TORRINGTON – When Torrington High School and Cokeville kick off Friday evening, the two teams will have played more than 1,500 games and have a combined 969 wins dating back to 1921 when Torrington held its first season and 1927 when Cokeville started playing, but the Blazers and Panthers have never met on the gridiron.
That will change at 6 p.m. at Wiseman Field when the two schools, who are separated by 439 miles, do battle for the first time in school history.
At the beginning of the current classification cycle, Cokeville opted up the 2A ranks to remain in the 11-man ranks despite having a school enrollment which would have made them one the smallest schools in the Class 1A 9-Man division.
“They have a winning tradition, and I don’t think it matters what class they are in, their coach is going to put their players in position to make plays,” THS coach Russell Stienmetz said.
Cokeville is just a year removed from falling 55-7 to Big Horn in the 1A-11 Man division championship game.
In fact, Torrington, also in their first season in 2A, is two seasons removed from playing in back-to-back 3A state championship games.
Now, the fourth-ranked Blazers (6-2 overall and 5-1 in the 2A East) will host the Panthers (5-3 and 4-3 in the 2A West), who will make the 439-mile trek to Torrington for the first time, in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs.
“Cokeville is a very well coached team. Offense, defense, they don’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over,” Stienmetz said. “You won’t see many fumbles from this team. They take care of the ball. The quarterback does a great job of not throwing into coverage. He hits his open receivers.”
Cokeville comes into Friday’s game having lost its regular season finale 35-15 to the Lovell Bulldogs, while Torrington is coming off a bye week.
Those 35 points are the most the Panthers have given up in a game all season and snapped a four-game winning streak.
“Defensively, Cokeville is near the top in the state. They don’t give up many yards,” Stienmetz said. “The yards you get against this defense, you have to grind for those yards.”
The Panthers average giving up 78.8 yards of rushing and 115.8 yards of passing per game.
“We need to take care of the ball, stay on our blocks and see how it goes,” Stienmetz said.
Cokeville linebacker Nate Barnes is the top defensive player in 2A this season, averaging 24.1 defensive points per game. He had tallied 15 tackles for a loss, including two sacks, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
“He’s a good, physical player,” Stienmetz said. “He flies to the ball.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Stienmetz described Cokeville as being very “Glenrock-ish.”
“They are 90% run, 10% pass,” he said. “They will throw it more than Glenrock. They will wear you down, grind you with the run, run, run and then slip a pass in there.”
The key for Torrington’s defense is staying disciplined.
“You have to be very disciplined in the secondary with your eyes and make sure were not sleeping,” Stienmetz said.
That is something the Blazers have had success with in 2020.
“Statistically, it’s our linebackers who are getting all the stats, but really, it’s those interior guys – Gabe Mitchell, Dylan Dreiling, Rhiley Grubbs – that are demanding double, triple teams so our backs are free to get to the ball,” Stienmetz said.
Heading into game week, the second-year coach praised his team for their focus at practice.
“(Monday), we practiced and seemed a lot more focused on the goal at hand,” Stienmetz said.
The goal being to defeat Cokeville and advance to play another week.