Photo by Anna Clemens
LYMAN — There are 20 teams with football left to play within the Cowboy State’s borders for the 2012 season. That equates to four teams in five divisions. After this weekend, the only thing left to be decided are the state championships in six-man, 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A classifications. Ten teams will have punched their ticket to the University of Wyoming’ Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium.
On Friday, Nov. 9, 1A six-man gets things started at noon, with the Class 3A title game on the smallest division’s heels at 3 p.m. On Saturday, Nov. 10, the battle for the 2A State Championship starts at 10 a.m., followed by 1A with a 1 p.m. kickoff, and the Class 4A title showdown wrapping up championship weekend.
It’s widely accepted the best teams in the state are from the largest classification, 4A, year in, year out. But 2012 has been a season, however, where some believe schools could jump a classification and still compete very well. Some, including at least one coach, is of the opinion there are teams that could jump two classifications and still get the job done. While that may raise a few eyebrows, keep in mind that particular coach guided a 2A team last season, and coached in the 4A ranks this season. More on that further down.
Who remains? And which has been the most dominant in their classification?
In six-man, Midwest travels to Dubois, with Little Snake River playing host to Meeteetse. Dubois won the most lopsided quarterfinal, hanging 89 points on H.E.M., and holding the Miners of Hanna-Elk Mountain to 19. Does that warrant consideration for Dubois? Or Midwest? Or Little Snake River? Or Meeteetse, all of whom scored over 50 points in last week’s playoff victories?
Perhaps, but the very nature of six-man football is high-flying, gaudy scoring production. Dubois is the division’s only undefeated team at 9-0, ranked on top, and they knocked off two-time defending state champ, Little Snake River, 43-36, during the regular season.
So, yes, the Rams deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the most dominant teams by classification. They’ve been on the top half of many a blowout this season, and have scored 80-plus in back-to-back weeks. But they did have at least one close game.
The Cokeville Panthers hold the top spot in 1A and could state their case. They are an undefeated 9-0, knocked off a 2A school, have dominated their division, and are the best running team in the state, all classes combined, at 326 yards per game, but Lusk is also 9-0. The Tigers appear primed and ready, running away from Rocky Mountain 55-0 in their opening round playoff game, but have had some close games, so the edge goes to the Panthers. But with two undefeated teams, and a plethora of points scored, that division is still undecided. Cokeville bested Lingle-Ft. Laramie 40-12 in opening round playoff action last week.
Lusk will play host to Burlington, while Southeast travels to Cokeville.
Many believe the 3A Powell Panthers could compete very well against much of the 4A class above them. Powell has been a unanimous number one selection when other classes had one or more teams receiving first place votes. The Panthers have annihilated most of their competition — scoring 63 points against Jackson and Worland, while holding the Broncs and Warriors to 6 and 7 points, respectively. They also defeated Green River 51-6, and in their first playoff game last Friday, had little trouble in the battle of the big cats, blanking the Lander Tigers, 36-zip. That’s domination.
They’re also an unblemished 9-0. But a showdown with number-two Star Valley resulted in just a 13-point separation. Plus, the Panthers, perhaps in calling off the big cats, and allowing younger players to take the field, have not pitched as many shutouts as other teams, although three in a season is nothing to scoff at.
The Wolves go back to the scene of the crime in Powell, with Star Valley awaiting the other Park County team in the Cody Broncs.
Natrona County is the 4A’s only undefeated team. They have flexed muscle all season long, and were certainly talked about as the most dominant team in all of Wyoming. And maybe they are and will prove it to everyone, but the Mustangs were fortunate to win the showdown against No. 2 Campbell County, in the final game of the regular season, with both squads at 8-0. An unsuccessful tying field goal attempt by the Camels, with just seconds remaining, allowed the Mustangs to escape with a 20-17 home victory. So that final regular season game takes the Camels out of the discussion.
A repeat of the Energy Bowl, with No. 3 Sheridan traveling to No. 2 Gillette, is on tap for one 4A semi-final, with top-ranked Natrona County at home, as the No. 4 Cheyenne East Thunderbirds invade Dick Cheney Alumni Field this Friday.
So you noticed a classification was skipped in the ascending order presented, huh?
Campbell County somewhat skewed the incredible defensive averages Natrona had enjoyed, in particular, against the run, holding teams on average to around 22 yards. The Camels’ performance against the Mustangs bumped their total defense yards allowed average to 127.8 yards per game.
That would be Class 2A, with Uinta County’s Lyman Eagles getting the nod as the most dominant team in the state by classification.
With all classifications considered, Lyman is the best team against the run, allowing a paltry 28.4 yards per game, while Natrona gives up 30.7 yards per game on the ground. The Mustangs are the state’s second best defense, with that impressive 127.8 yards they hold teams to, but the Eagles are the state’s best in all classifications, limiting their opponents to an amazing 92.8 yards per game, on average.
Last year’s 2A state champions, the Lovell Bulldogs, the only team to beat Lyman in 2011, twice, including the state title game, scored six against the Eagles in Lyman this year. Kemmerer managed six points, as well. But that’s it. Lyman opened in the zero week at Altamont, Utah, winning 30-0, in a game that doesn’t count, as many teams conducted glorified scrimmages or played out of classification. The Eagles have eight shutouts to their credit in 10 games played in 2012, including their last six in a row. They have not been scored upon since the game against Lovell on Sept. 14.
And scoring? That’s were the Eagles tip the scales as the most dominant team via classification for the state of Wyoming. Including that first game, which doesn’t officially count — but we will, because it was conducted as more of a game than a scrimmage — Lyman has outscored their opponents 454 to 12. They finished the 2A West with a perfect 7-0, the regular season, 9-0, and pounded the Wheatland Bulldogs 50-0 last week in the playoffs.
Lyman ranks second in the division in rushing, at 249.2 yards, and display decent balance, with 129.6 passing per game. They don’t have to throw the way they run, most football talking heads would be quick to point out. Their 378.8 yards of total offense leads the classification, but by less than a yard over Lovell.
It is said defense wins championships. The Eagles are far and away the division leader against the run, at 28.4 yards per game, against the pass, 64.3, and total defense, again, only allowing 92.8. Newcastle, Lyman’s semifinal opponent, comes next, and the Dogies give up 203.2.
Last year’s running back, now this year’s quarterback and returning All-State selection, Bransen Bradshaw, is in the top 10 in rushing and passing, with 77.6 yards on the ground and 1209.6 through the air. His favorite target is Cisco Taylor, a returning All-State and Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 player as a junior, averaging 56.7 receiving per game. The third returning All-Stater, Kyle Stokes, is good for 74 yards on the ground each time out, and the Eagles have several more with double-digit averages.
Bobby Wingeleth is a special teams weapon at punt returning, and another threat at receiver; Taylor excels at kickoff returns,
while Bradshaw, Taylor and Kyle Stokes represent three Eagles in the top 10 in scoring for the entire classification.
Marty Rollins is the second-best punter in the 2A football, and Miguel Sandoval is this the fifth-best kicker.
Stokes, Bradshaw, Dustin Rollins, Dalton Schofield, and Wingeleth all rank in the top 50 individual defensive point leaders.
Ted Holmstrom, who guided the Eagles to the state title game last year, accepted a coaching offer with 4A Laramie, clearing the way for former Star Valley Braves head coach Dale Anderson to take the reins of Eagles football. Holmstrom not only believes the Eagles could handle most 3A schools, but asserts, “With what they have coming back, they would compete very well in the 4A ranks this year.”
Strong words? Sure, but if you make it to Laramie, you can assess the talent and draw your own conclusions, because while nothing is a given, there’s little doubt Lyman will be there. They’ll draw the 9-0 Big Horn Bison or a rematch of last year’s state title game with 8-1 Lovell. The Dogies have something to say as one of four teams remaining, but most would agree the Bulldogs and Bison will be more of a battle than the Newcastle at Lyman semifinal kickoff at 1 p.m.