Note: This is the sixth in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.
Few championships were as unexpected at the start of a playoff round as Cheyenne Central’s Class 5A title run in 2005.
After the regular season, the Indians were a lackluster 4-4.
Three weeks later, they were polishing off a dominating championship game against their crosstown rival.
By the end of it all, Central’s players were hoisting a trophy to represent the school’s first football championship in 16 years.
“We had just a great bunch of kids all around, and they’re the ones who need the credit,” said Brick Cegelski, the coach who led the Indians to the title and who stepped down in 2013 after 18 seasons as head coach. “I was just so happy to coach the kids that we had and to see them grow up together.
” … They were all great lifters, they were all multi-sport kids, and they’re all really great friends. When you have a group like that, things are gonna be good.”
They didn’t start that way.
After two games, no one except the most die-hard fan had Central in the championship conversation. Central started 0-2, losing its first game to Kelly Walsh by the less-than-inspiring score of 45-7 and falling to Thompson Valley, Colorado, 32-14.
The Indians recovered to beat Green River and Evanston to even their record at 2-2 before losing to Cheyenne East in the Capital Bowl, East dominating in a 31-7 victory.
That East game was supposed to be a test of Central’s growth. Instead, it became a distraction from the realities around them. For Cegelski, the week of the East game was one of the toughest in his life, as his sister Val died from cancer the same week.
“It was just a bad week all around,” he said.
Victories against Rock Springs and Laramie, followed by a home loss to Natrona, left Central at 4-4, just good enough for a home playoff game. But not much else was expected of the Indians — that is, if they could even get out of the first round.
In the week leading up to the quarterfinal game, though, something shifted in Central’s practices.
“We had a really good No. 1 team going against a really good scout team,” Cegelski said. “I don’t know if we ever really had that (in future seasons). We just had a feeling that all of a sudden we got really good.
“Our kids felt it, we felt it, and we figured we were gonna make a run at it and come out on top.”
To start the playoffs, Central played Laramie, a team the Indians needed double overtime to beat just two weeks prior in a 45-42 squeaker. The quarterfinal was similarly close, with the Indians narrowly pulling out a 27-20 victory.
In the semifinals, Central faced Natrona, 8-1 and the top-ranked team in the state heading into the playoffs. Natrona controlled the pace early and took a 17-3 lead in the third quarter after a pick-six. But Central came back and tied the game at 17, the tying touchdown from Corey Wheeler coming with 47.7 seconds remaining. Bryan Hill’s 1-yard touchdown run in overtime was the deciding score in a 23-20 overtime victory.
The Indians celebrated on the field — and then celebrated in the locker room when they heard they would get a second chance against their crosstown rivals.
“We heard East won, (and) we cheered in our locker room,” Cegelski said. “And I know they cheered in their locker room because they already kicked our ass once.”
The presence of two cross-town rivals in Wyoming’s big-school championship led to perhaps one of the most hyped title games in state history. The game was moved to Friday night to accommodate an anticipated big Cheyenne crowd, as well as a live television broadcast, something rare for football in Wyoming in the pre-streaming days. Even with the television option, extra portable stands were brought in to the old Okie Blanchard Stadium to accommodate the expected excess crowd.
Although a bit of wind and rain that night kept some fans away, estimates of somewhere between 5,000 and 7,500 fans showed up.
In the championship game, though, the Indians skipped the dramatics. They jumped out to a 20-0 lead and held on to win 27-14, securing the school’s first, and only, football championship since 1989.
“From the very first drive, I could tell by the line of scrimmage that this East high team didn’t have a chance,” Cegelski said. ” … Kids just played out of their hats. They played to the ability that we thought we had.”
Cheyenne Central’s 2005 team is one of only four Wyoming championship teams that ever finished its season being outscored by its opposition; for the year, Central was outscored 245-244.
But Central scored enough points when they had to, a testament to the growth in maturity and poise the team had throughout the season.
Leading the Central team under center was Brick’s son, also named Brick, which made the championship run extra sweet for the coach.
“Our little boys turned into men, and I think that’s our story,” he said.