SHERIDAN — After last week’s results, it has gotten quite convoluted at the top of 4A football. Thunder Basin’s loss to Natrona County created a three-way tie atop the standings, and the three-time reigning state champions, Sheridan, sit just one game back with a couple losses on the season.
The congestion makes the last couple weeks of the regular season meaningful and the ensuing postseason unpredictable.
“I think it’s a really open field right now,” Sheridan quarterback Jacob Boint said. “It’s really anyone’s ball game at this point. Everyone has shown flashes of being great, but I feel like, we personally, have not reached our full potential, and that’s probably true for a lot of teams around the state, as well. At this stage, it’s really anyone’s trophy to take.”
Cheyenne East, Natrona County and Thunder Basin have beaten one another. East went to Natrona County and slid past the Mustangs 22-21. Thunder Basin throttled East down in Cheyenne 34-11, and Natrona County handed Thunder Basin its first loss, holding on for 41-34 victory.
The four names jockeying for position won’t surprise anyone, save for one — Thunder Basin. The Bolts are in their second season and, after a 5-5 inaugural season, have replaced Campbell County as the flagship football program in Gillette.
“Last year was such a trying time for all sports just because it was that first year and the kids definitely had a tough choice, and I think there were, after the choices were made, probably some kids that wished they would have stayed or vice versa, so that made it difficult,” Thunder Basin head coach Trent Pikula said. “I think this year, we don’t have that. The kids at Thunder Basin are truly there because they want to be, because they love the school and they love the athletic program.
“I think the town itself, at least from my perspective, we’ve drawn huge crowds, and I think our support has been awesome,” Pikula added. “Gillette is a sports town just like Sheridan and just like Casper.”
The Bolts have joined the party and will look to construct a football tradition much like the one the Camels had and one that resembles what the Broncs, Mustangs and Thunderbirds boast.
The last eight years have seen variations of Campbell County, East, Natrona County or Sheridan playing one another for a state championship, and one of the aforementioned four have raised a state title banner in each of the last 14 years.
“I think it’s a culture of football,” Sheridan head coach Jeff Mowry said. “In certain towns and in certain schools, there’s a culture of football.”
The Broncs own the most state titles at 26, the Mustangs have claimed 13 while the Camels and Thunderbirds have four apiece. The Broncs boast an .839 winning percentage over the last eight seasons. The Mustangs lay claim to an .819 winning percentage, while the Camels and Thunderbirds own marks of .719 and .643, respectively.
Sheridan has some work to do if it wants to repeat, for a fourth time, as state champions. The Broncs were dominated at Natrona County 34-7 where they lost standout running back Parker Christensen to a hamstring injury. That forced the future Wyoming Cowboy to sit out the 23-13 loss to Thunder Basin.
Sheridan’s two losses make its season finale at East paramount in regards to playoff seeding. If the Broncs can score a road win at East in a couple weeks, they would vault into the top three and avoid Natrona County until the championship bout. A loss to the Thunderbirds would likely cement Sheridan in the No. 4 slot and a date with Natrona County in the semifinals in Casper.
But the Broncs, at least for the time being, aren’t thinking that far ahead.
“We are just trying to get better every day, and the coaches are doing a great job with us,” Christensen said. “As a team, I don’t think we are focused on what ranking we are at right now. We are just focused on the next competition and the next team and getting better every day.”