Who can stop Star Valley?
That is the question every team in Class 3A has to ask itself entering the 2019 season. The defending state champion Braves overcame injuries and a 1-2 start last year to win their last nine games, capped by a 35-14 victory over Torrington in the title game.
It was the Braves’ third title in four years and this year’s team is the heavy favorite to make it four in five years. Star Valley returns five all-state selections; four offensive lineman, including 3A West Lineman of the Year Parker Merritt; and a Super 25 selection in Chase Merrell.
The Braves’ biggest challengers for West supremacy will likely come from the Broncs — Cody or Jackson.
Cody returns four all-state selections and has a history of making things difficult for Star Valley. The Braves had to rally for a 20-16 regular-season victory over the Broncs last year. And in 2017 Cody spoiled Star Valley’s undefeated season with a win in the semifinals that prevented the Braves from having a chance at being the five-time defending state champs.
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Jackson has lost three in a row to Star Valley, but these Broncs feature 2,000-yard rusher Jeydon Cox and a group of talented seniors that were seconds away from a trip to Laramie last season.
In the East, Torrington is the two-time defending conference champ as well as the two-time state runner-up, but the Trailblazers return just two starters for first-year coach Russell Steinmetz.
That likely leaves the door open for Douglas, which has lost in the quarterfinals three of the past four years and hasn’t won a state title since 2010. (That’s also the last time a team from the East won it all.) However, this year’s Bearcats are stacked at the line of scrimmage and bring back all-state quarterback AJ Yeaman.
If Douglas falters, both Lander and Worland could be in position to challenge in the East. The Tigers made big strides last year and play host to Douglas in the next-to-last regular season game. Worland has seven returning starters and the Warriors host both Douglas and Lander, with a game at Torrington in between, to close the season.
In the end, though, Star Valley remains the team that everybody else is chasing.