LARAMIE — The 2018 Wyoming high school football season came to a close Saturday when Natrona County senior quarterback Kade Stoner took a knee on the Jonah Field turf.
Stoner and his teammates then began celebrating the Mustangs’ 28-14 victory over Sheridan that ended the Broncs’ three-year reign atop Class 4A and brought Natrona County its first state championship in four years.
It also was the culmination of five games over two days at War Memorial Stadium, the site of the Wyoming State High School Football Championships since 2009.
During their 10-year run at War Memorial, the state football championships have produced memorable games, outstanding individual performances and weather ranging from 50-degree days to near-blizzard conditions.
This weekend’s games were played under sunny skies, although it was chilly and windy on the field and especially in the west bleachers when the sun went down.
And while none of the five games were close on the scoreboard — Natrona County’s 14-point victory was the only one decided by fewer than 21 points — they all produced long-lasting memories.
Don’t believe me? Try telling any player or coach or fan from Farson, Big Horn, Buffalo, Star Valley or Natrona County that their game wasn’t memorable. I’m guessing they’ll disagree wholeheartedly.
As for individual and team performances, here are a few that grabbed my attention over the weekend.
— Farson’s Clancy Gines running 65 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, Gines did it again the next time he touched the ball, this time from 49 yards.
The senior finished the game with 236 yards and four touchdowns on just seven carries before injuring his knee and being helped to the sidelines. When Gines returned to the field after halftime he was dressed in sweats and on crutches.
But Gines, who along with his teammates had lost to Kaycee in the last two Class 1A 6/man championship games, got his uniform back on so that he could be on the field to help the Pronghorns celebrate the program’s first state title.
It started with Kade Eisele’s 91-yard kickoff return touchdown and the Rams never let up. Big Horn lost three fumbles and threw an interception, but the high-powered offense scored touchdowns on their other eight possessions. Big Horn set an 11-man record by averaging 52.5 points per game and their closest game all season was a 39-7 victory over 2A Greybull.
“One of our goals was to go 11-0 and undefeated,” Eisele said. “And not only to do that but to dominate our opponents. And we did that.”
Yes, they did.
— Buffalo’s running game. More specifically, the downfield blocking of the Bison wide receivers that allowed running backs Rowen Ruby and Cody Milmine to turn short gains into big plays in Buffalo’s 43-18 victory over Mountain View in the 2A game.
Here’s a brief recap of the Star Valley season leading into the game: The Braves had just one returning starter, lost two of their first three games and at one point this season were missing eight starters because of injury.
In other words, the bar continues to be raised in Afton. Simply put, the Braves don’t rebuild, they reload.
— Finally, Natrona County ending three years of frustration thanks to Stoner’s pick-six and two blocked punts by Jordan Bertagnole.
Even with a 22-21 loss at Cheyenne East back in early September, the Mustangs showed throughout the season they were the team to beat in Class 4A. So it was only fitting they had to take down the Broncs before they could once again hoist the championship trophy.
What began in 2009 has now spanned 10 years and 50 games, and I can say with some sense of pride that I’m on the very short list of media members who have seen them all. Granted, the Wyoming high school football media contingent isn’t a large one, but at this point in my journalism career I’ll take whatever victory I can.
Congrats to the Mustangs, Braves, Bison, Rams and Pronghorns. And shout-outs to the Broncs, Trailblazers, Buffalos, Panthers and Huskies on making it to Laramie.
Let’s do it again next year.