Class 2A championships aren’t supposed to be won as easily as the way Buffalo won its title in 2018.
After opting up to play in Class 3A in 2016 and 2017, the Bison entered 2A last year as one of the favorites to win the title. They had several things going for them — their size (biggest school in 2A), their talent, their recent experience against bigger 3A programs.
Bolstered by all of that, the Bison lost just once in 2018 (7-0 to 3A Douglas in the season opener) and won their final 10 games to claim the 2A title, the program’s first championship since the dominant 2005 squad won it all in 3A.
Only one team stayed within single digits of the Bison, and even the championship game turned into a rout as Buffalo bumped off Mountain View 43-18.
Whether the Bison’s title was the start of a dynasty or a coalescing of multiple right factors at the right time will be seen in 2019. For now, though, everyone’s chasing the little-guys-turned-big-guys, who are now defending a title instead of chasing one.
Four questions to answer
Was Buffalo’s championship the start of a new 2A dynasty? Possibly. The Bison get back five all-state players from last year’s title team, setting them up well for a repeat in 2019. If that momentum can keep building, the Bison could be the team to beat in 2020, too.
Who’s Buffalo’s biggest threat? Mountain View, again. Just like Buffalo, Mountain View returns five all-state players. And like Buffalo, Mountain View has seen a ton of success in the postseason recently. Mountain View will start as the favorite in the 2A West and, if everything falls together by November, the Buffalos could notch their first undefeated season since 1997.
Will anyone else challenge for a championship? Probably not. Mountain View and Buffalo return five all-state players apiece; the rest of 2A, combined, has four (Burns’ Boe Clayson, Kemmerer’s A.Q. Martinez, Moorcroft’s Rowdy Pfeil and Thermopolis’ Logan Cole). The talent gap between Buffalo and Mountain View and the rest of 2A is pretty wide this season, so any dark horses will need a bunch of talent to develop quickly to put up a legitimate challenge to the top squads.
Will the West Conference have as much parity in the middle as it did last year? Almost certainly. No one represented the West’s parity like Pinedale, which won conference games by scores of 28-22, 21-14 and 14-6 and lost them by scores of 14-7, 21-14, 12-6 — a net score of plus-one in six games decided by eight points or less. With basically every team (outside of Mountain View) returning similar talent at similar levels, the rest of the West appears to be a crapshoot, one that will be decided in tight games week after week.
Four players (OK, three players and a unit) to watch
Hunter Gross, Mountain View. When coaches get together to award player of the year honors, they almost always go to a senior. Not last year, and not for Gross, who won the 2A lineman of the year award as a junior. He was second for the Buffalos in defensive points and racked up a team-high eight sacks — and he could be even more dominant this year.
Rowen Ruby, Buffalo. Ruby was one of 2A’s most consistent running backs last season, finishing with 1,072 yards (7.5 per carry) and 14 touchdowns. The Bison’s featured running back could have an even better season in 2019; Buffalo graduated its quarterback, its top receiver and its No. 2 running back, putting Ruby in a much brighter spotlight.
Dawson Hatch, Buffalo. Hatch was all over the field for the Bison last year, finishing first for the team in defensive points. He somehow finished with 10 tackles for loss and six interceptions, helping prove his versatility. And he was Buffalo’s No. 2 receiver and even carried the ball a few times.
Everyone from Mountain View’s backs and receivers. How do you stop Mountain View’s offense? You don’t — not with all the returning talent the Buffalos have, and not with their ability to place basically anyone in any spot at any time. Briggin Bluemel ran for 1,106 yards and Kimball Madsen added 985; Madsen threw for 866 yards and Braeden Walk chipped in 381; Walk led the team with 468 receiving yards, Ashton Schofield had 300, Bluemel had 163 and Madsen 140. The versatility the Buffalos have — particularly with those four players — makes them a challenge for any opposing defense.
Four key games
Pinedale at Kemmerer, Sept. 20. With the parity on display in the West Conference last year, this Week 3 game — after both teams have already played Lyman to open their conference schedules in Week 1 and Week 2, respectively — will tell us a lot about the makeup of a tumultuous West Conference.
Buffalo at Burns, Sept. 20. The Bison’s first road conference game of 2019 will be in eastern Laramie County against an up-and-coming Burns squad. A Buffalo victory here will be key in a repeat attempt… but a Broncs upset could completely change the outlook for the rest of the season for every team in the East.
Greybull at Mountain View, Oct 25. These two teams have been in the West Conference’s top three finishers every season since 2014, and last year they finished as the top two teams in the conference. A Week 8 showdown could determine the conference champion again this year.
Thermopolis at Burns, Oct. 25. Both teams are ready to make leaps up the East Conference standings this season. If they both capitalize on that potential through the season, this Week 8 meeting could be absolutely huge.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Buffalo, Thermopolis, Burns, Glenrock, Wheatland, Moorcroft, Newcastle.
West Conference: Mountain View, Greybull, Kemmerer, Big Piney, Lovell, Lyman, Pinedale.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Mountain View 28, Buffalo 26. The Buffaloes have been scary consistent, with four trips to Laramie in the past six years. With a deep and motivated senior class, this just might be Mountain View’s year to return to the top of 2A. But Buffalo is the defending champs, and the Bison won’t make anything easy.
Stadium tour and season preview video
What do you think? Is another Mountain View-Buffalo championship game inevitable? Or is there someone outside of last year’s two title-game teams who could challenge for the 2A championship? Is 2A is any deeper than the two teams that are on top on paper? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.
Next week: Class 3A preview.