Playoffs open in Class 1A this week and eight matchups are on tap on either Friday or Saturday.Â Winners advance to the state quarterfinals next week and all 16 teams are working to the state finals on November 24th.Â In our first-round preview, we take a deep look inside all the matchups.
#1 Bennett (9-0) vs #16 Highland (6-3)
Bennett ran their way to an unbeaten regular season and the top overall playoff seed.Â The Tigers generated 3,747 yards and 51 TD’s on the ground in just eight games as they earned a forfeit over Front Range Christian for their ninth victory.Â After finishing second to Strasburg in the Northern league, Highland earned a tough playoff draw.Â They finished 13th in RPI but were dropped to 16th by the seeding committee.
Slowing down Bennett QB Rocky Lechman is a must for Highland if they hope to spring the upset.Â The senior is a leading player of the year candidate as he rushed for 1,552 yards and 23 touchdowns in regular season action.Â He averaged over 17 yards per carry.
Mason Wakeham is also nearly 1,000 yards and needs 97 yards on Friday to get there.Â He’s reached the end zone nine times.Â As a team, the Tigers have gained at least 400 yards on the ground five times including a season best 647 against Clear Creek.Â They’ve attempted only 36 passes and completed 16 but four have gone for touchdowns.
The Bennett defense has 32 sacks including seven from Jayden Brown and six from Elam Laing.Â Eight different players have forced a total of nine turnovers and Jesse Rodriguez has two interceptions.Â He’s played just five games due to injury but is back with the Tigers for their playoff run.
Highland has a nice mix of run and pass on offense.Â Logan Stewart has thrown for 648 yards and five touchdowns.Â Trey Allmon has 881 yards rushing and 11 TD’s.Â On defense, Devin Hines (70 tackles) and Koby Anderson (67) are the top tacklers and cannot be pushed around by the Tigers up front.
One very strong point for Highland’s defense is the ability to create turnovers.Â The Huskies have forced a whopping 33 turnovers and may need to force more to get the win.Â Zack Jackson has five interceptions and Anderson has three fumble recoveries.
Bennett had won just three playoff games in school history before reaching the state semifinals last year.Â Four of their five post-season have come since 2011.Â Highland beat Rocky Ford 32-3 in 2007 for their only post-season win.Â This is the first meeting between the two programs.
#8 Peyton (8-1) vs #9 Paonia (7-2)
As always, the eight-nine game shapes up to be the best first round matchup.Â Peyton is coming off a second straight league championship and gained important experience with their first-round playoff win over Limon last season.Â Paonia lost in the state semifinals a year ago marking the first time in four years the Eagles have not played in the state championship game.
The Eagles though return very few key players from that four-year run.Â But one of them is Jaden Miller and he leads the Eagles with the team with 1,336 yards and 19 touchdowns.Â Another key is QB Caden Meilner.Â Improving with each game as a first-year starter, he’s thrown for 480 yards and added another 353 on the ground.Â Meilner has been involved in 13 touchdowns overall.
Defensively, the Eagles have been stout.Â Losses have come against Centauri (20-13) and Meeker (31-13), but in seven wins, the Eagles have allowed just 47 points.Â They’ve also forced 19 turnovers.
Peyton carries a six-game winning streak into the post-season including two impressive victories to close the season.Â Wins over Buena Vista and Colorado Springs Christian handed the Panthers the league championship and a chance to play at home for the second straight year.
The running game is very good and very deep.Â Tyler Noffsinger leads the club with 610 yards and nine scores but depth comes from Josh Gonzales (454) and Gunner Saarela (452) who have combined for 14 touchdowns.Â QB Trevor Walker is another threat totaling 395 yards rushing and 690 passing.Â He’s scored four times on the ground and tossed 12 scoring passes including six to Gonzales and four to Charles Sparks.
Peyton’s win over Limon last year was their sixth in school history and first since 2007.Â They’ve had just three wins since 1993.Â Paonia meantime has collected 13 post-season victories since 2013 including state titles in 2013 and 2014.Â The Eagles lost to Buena Vista in the 2015 state finals and were beaten by eventual champion Strasburg in the semifinals last season.
The two clubs have not met previously in the post-season.
#4 Strasburg (8-1) vs #13 Wray (5-4)
The defending state champion Indians enter the playoffs riding a seven-game winning streak.Â Their lone loss is against Bennett (37-14) in week two.Â On the season, Strasburg has four wins over playoff teams beating Burlington, Limon, Highland and Cornerstone Christian.Â The win over Limon was very close (14-12) but the remaining three all came by double figures.
Wray didn’t qualify for the playoffs until beating Yuma in the Harvest Cup series (19-7).Â They were 17th in RPI points before the game but the win pushed them into the top 16.Â It’s their first playoff visit since 2012.
Even though the Eagles finished behind Highland in the RPI, they were likely moved ahead of the Huskies based on their head-to-head win in the regular season (35-26).Â Wray’s offense is centered on Cade Hillman who leads the team with 1,401 yards rushing with 16 touchdowns.Â Emmanuel Huerta (555 yards) has developed into a second threat and has scored seven touchdowns.Â Overall, Wray averages nearly 290 yards per game on the ground.
Strasburg QB Jacob Miller does not have glittering stats but the Indians seem to be a much better team since he took over starting duties midway through the season.Â Over the last five games, he’s completed 12 of 25 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns.Â Carson Spence threw for 383 yards in the first five but is now helping the team in other areas.Â He’s also a strong force in the kicking game.
Hunter Bergstrom though remains the big play threat for Strasburg.Â The senior played a major role in leading the Indians to the state title last year and enters the playoffs averaging 14 yards per carry this year.Â He’s rushed for 1,045 yards and 20 touchdowns and leads the team with 10 receptions.
Strasburg’s championship last year was the third in school history and first since going back-to-back in 1989 and 1990.Â Last year also marked the first time the Indians moved past the second since those early titles.Â Wray reached the semifinals in 2012 and has a state championship from 1993.Â They’ve also reached the state finals four other years including a recent appearance in 2010.
#5 Burlington (7-2) vs #12 Platte Canyon (6-2)
With two early losses to Strasburg and Bennett, Burlington has been under the radar most of the season but earned the North Central title and a first round playoff game at home by beating Limon 29-28 last week.Â The Cougars trailed by two scores in the fourth quarter but scored a touchdown with three minutes left.Â They then went ahead and grabbed the win on a two-point conversion.Â It was their second straight one-point win over the Badgers.
The Cougars gained the win despite rushing for just 93 yards.Â QB Braden Witzel threw for 106 yards and two crucial touchdowns.Â The touchdown passes went to Jonah Hanson and Micah Hanson.
Since losing to Strasburg (24-6) in their opener, Burlington has not been held below 29 points in any game.Â They also totaled over 400 yards of offense in the wild 50-38 loss to top ranked Bennett.
Platte Canyon opened the season 6-0 but the last two weeks have not been kind to the Huskies.Â They lost to Clear Creek (62-42) in week eight giving up 470 yards passing.Â Then last week, they gave up 397 yards rushing to Bennett in a 46-0 shutout loss.
But the season starts over this week and the Huskies hope to regain success from early in the season when they rolled past six straight opponents.Â Trevor Sander is the key offensively.Â The senior has 922 yards and 16 touchdowns this season and ran for 229 yards in the loss to Clear Creek.Â He was held to a season low 68 against Bennett.
Burlington beat Center 47-0 in the first-round last year but then lost to Paonia (22-20) in round two.Â They’ve won a first round game in seven of the past eight years; missing only 2014 with a first round loss to Crowley County.Â Platte Canyon topped Monte Vista in the first-round last season but then lost to Meeker in the quarterfinals.Â They also beat Wray in 2014 playoff opener.
#3 Centauri (9-0) vs #14 Colorado Springs Christian (6-3)
After earning a ninth week forfeit from John Mall, Centauri should be rested, healthy and ready to go for their playoff run.Â Their defense has allowed just 39 points in eight games with 30 of those coming in wins in Paonia and Pagosa Springs.Â Overall the Falcons have posted five shutouts and if you include the win over Monte Vista (27-2) where the defense didn’t allow a point, the number jumps to six.
Bennie Chacon has 11 tackles for loss and leads the Falcons with 102 tackles overall.Â Adam Chacon has 76 and Jackson Price 72.Â The Falcons have 31.5 sacks, 10 interceptions and recovered 11 fumbles.Â Brandon Buhr has a team-best five interceptions while Triston Crowther and Chacon have each recovered three fumbles.
Colorado Springs Christian has losses to playoff entrants Peyton and Crowley County and does not have a win over a team that made the bracket.Â They average 189 yards rushing but that number drops to 117 in their three losses.Â Gabe Danzik is the top threat with 880 yards and nine touchdowns.Â QB Jordan Greager keeps defenses honest with 346 yards passing and 346 on the ground.Â He’s been involved in 10 scores this season.
The Lions have just one playoff win in school history.Â It came over Monte Vista (21-20) in the 2006 first round.Â They did not qualify last year but dropped first round games in 2015, 2013, 2012, and 2010.Â They’ve been close though as three of the losses are by 12 points or less including a one-point decision to Burlington (28-27) in 2012.
Centauri reached the state finals in 2013 losing to Paonia in a hard-fought contest.Â They have eight playoff wins in school history including four since 2013.Â They did not qualify last year and fell to Buena Vista (48-6) in their 2015 playoff opener.
#6 Clear Creek (8-1) vs #11 Monte Vista (6-3)Â
In the playoffs for the first time since 1999, there’s plenty of excitement in Idaho Springs.Â The Golddiggers finished second to Bennett in the Foothills conference and has momentum from last week’s 58-28 win over Front Range Christian.
Monte Vista placed second to Centauri in the Southern Peaks conference.Â They fell to Falcons 27-2 and have losses to two other playoffs teams; Pagosa Springs (26-7) and Meeker (30-7).Â They will need a big game from Jacob Chavez on offense and the secondary on defense to advance.
Chavez has collected 1,172 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing this season. He’s picked up at least 139 yards in every game this year including strong efforts in losses to Centauri (169) and Meeker (176).Â The rest of the team has picked up 765 yards rushing with nine scores.
On defense, the Pirates face Clear Creek QB Ty Judge who has thrown for 2,750 yards and 35 touchdowns this season.Â Both numbers are tops for the entire state.Â Lucas Gerding and Noah Siarra are also 10th and 12th in receptions with 54 and 50 respectively.Â Siarra has 972 yards and 13 touchdowns with another 472 yards and 14 scores on the ground.Â Gerding has 919 yards receiving with 14 touchdowns receiving.
Monte Vista has six interceptions on the season but has faced mostly running teams this year.Â They have earned 16 hurries and 13 sacks, including three from Antonio Duran.Â Against the Meeker passing game, Monte Vista gave up 134 yards and one touchdown.
Clear Creek has two playoff wins in school history and both are by shutout.Â Ironically, their last win is against Monte Vista (7-0) in 1998.Â They also topped Roosevelt 21-0 in 1997.Â Their last win came over Buena Vista 47-14 in 2009.
Overall, the Golddiggers have met Monte Vista four times and lost three (97, 84 & 82).
Monte Vista scored their last playoff win in 2013; beating Cedaredge 20-7.Â They’ve not made it past the second round since 1999 when they played for the state championship.
#7 Crowley County (8-1) vs #10 Limon (7-2)
Not sure who will have the bigger chip on their shoulder in this one.Â Limon blanked Crowley County 27-0 on September 8th and now the two rivals meet again in the first round.Â Crowley County has the charge of avenging their first loss while Limon is wondering why they must play and beat the Chargers again after scoring a 27-point win in the regular season matchup.
The first meeting was one of six shutouts recorded by the Limon this year.Â They’ve allowed just 55 points all season but gave up 15 crucial fourth quarter points in a 29-28 loss to Burlington last week.Â That loss prevented the Badgers from winning the North Central title and put them on the road here in round one.
15 players have reached double figures in tackles for Limon.Â Hauk Hubbard tops the tackles chart and leads the Badgers in sacks and fumble recoveries.Â The Badgers have forced 18 turnovers overall including four interceptions from Cole Younger.Â One of those came against Crowley County in the first matchup.
In that first game, Limon ran for 173 yards including 80 from Hubbard and 58 Kory Tacha.Â Tacha, a very talented freshman, is injured and will not play in the rematch.Â Cannan Bennett threw for 120 yards and two scores but was intercepted twice.
Crowley County totaled 114 yards rushing and just 65 through the air in game one.Â Senior QB Bradley Clabey completed just 12 of 27 passes and was picked off twice.Â Canaan Geringer was the top rusher but was limited to 32.
The Chargers have won six straight since the loss with all six coming by at least 18 points.Â Clabey recovered from the Limon loss to finish the regular season with 903 yard and 17 scores.Â Chris Meyer is the top receiver with 28 catches including 10 touchdowns.Â Geringer is at 917 yards rushing with nine scores.
The two clubs have met twice previously in the playoffs.Â Crowley County blanked Limon 26-0 in 2015 (2nd RD) while Limon picked up a win in 2004.Â Both teams came up short in first round game last year; the Chargers lost to Cedaredge and the Badgers to Peyton.
Limon has won 11 of their last 14 first round games and has 87 all-time playoff wins over their storied history.Â Crowley County has 13 playoff wins all-time including three in the six-man division.
#2 Meeker (9-0) vs #15 Cornerstone Christian (6-3)Â Â
Cornerstone Christian is in the post-season for the first time in their short football history.Â But their visit may be a short one as they’re the heavy underdog on the road in Meeker against the defending state runners-up.
The Bulldogs have played four playoff teams this year; going 1-3 against them.Â They knocked off Wray 17-6 but suffered losses to Bennett (58-7), Highland (22-7) and Strasburg (66-28).Â They rely heavily on Braydon Welch and will need a big game from him to upset the Cowboys.
Welch has 1,053 yards rushing with 16 touchdowns.Â The rest of the team has combined for 718 yards and 10 scores.Â Another key could be Zach Dube.Â The QB has 705 yards passing with seven scores including four to Ethan Carlson.
Meeker is led by QB Logan Hughes who is entering his third playoff run as the starter.Â He threw for 816 yards and nine touchdowns in four playoff games a year ago.Â This season, the left has 1,577 yards passing with 14 touchdowns.Â Trapper Merrifield leads all receivers with 32 catches for 802 yard and a dozen touchdowns.Â Doak Mantle anchors the ground game with 734 yards and 12 scores.
The Cowboys have outscored opponents 325-69 this season.Â They’ve beaten three playoff teams; downing Highland (40-0), Monte Vista (30-7) and Paonia (31-14).
Meeker has 27 all-time playoff wins with six coming over the past three seasons.Â Last year marked their first trip to the state finals since 1996.