Cody’s run to the 2017 Class 3A championship was pretty special.
With one inspired run, the Broncs won their fifth state title, ended Star Valley’s attempt at a three-peat and established themselves as one of the favorites to win 3A in 2018.
However, a lot of uncertainty surrounds 3A this year.
Of the seven returning all-state selections, three play for Cody and three for Torrington; most teams are trying to rebuild this year. New coaches at Rawlins, Lander, Green River and Powell make the classification unstable. Worland has switched conferences.
When the stream gets stirred up like this, the lack of clarity makes it difficult to navigate — but exciting to try to wade through.
Four questions to answer
Was Cody’s state championship a fluke? No way. The Broncs proved they were the best team at the right time last year, and the playoff victories they earned against Buffalo, Star Valley and Torrington — all as the lower seed — were all definitive. That means the Broncs didn’t just win a title last year. They set a new standard for the program.
Does that mean that Cody’s the favorite to win the 3A title again this year? Sort of. Cody returns three all-state players, more than any other 3A school except Torrington. And there’s the rub. Torrington, last year’s 3A runner-up, is loaded for another deep playoff run. We may see a repeat in the 3A title game this year, and this time the Trailblazers could be the ones hoisting the champions’ trophy.
Isn’t Star Valley still in the mix? Yeah… but this year is a true test for the program. The Braves lost more seniors than a nursing home at Sunday brunch. Until we know if those new players have the ability to bear the brunt of the old expectations, it’s best to wait and see with the Braves this year.
What big offseason change will affect 3A the most long-term? John Scott’s hiring at Lander. Scott has a history of taking under-performing programs and turning them around. He’s done it at Kemmerer, Gillette and Tongue River. And now he’s at Lander, taking over a program that’s gone 2-31 combined the past four seasons. The turnaround won’t be immediate, but knowing Scott’s history, it will happen.
Four players to watch
Bryan Lemmon, Torrington. Lemmon might be 3A’s best running back — for the second year in a row. He ran for 1,261 yards and 18 touchdowns last year in leading the Trailblazers to the title game. He also had 25 catches for 475 yards… and he was also Torrington’s leading tackler last year, giving opposing offenses fits from his linebacker spot.
Jared Grenz, Cody. One number makes Grenz stand out on the stat sheet: 31.8. That’s how many yards per catch Grenz averaged last year, needing only 16 catches to rack up 509 yards. He also ran 48 times for 341 yards (a not-too-shabby 7.1 yards per carry). His big-play ability will be key for Cody’s repeat run.
Anthony Mitchell, Green River. The Wolves’ lone returning all-state player did most of his damage last year on defense, where he was second for Green River in defensive points. Graduation may open up more opportunities on offense, though, as Mitchell is in prime position to become the Wolves’ main aerial threat.
Treyton Paxton, Riverton. Even in a down year last year, the Wolverines’ passing game was still on point. Paxton led that effort by throwing for 1,520 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has to break in basically an entirely new group of receivers (Riverton’s top four receivers from last year are all gone), but Paxton’s abilities throwing the ball could make his receivers’ jobs, and transitions, easier.
Four key games
Green River at Torrington, Sept. 14. One of the most intriguing nonconference games of the season puts Green River on the road against Torrington — the same matchup that ended the Wolves’ season last year. Although it won’t count for any playoff seeding, this game will be huge for both teams to gauge their abilities against teams from the other side of the state.
Rawlins at Douglas, Sept. 21. A heartbreaking 17-14 loss to Douglas nearly marked the end of a long string of losses the Outlaws had suffered to the Bearcats; Rawlins last beat Douglas in 2001. Both teams will need this victory to stay in the race for a home playoff game.
Riverton at Worland, Sept. 21. The Warriors’ East Conference opener… wait, what? Yep, it’s true — after years in the West, Worland jumps to the East Conference this year to balance the conferences after Buffalo’s drop to Class 2A. And this conference opener against the Wolverines will likely have huge playoff seeding implications.
Cody at Star Valley, Oct. 12. The Braves have to be hungry for the opportunity to play the Broncs again. Remember, on its way to the 3A title last year, Cody had to knock off undefeated Star Valley in Afton. They did. This game won’t have the same stakes, but it will be a chance for both teams to make a late push in the West Conference.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Torrington; Douglas; Rawlins; Worland; Riverton; Lander.
West Conference: Cody; Star Valley; Green River; Evanston; Powell; Jackson.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Torrington 20, Cody 13. On paper, the Trailblazers and Broncs are the clear favorites in their respective conferences. But 3A is quirky, especially in the playoffs, so there may be a surprise or two after Week 8 that could derail this potential dandy of a title game.
What do you think? Is a rematch of last year’s title game inevitable, or will we see another surprise team come up and win the title the way Cody did last season? Comment with your thoughts and let’s discuss how 3A might turn out this fall.
Next Thursday: Class 4A.