Rivalry games and important matchups that could help determine playoff wildcards make up our list of top games for week one football inside Classes 1A and 2A. Five games can be found on the list in both divisions and they include a couple of rivalry games, some top ten matchups and the first game for a new combined program on the Western Slope.
Salida at Buena Vista (Thursday): The top rivalry game for both schools here in week one as they battle for supremacy inside Chaffee county. Salida has nowhere to go but up as they’re coming an 0-6 season. They lost just four seniors to graduation so most of the roster is back a year stronger with more experience. That often leads to more wins. Buena Vista reached the semifinals last Spring and came up short to eventual state champion Manitou Springs (20-17). Hayden Camp returns at QB after combining for over 1,000 yards of offense in seven games. Five of the top six tacklers also return on defense.
North Fork at Center: This is the first game for North Fork as they put together programs at Hotchkiss and Paonia. They will suit up to 40 players so depth will be a strength. Ranked seventh by preseason coaches, the Miners will move Drayden Taylor from RB to QB this year. He ran for 411 yards a year ago which was second for Hotchkiss last year behind Mordecai White (637 yards) who also returns. Center was able to get on the field just three times last year due to COVID. Key returnees are Abraham Echauri, Cael Ruggles and Joaquin Moreno.
Florence at Peyton: Two playoff regulars get together just east of Colorado Springs and the winner will end up with a quality win in week one. Both teams must replace their leading rusher from last year as Owen Busetti (563 yards) graduated from Florence and Brandon Hussey (581) finished up his career with Peyton. For Florence, Jacob Kennedy ran for 426 yards last year and should get more carries this year. QB Logan Nix also returns (218 yards rushing). Peyton will turn to the likes of Dresden Howeth (206 yards rushing) and Robert Graham (173).
Wiggins at Highland: Each team has enough talent to land a playoff berth this Fall but both may be left waiting for a wildcard spot as the Tigers compete against Limon, Holyoke, Wray and others in the rugged North Central while the Huskies have not been able to get past Strasburg in the North Central. With that in mind, the winner collects some important RPI points early in the season and could gain a leg up in seeding if both make the bracket. Highland graduated Holden Morgan but returns Sam Hzindil. Morgan led the Huskies in rushing and tackles as a senior while Hzindil enters his fourth year as the starting QB. Wiggins returns QB Cole Kerr and a talented offensive front. Kerr combined for over 1,500 yards of offense in seven games a year ago.
Wray at Centauri: This it the feature attraction in Class 1A this week as both clubs are ranked in the preseason top five and both are coming off Final Four appearances from Fall 2020. The Falcons are third in the rankings this week and Wray fifth so the winner could concievably have the advantage for a top four seed come playoff time. Wray will turn to Jaden Dodsworth to succeed Tyler Collins at QB and he will have plenty of weapons around him. And the defense will be strong led by the likes of Brady Collins, Tell Wade, Payton Wade and Michael Buoy. Centauri is again heavily favored to land the Southern Peaks title. Mason Claunch returns at TB after collecting 1,050 yards with 22 TDs in just eight games a year ago. Many other talented players return on both sides of the ball including Deven Brady, Zach Buhr, Brady Holman, Ben Tailleur and Bryon Shawcroft.
Kent Denver at University (Thursday): Both clubs expect to be in the playoff chase this Fall so the winner grabs an important win very early in the season. Kent Denver is coming off a very rare non-playoff year but had several underclassmen gain valuable experience. The top three rushers, Finn Cooper, Peter McDermott and Charlie Walker, all return offensively along with QB Michael Redmond. University must replace 800 rushing yards lost to graduation and Greg Garza (161 yards) may be asked to pick up some of that slack.
Palisade at Rifle: Since Rifle dropped into the 2A ranks, the Bears and Bulldogs haven’t met that often but this week marks the return of a great Western Slope rivalry. RIfle overcame a couple of regular season losses to win the 3A spring championship; rallying from an early two touchdown deficit to stun Classical Academy in teh finals. Trey Caldwell returns as a senior starter at QB and he can easily turn and give the ball to Toto Fletchall who scored 14 TDs last year. They enter the Fall season under first-year coach Ryan Whittington. Palisade barely missed the playoffs a year ago, their first time not in the bracket since 1999. Kevin Sjogren earned all-state honors defensively after collecting 64 tackles as a junior. Donovan Maestas intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble.
Strasburg at Platte Valley: There’s great success in both camps. Strasburg has reached the last five state championship games in Class 1A with titles in 2016 and 2017. Platte Valley lost to Delta in the first round last year but reached the 2A finals in 2018 and has a state title as recent as 2013. Both teams have questions at QB. Landon Martin takes over the Strasburg job. He’s just a sophomore but has good bloodlines as his two older brothers are former starters at QB for the Indians. Platte Valley turns to Devyn Lauer to succeed Kade McDaniel as signal caller. Lauer brings great speed to the position which could turn into big plays. He caught six TD passes and also scored on a punt, interception and fumble return on defense.
Sterling at Resurrection Christian: This is a regular early season matchup between teams accustomed to making the playoffs and making deep runs once they get there. The situation is the same this year as Resurrection Christian opens the years ranked fourth and Sterling seventh. Both teams had success throwing the football a year ago and may look to do so again in 2021. But each has a hole to fill. Resurrection Christian must replace QB Will Schrotenboer as he has moved to Texas but they do return big-play threat Eddie Lemos who scored nine TDs last year. Sterling has their QB returning in Raden McCracken (588 yards passing) but must replace top receiver Jared Keil who has opted to focus on basketball for his senior season.
Englewood at Weld Central: This might be a surprising game on our week one list but we feel both clubs will push for playoff spots in 2021. Englewood in fact should challenge for the league championship as Gunnar Johnson is set for his senior year at QB. He tossed 10 TD passes a year ago. Weld Central did not win a game last year but there is excitement this year as former Fort Morgan Coach Harrison Chisum returns to the sidelines. He has recruited the halls well and has good numbers for the Rebels this year. One of the leaders could be Zayne Stam who gained 293 yards rushing and finished with 42 tackles a year ago.
Alamosa at Classical Academy: A young Alamosa team looks to prove they are playoff worthy by taking out the defending state runners-up from the Spring. Cade Palmer ran for a whopping 346 yards and three TDs in the state finals loss to Rifle and should have a tremendous senior season. He’s among the top players in any class regardless of position. Linebacker Josh Snyder is back to lead the defense. Alamosa’s offense will be centered on junior QB Kasey Jones. He threw for 695 yards and six scores as a sophomore. Leading rusher Dante Gonzales is also back. He also reached the end zone six times and totaled 502 yards rushing.