28. This is the third game in Meeteetse’s brutal three-game stretch of Snake River, Burlington and Farson. Meanwhile, this will probably be Farson’s first big test of the season. Maybe the Longhorns sneak this one out in Farson thanks to the seasoning they’ll have had by the time this game rolls around.
Farson at Burlington, Oct. 12. This Week 7 showdown might be Farson’s toughest challenge on the season. Overcoming a long trip to Burlington, as well as a formidable Huskies team, will be key for the Pronghorns to prove their mettle in a title chase.
Kaycee at Hanna, Oct. 13. Kaycee’s trek to a fourth consecutive title will be difficult regardless. This trip to Carbon County might be a trap if the quickly maturing Miners continue to improve. Will this game usher in a changing of the guard at the top of the East Conference?
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Kaycee; Hanna; Hulett; Guernsey-Sunrise; Midwest; Lingle; NSI; Rock River.
West Conference: Farson; Burlington; Meeteetse; Snake River; Riverside; St. Stephens; Dubois. (Ten Sleep will not field a program this fall.)
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Farson 48, Burlington 42. After two runner-up finishes, it’s about time for Farson to hoist the first-place trophy. They have the talent and the experience to do just that.
What do you think? Is a four-peat in the cards for Kaycee, or is it time for another program to hoist the trophy and end the Buckaroos’ reign? Leave a comment to talk some six-man.
Next Thursday: Class 1A 11-man preview.