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Column: Do Cavs have a future in Casper?

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There was cake. And there were dozens of fans that stuck around after the game for the chance to bid on players’ jerseys, which the players removed from their sweaty bodies to autograph for the lucky (?) winner.

The only things missing Friday at the Casper Events Center were a boisterous crowd – there couldn’t have been more than 1,200 people in attendance – and a victory for the home team as the Cedar Rapids Titans overcame a first-half deficit to earn a 67-55 victory against the Wyoming Cavalry.

The loss dropped the Cavalry to 1-11 on the season, their third as a member of the Indoor Football League. With just two road games remaining, the Cavs will finish with a losing record for the second consecutive season and just the fifth time in 14 years.

Make no mistake, though, despite rumors to the contrary, the Cavs expect to be back for a 15th season.

“Absolutely,” Cavs general manager Mike Layton said after the game. “This was the most drama-free season we’ve ever been a part of.”

Unfortunately, it’s also the most victory-free season the Cavs have been a part of.

Part of that is attributable to a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and roster after last year. Longtime coach Dan Maciejczak and veteran players Matt Strand, Dante Dudley, Robbie Klinetobe, Jasonus Tillery, Domata Peko, BJ Charlton and James Everage – names and faces Cavs fans had come to know – either retired or decided to continue their playing careers elsewhere in recent years. They were part of a core group that led the Cavs to four consecutive indoor football championship game appearances from 2007-10.

In their place are first-year head coach Ryan Lingenfelder and 18 players that were new to the indoor game.

Obviously, growing pains were to be expected.

The Cavs struggled early, losing their first four games by an average score of 59.3 to 22.5, before upending the Tri-Cities Fever 36-34 on April 5 for their only victory to date.

“I don’t think our record really indicates the type of team we are,” Lingenfelder said. “Our main goal was at the end of the game to make sure we had a chance to win.”

The Cavs did that. Even though the losses continued to mount as the season progressed, the Cavs at least were competitive. In its last seven games, Wyoming either had the lead or was within one score in the second half.

That was the case again Friday as the Cavs and Titans traded touchdowns throughout the second half, with Wyoming pulling to within 60-55 with 1 minute, 41 seconds remaining on Brendan Crawford’s 1-yard touchdown run. But Josiah Powell’s subsequent onside kick traveled just two yards and the Titans scored two plays later to put the game away.

So what does the future hold for the Cavs?

Layton insists that the team is perfectly content in the nine-team IFL, which has hopes of expanding before next season. It should be noted, however, that the Cheyenne Warriors, who pulled out of the IFL prior to the start of the season and were being mentioned as a possible addition for next season, ceased operations this week.

While the team should be better next season, what remains to be seen is whether the fans return. After five years of covering the team, I’ve noticed a significant drop in attendance the past couple of seasons.

While the win-loss record no doubt plays a part in that, I couldn’t help get the feeling that, outside of the new names on the backs of the jerseys, I had seen all of this before. From the extended halftime show to the same old games involving fans during timeouts to the same audio clips (“They killed Kenny!”) played over the loudspeakers, there’s a sense that the Cavs are playing to the same crowd they’ve been playing to for years.

The problem is the crowd’s getting smaller with each passing year.

And I didn’t even get any cake.

 

 

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