Entering the final weekend of the Class 1A football season, there are only two games on the slate where both teams grab a playoff berth regardless of what else happens. The first is the Southern Peaks title game between Centauri and Monte Vista. The second is between North Fork and Gunnison as the Miners and Cowboys battle for the runner-up spot in the Western Slope.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY SHELLY SWING-POLZIN
It’s no surprise that Centauri and Monte Vista are again battling for the league championship. It’s been that way virtually every year since the Falcons came into the 1A ranks before the 2012 season. Both clubs are unbeaten and unchallenged against conference foes so the winner lands the automatic berth. Centauri is #1 in RPI so they’re safely through to the playoffs either way and Monte Vista is 12th and also in good shape. They could actually improve their standing win or lose this week as playing the Falcons will boost their strength of schedule.
Centauri gets on the field for the just the third time this month. They opened October by rolling Center 60-6 and then had a week off. The Falcons then picked up a late game with Northfield and beat the Nighthawks 41-12 on October 16th. Last week resulted in a forfeit to Ignacio so the Falcons should be well rested and anxious to see some game action before the playoffs open next week.
Monte Vista has won five straight and beat third place Center by the same 54-point margin (54-0). Their key to winning is keeping the ball on offense and they will look to do so with the tandem of DeAngelo Archuleta (683 yards rushing) and Khegan Gunter (541). They’ve combined for 14 scores and the Pirates need them to be effective as the Falcons feature a quick-strike offense.
The main scoring threat is Mason Claunch. The speedy tailback will be fresh as he has just 57 carries this season but has still totaled 570 yards with 12 scores. Bryan Shawcroft has thrown for 833 yards and 13 TDs with six each going to Deven Brady and Baron Holman who have combined for 29 catches.
Centauri has won six straight in the series and began the current streak with an 8-6 win in 2016. Since then, the Falcons have won each game by at least 25 points. Monte Vista last won in 2015; scoring a 23-14 decision.
When the new enrollment cycle and league structure was announced before the start of the 2020 season, the Western Slope league involved eight teams so the football committee gave them two guaranteed berths. That factor did not come into play during COVID as the entire playoff structure was overhauled and then Paonia and Hotchkiss combined to form North Fork this past offseason. That move trimmed the league to seven schools but still the top two earn automatic playoff berths this Fall.
Meeker landed the championship two weeks ago by beating North Fork and Gunnison in back to back weeks. That’s the only league loss for both the Miners and Cowboys so now they collide in week ten to determine second place.
North Fork fell to Meeker 30-13 but has beaten the other four league teams by a combined 183 points. Gunnison came up short 28-12 to Meeker but has allowed just 15 points in their four remaining wins. They’ve outscored those same teams by a combined 116 points.
Both teams will look to stop the running game this week and neither did it that well against Meeker. The league champions ran for 240 yards against North Fork and 223 against Gunnison.
Regardless of outcome both teams should make the playoff bracket rather easily. But since Gunnison is 9th in RPI and North Fork 10th, the winner has the better chance of landing a home game in round one.
Platte Canyon and Strasburg are both league leaders that need wins over second place teams to win championships outright. Losses by either could create the need for a tie-breaker to determine automatic playoff bids. Platte Canyon is in the more dangerous spot; they’re just #23 in RPI and a league championship is their only path to the playoffs. Strasburg is 8th in RPI and will be a playoff team but a win does increase their hopes of playing at home in round one.
The Indians meet Flatirons Academy this week. The Bison are tied with Highland for second place and an upset of Strasburg creates a three-way tie between the two clubs and Highland. Highland has a win over Flatirons Academy and has already concluded their season at 6-3. They’re #13 in RPI.
Flatirons is #16 in RPI and as a result the Bison are not a playoff team just yet. A loss likely eliminates them. To upset Strasburg, the Bison will need big games from Nolan Sheppard and Devin Glowicki. Sheppared leads the team in both rushing (766) and passing yards (399) but managed just 26 yards of offense in the loss to Highland. Glowicki has 650 yards rushing on the season and led the squad with 84 against Highland.
While the Bison lost to Highland 15-8; Strasburg collected a 19-7 decision. They rushed for 233 yards including 106 and a touchdown from Zach Marrero. QB Kaleb Hart also had a good showing; throwing for 82 yards and adding another 49 on the ground. The defense was also sharp; limiting the Huskies to just 43 yards on the ground.
Overall, Strasburg has won four straight and enter the game off back-to-back dominating wins over Prospect Ridge and Estes Park by a combined 108 points.
Platte Canyon took over the Foothills lead with a hard-fought 18-16 win over Bennett last week but they still need a win over Manual this week to claim the title outright. A Manual win likely leaves the two teams tied with Bennett in first as the Tigers should easily get by winless Sheridan in their regular season finale. As mentioned throughout the conference season, the Foothills is likely a one-bid league as Bennett is 18th in RPI, Platte Canyon 23rd and Manual 26th.
In last week’s win, Platte Canyon rushed for 192 yards but also managed 99 yards through the air. It’s their second highest total of the season and QB David Fouts also tossed a TD pass. Allen Hardey (84) and Sam Patterson (71) were effective on the ground; combining for 155 yards.
Manual fell to Bennett 46-8 on October 8th and generated only 41 yards of total offense. After giving up 240 yards rushing to Bennett, the Thunderbolts will need a better defensive effort or they could suffer the same fate as Platte Canyon, much like Bennett, looks to control time of possession.
Buena Vista clinched the Tri Peaks championship and closed the regular season at 9-0 by beating Florence 20-14 last week. The Demons can now rest up and get healthy for the playoffs as they have the week off. Coach Matt Flavin’s team right now is the likely third seed behind Limon and Centauri and may not be able to move up unless the Badgers or Falcons (or both) are upset.
Defense and special teams carried the Demons last week as they limited the Huskies to just 71 yards rushing on 31 attempts. They also recorded four sacks. Orion Herrie returned a kickoff for a touchdown and Tam Flowers booted two field goals. Haden Camp paced the offense with 115 yards and a touchdown.
Peyton captured the Santa Fe crown with their win over Banning Lewis last week. Despite the league title, the Panthers most likely will be the 15th or 1t6th seed in the playoff bracket. They’re #17 in RPI and close the regular season against Del Norte; a non-conference opponent. Banning Lewis is 19th and on the playoff bubble. The Stallions will have trouble bettering that number as they face winless Trinidad in their final game. That will hurt their second strength of schedule.
Meanwhile, the North Central league could get five teams into the bracket this year. Going into the final weekend, Limon is #3 in RPI, Wray #4 and Wiggins #7. All three clubs have a solid chance to be at home in the opening round. Holyoke is 11th and a likely playoff team regardless of how they fare against Yuma. The Indians are 14th in RPI and probably can’t fall any farther as a lower spot would likely leave bumped out by Peyton and eventual Foothills champion (Platte Canyon, Bennett or Manual).
Limon won the league title by beating Holyoke last week and will visit Wiggins to close up the schedule. A win gives them a perfect 9-0 regular season and the likely top playoff seed ahead of both Centauri and Buena Vista. Wiggins as mentioned, could lock up a home game in round one if they stun the three-time defending state champions.
Plenty of offense to watch in this one. Limon scored 32 second quarter points in their win over Holyoke last week. They’ve rushed for 1,409 yards in four league games and totaled 326 last week. Jeremiah Leeper (133) and Gabe Schubarth (117) combined for 250 yards on just 19 attempts.
Wiggins meantime totaled 479 yards in their loss to Holyoke (41-26) a couple of weeks ago. Cole Kerr totaled 435 and was involved in all four touchdowns. In four league games, the Tigers have finished with least 152 yards rushing in each game and passed for 179 or more in three of the four. The defense though has given up 89 points.
Wray looks to follow-up their Harvest Cup win over Yuma last week (13-7) by downing another rival, Burlington, for a second time this year. The Eagles blanked the Cougars 34-0 during non-conference play in a game that was scheduled when both teams lost a regularly slated game. Burlington was in the playoff chase at mid-season but a four game losing streak has dropped them to #23 in RPI. Wray is #4 this week.