The Big Horn High School football program originated before the U.S. became involved in World War II. The Rams have carried a team nearly every year since their inception in 1939 and have consistently produced quality squads, appearing in 15 state championship games and winning five. Despite the success of past Big Horn teams, perhaps none have been as good as this season’s Rams.
Only three teams in school history finished a season with a spotless record: the six-man team in 1943 went 5-0, the 1985 group finished 10-0 and the 2003 Rams ended 11-0. The 2018 iteration holds a 10-0 record and will face Cokeville for the 1A state championship Saturday at 1 p.m. in Laramie.
Big Horn head coach Kirk McLaughlin has coached several teams in recent years with similarly outstanding players, including state champions in 2013 and 2016. He said it is hard to directly compare groups across years, but said this year’s team is special because of all the time so many of the coaches and players have spent together.
Assistant coach Andrew Marcure taught most of the players beginning in sixth grade.
“That was the first group I started teaching when I came here,” Marcure said. “They were just fun to be around.”
McLaughlin and assistant coaches Colter Brantz and Mike Daley have taught nearly all of them at some point during high school as well.
A lot of football players also participate in outdoor track and field, where McLaughlin, Brantz and Marcure are the coaches. Some also do indoor and track and field, which McLaughlin and Marcure coach, so they are with each other essentially year-round.
McLaughlin and Marcure both said the 2012 team — their first year coaching at Big Horn — that finished runner-up at state was great, but the players and coaches didn’t have enough time together to jell.
“Those other talented teams that we’ve had, we didn’t get four years with them necessarily,” McLaughlin said. “I love the heck out of this group. We’ve spent so much time with them.”
Brantz said the 2018 team doesn’t have one transcendent performer but carries several top-tier players. Big Horn has three seniors — Seth Mullinax, Kade Eisele and Kade VanDyken — who have received interest from colleges and has a few juniors with the potential to play at the next level as well.
“We’ve had teams where we’ve had single weapons that were just unbelievably talented,” Brantz said. “This year, we just have so many different ways to attack a team and a line that can make it happen.”
Statistically, this season’s team can claim to be the best in program history and one of the top 1A teams ever. Big Horn averages 52.1 points per game — easily the best in school history and a number that would rank first all-time in 1A — and only allows 10.2 per contest, the fewest points the Rams have given up since 2010.
The dominant season has resulted in a gaping scoring margin of 41.9 points per game. Big Horn has tallied at least 39 points in every game and hasn’t been challenged the entire year, winning all of its matchups by at least 21 points.
Comparatively, the 2003 Rams went 11-0 in 2A, averaging 41.9 points per game and giving up a mere 7.4 points per contest against slightly better competition than this year’s squad. The 2003 Big Horn team won 10 of its games by at least 21 points, including a 29-8 win over Lusk in the state final. The only close matchup was a 15-13 regular-season victory at Moorcroft.
The 2018 Rams have also broken program scoring records in back-to-back weeks. Big Horn’s previous high for points in a game was 66, which occurred in 1943. Two weeks ago, the Rams tallied 67 points against Wind River. They topped that mark last week with 68 facing Pine Bluffs. Those are also two of the top 10 highest-scoring playoff games by an 11-man team in the state since 1931.
Moreover, the Wyoming 11-man single-season scoring record is within Big Horn’s reach. The record right now is 545 points, set last year by Natrona County. If the Rams score 25 points or more against Cokeville, they will set a new mark. Similarly, If Big Horn tallies at least 45 points, it will set the state record for highest scoring offense per game in 11-man history.
Mullinax said this year is the best team he’s been on because of the history between most players. Receiver and defensive back Jack Nance concurred.
“A big part of it is everyone growing up together,” Nance said. “I’ve known some of these guys since kindergarten. It’s playing football on the playground in first grade and then up to high school, building it up.”
Running back and linebacker Kade Eisele said the 2016 championship team was excellent, but this year’s team is better.
“We kind of have the same core linemen we did that year, but they’re a few years (older) in experience,” Eisele said. “Experience is everything.”
Lineman Jaxon Parker couldn’t definitively give this season’s team the nod, but in terms of talent and chemistry, he said this year is the best.
Similarly, receiver and defensive back Kade VanDyken said he wasn’t sure about the best overall team he’s been on but that this year’s squad gets along best with one another.
“I think we have a lot of talent, along with the chemistry this year, and that just kind of gets us where we’re at,” VanDyken said. “We all know each other so well and we’ve been playing with each other for so long and just know what to expect.”
Quarterback and linebacker Quinn McCafferty said this year’s group is the best team on which he’s played. He said experience plays a key factor, along with the collective chip on the team’s shoulder after its runner-up finish last season.
“We’ve just got a little more physicality, a little more edge, a little more fire burning inside,” McCafferty said.
Numbers point to this year’s team as the best in Big Horn program history and possibly Wyoming’s best 1A team of all time. McLaughlin made a declarative statement: with a win at state, the 2018 Rams will go down as the best team he’s coached.