Favorites, Challengers, Dark Horses and Burning Questions – The Denver Post
Leaves have turned, an autumn chill swept through the Front Range, and dozens of Colorado high school football teams returned their pads. It’s state playoff time – for everyone except Class 3A, that is – and the brackets are set. Here’s what to look out for with big boys in grades 5A and 4A:
Christian value – The only 5A team to go through the regular season unbeaten, the seed Valor (10-0) is clearly the favorite. Stacked with future college talent, including the nation’s fifth-ranked senior running back Gavin Sawchuk heading to Oklahoma, the Eagles have 10 straight double-digit wins. The defense allowed just 9.8 points per game, while the offense punished opponents in the air (165.4 yards / game) and on the ground (247.0 yards / game). The only unanswered question: How will the Eagles react if they are pushed late into an awkward position?
Cherry Creek – The reigning 5A double champions remain formidable, although many faces have changed from the team that rolled through the playoffs last fall. The loss of senior running back Keegan Holles was significant, but the defense is stronger than ever. Led by junior rusher Blake Purchase (14.0 tackles for losses, 11.0 sacks in Week 9), the Bruins (8-2) allowed just 11.2 points per game en route to a share of their sixth consecutive Centennial League title. If the offense finds other equipment, pay attention.
Legend – After reaching the semi-finals a year ago, the Titans are looking to take it to the next level with a race for the program’s first state title. Armed with an average offense of 38.5 points and 373.6 yards per game, they just might have the firepower to do it. Senior running back Bryce Vaz appeared in six 100-yard, 21 touchdown games, while senior outside linebacker Zach Runyon (17.0 TFL) was a threat on the other side of the ball. That said, a 25-21 loss to Mullen (3-7) in Week 2 is a headache.
The black horse
Arapahoe – The regular season ended with a thud (32-13 vs. Grandview, No.4), but any team that beats Cherry Creek (13-10 in Week 8) should be seen as a threat. Senior linebacker Jackson Adams (10.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks) and senior defensive lineman Jareb Ramos (7.0 TFL) are leading a strong and physical defense. If the Warriors can channel the same magic that produced a victory over the Bruins, they can play with anyone.
Which team in the 5A Jeffco League will be doing a deep race?
Apparently anyone from Pomona, Arvada West, Columbine or Ralston Valley could reach the semi-finals. Pomona was the league champion but ended up with the No. 10 seed after losing to Columbine (20-6) in Week 10. Legendary coach Andy Lowry and the Rebels, ninth seed. series, also missed a pass, but may have gotten a break with A-West as a potential knockout opponent. The Wildcats had another season and ended an 11-game losing streak against Ralston Valley, but lost to QB Ethan Cook to injury. And what can be done with VR? The No.5 Mustangs have the best seed of the four and a victory over potential quarter-final opponent Grandview, but they’ve also lost two of their last four games.
Which team in the first round will be the most difficult?
The easy answer is Columbine or Pomona, seeds number 9 and 10, respectively. But we are going to exit the plateau and take the number 13 Mullen. Some may question the Mustangs ranking given their 3-7 overall record, but it’s as much a product of their calendar as anything else. The Mustangs played eight of the top 12 seeds in Group 5A and even knocked out third-seeded Legend 25-21. Senior running back Kyle Krebs (1,197 total yards) is a handful.
Will anyone other than Creek or Valor reach the title?
Two of the last three 5A title games have featured Valor Christian against Cherry Creek, and there’s a good chance we’ll get No. 3 on December 4 at Empower Field. “These are the two teams you have to play to get there,” Arapahoe coach Joe Nuu said earlier this season. That said, the Nuu Warriors took out Creek in October, and while Valor is undefeated, the Eagles haven’t played any of the other six seeds in 5A. A meeting with Grandview (led by former Cherry Creek defensive coordinator Tom Doherty) or Ralston Valley in the semifinals could be Valor’s toughest test yet.
Montrose – Indians find themselves in scarce air after going through the tough 4A Southern 1 League undefeated. With wins over three of the top 11 seeds and a pair of 3A powers (Palisade and Durango), there is no doubt their good faith. But the Indians (10-0) have also not played in a state championship game since 2013 and are 71 years away from their only state title (1950). With a defense that gave up just 13.1 points / game and an overwhelming ball control attack, Montrose can slowly stifle quality opponents.
Ruisseau des Pins – It may seem strange that the Eagles, third seed (8-2) are classified in front of two undefeated teams in 4A. But it’s tough to face a team from Pine Creek that climbed the league standings and hung on with a pair of 5A heavyweights in their two losses (26-23 at No.3 Legend; 24-14 at n ° 7 Regis Jesuit). The Eagles are battle-proven and teeming with talent, including a dangerous double-threat QB (Josiah Roy, 2,091 yards overall), a breakthrough return (Zion Hill, 1,043 yards overall, nine touchdowns) and a defense with many playmakers (76.0 TFL, 14 takeaways).
Dakota Ridge – It could be argued that the Eagles (10-0) are the team to beat after closing the regular season with victories over No.9 Golden and No.7 Chatfield to win a second straight league title. As has been the case over the past two seasons, which both ended in narrow semi-final losses, Dakota Ridge has an explosive offense (45.1 points per game) and a collection of directed playmakers. by RB Noah Triplett (1,427 total yards, 28 touchdowns), QB Adam Graves (1,603 passing yards) and two-way stud Dante Capolungo (1,203 all-purpose yards, 11 touchdowns, seven interceptions).
The black horse
Land of love – Can a team really be a “dark horse” when it has won two of the last three 4A titles? In the case of the Red Wolves, the answer seems to be yes. Despite the fact that Loveland (9-1) hasn’t lost a game to a 4A opponent in two years, the reigning champions enter the playoffs as a No.6 seed. Yet with a running game physical led by full-backs Garrett Harstad and Drew Foley who generates 334.1 yards / game, and a defense as stingy as any other in 4A (7.5 points allowed / game), this is a team that nobody wants to play.
Did Erie’s schedule prepare him for the playoffs?
How does a team that went 10-0 in the regular season while outscoring their opponents by 34.1 points / game rank outside the top four? Schedule, schedule, schedule. As impressive as the No.5 Tigers racked up 437.5 yards and 46.5 points / game, they haven’t faced a single top 10-ranked team. Their best seeded victory: 39-21 over Bear Creek, No. 14 (7-3). Needless to say, the Tigers enter the playoffs with something to prove.
Which team in the first round will be the most difficult?
A case could be made for anyone emerging from Friday night’s game between No.18 Broomfield and No.15 Longmont – two teams culminating at the right time. And the No. 17 Denver South could have the most explosive offensive talent of WR Rashad Caldwell (52 receptions, 1,132 yards). But the choice here is obvious: the No. 9 Golden (8-2). There hasn’t yet been a defense that figured out how to stop double-threat QB Jazel Riley IV (2,652 yards overall), and the Demons’ only two losses are heartbreaking to No.2 Dakota Ridge (45-38 ) and No. 2. 7 Chatfield (50-49). A potential round of 16 encounter with No.8 Fountain-Fort Carson (9-1) could be fun.
Are we overlooking Palmer Ridge?
Yes. A hundred times, yes. Even with so many legitimate contenders in a seemingly wide open range, the fourth-seeded Bears (9-1) cannot be ignored. The unique 3A powers once again have a devastating aerial attack with second quarterback Derek Hester (1,927 passing yards, 24 TDs) at the helm. And a 41-0 demolition of No.11 Vista Ridge (6-3) in Week 10 – the Bears’ second shutout of the season – showed they’re ready to rumble.