Behind the Lines: It’s in the air..

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    Thursday at 6 p.m. when Wind River and Wyoming Indian meet on the Chiefs Intertribal Complex field marks the second half of the regular season for six Fremont County teams.

    The Wind River Cougars sit atop the 1-A 9-Man West while their conference, and county opponents the Shoshoni Wranglers and Wyoming Indian Chiefs are still looking for their first wins of the season.


    The same holds true for the 0-4 Lander Tigers.

    The Dubois Rams are 2-2 and the Cougars 2-0 with the Riverton Wolverines celebrating their first win of the season last Friday at Homecoming with a 42-14 decision over Rawlins.

    Fremont, Carbon, and Big Horn Counties are the only three of Wyoming’s 23 counties that sport a team in all three styles of prep football.

    The Rams play the fast-paced 6-man game, the Cougars, Chiefs, and Wranglers drop a pair of linemen and play 9-man and the Class 3-A Wolverines and Tigers play the traditional 11-man style.


    If anyone had a tougher non-conference schedule than Riverton, I’m all ears. Opening with a physical, hard-nosed Powell Panther team in Week Zero the Wolverines faced the top two teams in Class 3-A in the Cody Broncs and Star Valley Braves, with a competitive game Riverton could have won with a break or two in faraway Evanston in between.

    Star Valley and Cody are upper-echelon programs, they’d have no problem competing with Cheyenne East, Thunder Basin, or Sheridan in Class 4-A. In 3-A you measure the progress of your program by how you compete with the Broncs and Braves. First-year Riverton head coach Mark Lenhardt knows that. He also knows that competition makes his team better. Call it trial by fire, or just stepping up to the challenge, but the Wolverines will be better for the stiff competition that faced early in the year.

    Riverton could realistically win all five East 3-A games and host in the opening round. It’ll take work, but it’s not outside the realm.


    Lander is struggling this season, first-year head coach Jim Burton knew this coming into the program. The Tigers had a chance in a 15-14 loss to Green River at home but struggled against Evanston, Cody, and Powell.

    Burton knows the West 3-A well after four years as Evanston Red Devil head coach prior to arriving in Tigertown.

    Friday’s game between Riverton at Lander is a huge step towards the playoffs for the winner. If the Wolverines prevail they’ll move to 2-0 in the East and at least a tie for first place. A loss by either team makes the playoffs much more difficult to reach.


    Lander is not an easy town to be a football or wrestling coach. The community is much more articulated towards cross country skiing, swimming, cross country, and soccer. It’s not a statement of toughness, but one of interest.

    In many seasons the junior high cross country team requires multiple buses for an away meet while the seventh and eighth grade football teams don’t have enough players to scrimmage. It’s just the nature of the societal climate.

    Though the beauty of the mountains is similar in Lander and Dubois, you don’t have to worry about interest in full contact, collision sports in the High Country. Much of that impetus towards football and wrestling can be traced to head coach David Trembly who leads the Rams with an example of fortitude and toughness usually reserved for fictitious Hollywood productions. It is reality in the little mountain town at the top of the Valley of the Warm Winds.

    Dubois is 2-2 with both losses to Carbon County powerhouses in the Little Snake River Rattlers and the Encampment Tigers. The Rams play in the 1-A 6-Man South Conference, a conference that routinely sweeps their northern rivals in the opening round of the playoffs.

    Look for the Rams to make a run deep into the playoffs later this fall.

    That leaves the Class 1-A 9-Man ranks, with all three Fremont County teams in the West league. Wyoming Indian opted down from Class 2-A and isn’t eligible for the playoffs this year, but the Chiefs have shown great improvement defensively. It’s the offense and injuries that have hampered the Chiefs as the season progresses.

    No division suffers more from the ups and downs of student demographics than 6-man and 9-man. In the state’s smallest divisions, the enrollment can vary by 25% or more with each passing year, and the gender makeup of some classes with many girls and few boys creates problems you don’t find in Class 2-A, 3-A, or 4-A.

    That’s the situation in Shoshoni. After riding a very talented group of boys for the previous three seasons the Wranglers lost 17 of 18 starting positions to graduation.

    It happens often in small towns. A generation ago, I sat in a hot Wrangler Gym in late May of 1990 with my late friend Harold Bailey seated next to me as my boys, Dak, Shane, Blaine, TJ, and Willard took their diplomas. Harold leaned over to me and whispered, “We’re really going to miss those guys.”

    He was right, we struggled for a long time after they left us.

    That leaves Wind River and second-year head coach Rod Frederick.

    The Cougars are good this season. With opening-round forfeits, they’ve only played their varsity in two games, but they were a trial by fire with a two-point win over a vastly improved Riverside Rebel team in Basin and a thrilling 28-21 win over pre-season favorite Big Piney at Pavillion last Thursday.

    The Cougars have faced the toughest challenge in the west in the Punchers and Rebels. The remainder of the league is in a battle for the final playoff position with Rocky Mountain holding the inside advantage after a 24-7 win over the Wranglers last weekend.

    Friday’s game between Shoshoni and Riverside in Big Horn County will provide a much clearer predictor of the postseason.

    In the East 9-Man, it’s a crap shoot. Lusk beat favorite Southeast Goshen 8-6 surprising the conventional wisdom. The Tigers don’t have speed, but they have a huge, physical front line and a tradition of tough defensive football.

    Lingle Ft. Laramie was predicted to win the East, but the Doggers struggled against Wright and allowed 38 points against Lusk while winning by 17. The jury won’t reach their decision until they play their Goshen County rivals, the Southeast Cyclones next week and then top-ranked, defending state champion Pine Bluffs the following week in Laramie County.

    If you noticed the temperature in the 30s around 6 a.m. you know fall is already in the air, and high school football is reaching its peak.

    Enjoy it while it lasts.


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