Somehow, in Class 1A nine-man this year, the rich get richer.
Southeast and Lusk, last year’s participants in the championship game, combining for seven returning all-state players. The rest of the classification combined also has seven returning all-state players.
The embarrassment of riches flowing from Lusk and Yoder makes it hard to see how any other teams could challenge either the defending champion Cyclones or last year’s runner-up Tigers.
However, the name “Shoshoni” popped up a lot in conversations with coaches this summer, and the Wranglers might be the best in the West.
And remember how I mentioned that the rest of the state had seven returning all-state players? Well, four of those are in Pine Bluffs, a team that could challenge Lusk and Southeast from within its own conference and prove to be a title contender, too.
Four questions to answer
Are we going to see another Southeast-Lusk championship game? Possibly. On paper, the defending champion Cyclones from Yoder and the last year’s runner-up Tigers from Lusk have the two strongest teams in Class 1A nine-man. Southeast was hit harder by graduation, giving Lusk an early edge in the chase for the 2021 title.
Is anyone else a threat? Not really. Shoshoni and Rocky Mountain are the two teams in the West with the highest preseason expectations, and Pine Bluffs will be improved as well. Those three teams are the most likely outside shots at a title, and on a good day they could give Southeast and Lusk true challenges — but they’re not the favorites.
Will another running back crack 3,000 yards this year? Don’t count on it. Drake Lamp did that for Lusk last year, rushing for 3,057 yards; no other player was above 1,300, showing just how much of an anomaly the record-setting year actually was. If any running back is capable of it, though, maybe it’ll be Lamp’s replacement in Lusk, as the Tigers return all of their starters on the offensive line.
Will we field a full set of teams this year? Thankfully, yes. Last year’s schedule was a bit wonky as both St. Stephens and Wyoming Indian had to cancel their seasons due to COVID-19 restrictions in their school districts. Both the Eagles and Chiefs are ready to return this fall, adding depth to nine-man as a whole and, more importantly, giving two more groups of high schoolers the opportunity to play high school football.
Preseason class MVP
Cord Herring, Southeast. A first-team Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 player last year, Herring will be key to the Cyclones’ title defense. He ran for 797 yards and 17 touchdowns last year and also led the Cyclones in defensive points. His role will be even bigger in 2021.
Presesason class breakout player
Dylan Molzahn, Lusk. On a team with a 3,000-yard rusher last year, Molzahn still managed 572 rushing yards and six TDs last season. His role should expand greatly in 2021 as opportunities for carries that weren’t there last year will be this year.
Other players to watch
Ryan Clapper, Southeast. Clapper is one of only two two-time all-state players playing in Class 1A nine-man this year. He’s made his mark most definitively as the leader of Southeast’s diverse backfield, averaging 10.6 yards per carry, finishing with 1,090 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
Pehton Truempler, Shoshoni. The junior will be at the forefront of the Wranglers’ offensive and defensive plans this fall. He leads all of the Wranglers’ returners in tackles with 98. He also ran for 537 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He’ll be asked to do even more in 2021.
Dayne Lamp, Lusk. As a sophomore, Lamp finished with more tackles (157) than any other player in Class 1A nine-man. He also helped clear the way on the Tiger offensive line. Watch for his game to expand this season as the Tigers mount a run at a title.
Stu Lerwick, Pine Bluffs. The Hornets had the top passing game in 1A nine-man last year, and Lerwick was the architect. As a sophomore, he led nine-man with 1,857 passing yards, completing more than 55% of his passes. No other returning quarterback in nine-man this year threw for more than 900 yards last year; Lerwick’s 2020 total more than doubles that.
Four key games
Shoshoni at Rocky Mountain, Sept. 10. Barring something unexpected, the Grizzlies and Wranglers are likely the top two teams in the West, and this conference opener for both teams will have big implications come season’s end.
Lusk at Pine Bluffs, Sept. 10. The Hornets have an opportunity to turn an entire classification on its ear if they can knock off the Tigers in the conference opener. Pine Bluffs has all four of its all-state selections coming back and could be a challenger in the East, but the Tigers will be a challenge right off the bat.
Wyoming Indian at St. Stephens, Oct. 14. After a year away, the Chiefs and Eagles get to return to the field this year. These two programs have a deep basketball rivalry but have only played each other in football once, in 2013. With Shoshoni and Wind River also in the West Conference, it will be fun to watch how these Fremont County rivalries develop now that everyone is back.
Southeast at Lusk, Oct. 15. The game that decided the 1A nine-man championship last year could also decide the East Conference champion this year. As noted, both the Cyclones and Tigers have lots of returning experience, making this one THE most anticipated game of the season.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Lusk, Southeast, Pine Bluffs, Moorcroft, Saratoga, Lingle, Wright.
West Conference: Shoshoni, Rocky Mountain, Riverside, Greybull, Wind River, St. Stephens, Wyoming Indian.
Preseason top five: 1. Lusk, 2. Southeast, 3. Pine Bluffs, 4. Shoshoni, 5. Rocky Mountain.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Lusk 37, Southeast 24. On paper, the Tigers are nine-man’s most balanced and most talented team. But the East Conference is loaded this season, full of teams ready to capitalize if the Tigers slip.
Is a Lusk-Southeast rematch a nine-man inevitability? Or is there another team that we’re overlooking who will be hoisting the trophy in November? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.
Next Thursday: Class 2A.