Farson’s second undefeated season in three years was yet another demonstration of the high standards set in six-man.
I mentioned this stat in last season’s preview, but it’s worth repeating: The combined record of the 11 six-man champs since 2009 is 126-2. Kaycee’s 2015 team is the only champ who had an in-state loss in that time.
Seemingly the question in six-man isn’t who will win — it’s who will dominate.
Among the suitors are basically every team in the West Conference and a handful in the East. Any one of about six or seven teams could be the one to rise up this year. Moreover, six-man is slimmer this year, as both Ten Sleep and NSI Academy are gone for the year — Ten Sleep dropping temporarily due to low numbers, NSI Academy gone for good due to the closure of the school.
Six-man’s sleeker, but tougher, look for 2021 has many potential endings. But if history is any indicator, the result in November will be an undefeated season for someone.
Four questions to answer
Which is the stronger conference? The West, by far. All six of the returning all-state players in six-man are in the West Conference. The West has six teams this year to the East’s five, with no weaklings in the group. And three of last year’s final four came from the West. Watch for similar dominance this year.
Of those West teams, who’s looking the most like a champ? On paper, Meeteetse. The Longhorns had a huge breakthrough season in 2020 and finished as runners-up to Farson. They did lose some key players to graduation but return some of six-man’s best playmakers, and in six-man, that’s huge.
Who else is in the discussion? Everyone in the West. Snake River didn’t graduate anyone; Dubois was young but explosive; Encampment nearly dethroned Farson in the semis and gets back several important players; Burlington is always a tough draw; Farson is the defending champ. Be ready for parity and lots of it.
So the East is really that weak? This year, yes. Kaycee, despite losing all three of its all-state picks from last year, is the best of the bunch in early goings in the East, and Hulett and Guernsey-Sunrise could be competitive, too. Those teams are the favorites on that side of the state and are the conference’s best hopes for a playoff victory. However, every team in the East is chasing to catch up to the standard set in the West.
Preseason class MVP
Dace Bennett, Meeteetse. Bennett was the only player in 1A six-man last year to both run and throw for at least 1,000 yards. The Longhorns’ field general completed 89 of 187 passes for 1,406 yards and 28 touchdowns and also ran for 1,282 yards and 23 touchdowns. He led six-man in all-purpose yards. He also had 100 tackles and four interceptions on defense.
Presesason class breakout player
Vaun Pierson, Kaycee. The only returning player in the state to earn all-conference honors as a freshman, Pierson showed early on that he could hang with six-man’s top players. With Kaycee graduating three all-state players, Pierson will have more opportunities on both sides of the ball; with another year of growth and maturity, he could set the pace for others to follow.
Other players to watch
Zander Risner, Snake River. Risner is a two-time all-state selection already, and his defensive prowess has earned him those honors. He tied for the lead in six-man with 21 tackles for loss last year and was fourth overall in the classification with 121 total tackles. His leadership will be key on a Snake River team that’s still young.
Koye Gilbert, Encampment. Gilbert was one of six-man’s top receivers last year. He had 32 catches for 524 yards and nine touchdowns last year. He was also one of the classification’s top defensive players, finishing seventh in six-man in defensive points per game while notching 86 tackles, three sacks, four fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks.
Max Claar, Dubois. Claar is a senior on a team full of younger players, so his leadership will be just as important as his play. His play is clear, though: He led Dubois in scoring last season, was third in tackles and found success both running and receiving the ball.
Kalvin Erickson, Meeteetse. Erickson led six-man in receiving yards (695) and receiving touchdowns (15) and was second in the classification in catches (33). He also led the classification in total tackles with 153 for the season. If that isn’t an all-around player, who is?
Four key games
Encampment at Snake River, Sept. 10. The Carbon County adversaries meet in Week 2 in both teams’ West Conference openers. A loss here will be difficult to overcome for either team — stakes that seem almost unfair to have so early in the season.
Dubois at Meeteetse, Sept. 18. Dubois hung tight with Meeteetse last year, and with another year of experience, the young Rams could put themselves on everyone’s radar if they can finish the job they couldn’t in 2020. Meeteetse should be ready this time around, though.
Hulett at Guernsey, Oct. 1. After Kaycee, the Red Devils and Vikings return more key players than any other squads in the East. This game could end up deciding who’s at home in the first round of the playoffs, something that may end up being key if either wants to pull off that elusive first-round upset.
Farson at Meeteetse, Oct. 16. The rematch of the 2020 title game comes in Week 7, and chances are good that by the time this game rolls around, last year will be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. Both teams have high hopes this year, and how they perform in this game could dictate each team’s postseason direction.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Kaycee, Hulett, Guernsey, Hanna, Midwest.
West Conference: Meeteetse, Snake River, Encampment, Farson, Dubois, Burlington.
Preseason top five: 1. Meeteetse; 2. Snake River; 3. Encampment; 4. Kaycee; 5. Farson.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Meeteetse 48, Snake River 40. The Longhorns have the playmakers and the experience to do big things this season. The biggest question mark will be surviving a rugged West Conference loaded with capable teams.
Next Thursday: Class 1A nine-man.