I-70 in Eastern Colorado is the locale for two big matchups on the 1A level this week. Bennett plays their first ever game as a top ranked team as they host Burlington and #3 Strasburg has a short drive to #4 Limon in a top five clash. Another important meeting is found in Northwest Colorado between #3 Meeker and #8 Monte Vista.
#1 Bennett (3-0) vs Burlington (2-1)
The Tigers are just one point away from averaging 50 points per game on the season. They’ve scored 149 in wins over Cornerstone Christian, Strasburg and Ellicott. QB Rocky Lechman had a monster game in last week’s victory at Ellicott rushing for 281 yards and four TD’s and adding 145 yards and another score through the air. On the season, the senior has nearly 750 yards of offense including eight scores.
As a group, Bennett averages 454 yards a game on the ground which is a higher pace than a year ago when they finished 10-2 with 389 yards per game and a whopping 69 touchdowns. Burlington though was one of the few teams that limited the Tigers offensively, holding them a season low 191 yards on the ground in a 15-13 loss.
Three key members of that defense return for the Cougars in Braden Witzel, Case Reiber and Kaden Meurisse. Together they combined for 34 tackles headed up by 14 from Witzel. Those three have also been important to the development of the Cougars offense this season.
After being held to just six points in the opening loss to Strasburg, the Cougars have totaled 80 in wins over St. Mary’s and Lamar. Reiber ran for 114 yards and Witzel threw for 113 and two scores against Lamar last week. Meurisse rang up 158 yards and three TD’s vs St Mary’s and Reiber chipped in 120.
#3 Strasburg (2-1) at #4 Limon (3-0)
Improvements in the passing game have helped the Badgers jump to their 3-0 start. During their ten game season in 2016, they managed just 407 yards in the air but have already put up 373 games in just three contests this year. The more effective passing from Cannan Bennett has opened holes for the tandem of Hauk Hubbard (360 yards) and Kory Tacha (208) on the ground. The duo has combined for nine touchdowns.
Another component for three straight wins is a big play defense headed up by Cole Younger and his four interceptions. The senior has helped the Badgers force ten turnovers and make 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Nathan Lee, with 27 tackles, leads the defense but nine others are in double figures.
Strasburg senior Hunter Bergstrom went for 178 yards and two touchdowns in the Indians weather-delayed 26-0 shutout at University last Friday. It was the second highest total in a game for Bergstrom trailing only the 196-yard effort against Limon a year ago. He amassed that number and scored twice on just seven attempts so he will be the focus of the Badgers defense.
The Indians also face Highland next week in a conference opener so the next two weeks should determine where they end up in the post-season bracket. They’ll be heavily favored in their final four games.
#2 Meeker (3-0) vs #8 Monte Vista (2-1)
Each club has different momentum entering the contest. Meeker is unbeaten and refreshed after taking last week off. Monte Vista lost to Pagosa Springs last week so they’re looking to regroup on the road in a very difficult place to win.
Meeker has winning football games on both sides of the ball. The offense has scored at least 30 points in every game and the defense has allowed a total of 13. Doak Mantle, with 265 yards, leads a ground game averaging 247 yards on the ground. Logan Hughes has thrown for 466 yards and five touchdowns. Defensively, the Cowboys are getting good play from newcomers Tannen Kennedy (33 tackles) and Tevon Pelloni (26).
Moving forward it appears Monte Vista needs to develop a few more weapons on offense. Jacob Chavez continued his strong season last week rushing for 128 yards against Pagosa Springs but the rest of the team managed only 11 on the ground and 15 passing. Chavez has picked up 495 yards rushing in three games which represents nearly 70 percent of the Pirates overall total (708).
#9 Wray (2-1) vs Cornerstone Christian (2-1)
With both teams sporting winning records, this one shapes up to be very important concerning RPI standings and possible wildcard teams. The game should be won in the trenches as both teams use the run as a first, second and third option.
The Eagles picked up 347 yards on the ground in last week’s 35-26 win at Highland. Cade Hillman, with 154 yards and four TDs against the Huskies, seems to be the key for Wray. He’s totaled 350 yards and nine touchdowns in their two wins but only 21 and none in the loss to Goodland KS.
Bennett blitzed Cornerstone Christian 58-7 in the opener, but the Bulldogs have responded with wins over Yuma (12-7) and Front Range Christian (27-0). Brayden Kelch entered last week with just 71 yards rushing in two games but exploded for 247 and all four touchdowns in the win.
#5 Centauri (4-0) at Buena Vista (0-3)
The Falcons posted their second shutout of the season in a 14-0 road win at previously unbeaten Olathe. They will be favored in this one but the Demons are coming off their best effort in a near upset of #7 Platte Canyon last week (22-20). Buena Vista led the game 13-7 after the first quarter and halftime but allowed a touchdown in both the third and fourth quarter to stay winless.
A bright spot was the play of QB Parker Johnson who threw for 142 yards and a touchdown. But for the second straight year the Demons could not get the ball away from the Huskies running game. Platte Canyon ran the ball 56 times compared to just 31 overall plays for BV.
For Centauri, the goal is to get the win and get the starters out of the game without injury. They’re off next week and will have two games to prep for a highly crucial game with Monte Vista in week six. That game should determine the Southern Peaks championship and which of two teams earn an automatic playoff berth.
#6 Paonia (2-1) vs Roaring Fork (0-3)
Since the opening loss at Centauri, Paonia has posted two easy wins over Rye (44-3) and Ridgeview Academy (43-6). This week could be more of the same as they face a Rams team that has not scored a point in three losses. Paonia starts the Western Slope gauntlet next week with Cedaredge at home before going on the road for back-to-back games with Hotchkiss and Olathe. Meeker is waiting in week eight as well.
#10 Peyton (2-1) vs Ellicott (1-3)
The Thunderhawks were a playoff team the last two years and for a return visit, they will need to improve their run defense. In three straight losses, they’ve allowed 490 yards to Wray, 310 to Monte Vista and 466 to Bennett. Now Ellicott faces a Peyton club that’s totaled 837 yards in their three games and one with fresh legs after working through a bye week. The Panthers are also hungry after falling at home to Highland 13-7 in week two. Defensively, they’ve given up only 13 points.
#7 Platte Canyon (3-0) – BYE
As mentioned the Huskies survived Buena Vista last week to stay unbeaten. Trevor Sander picked up 107 yards and was one of three players to reach the end zone in the come-from-behind win. Coach Mike Schmidt’s club has their next three at home and all three are conference foes Vail Christian, Front Range Christian and Manual. They then close on the road at Clear Creek and Bennett.
Aspen (3-0) at Grand Valley (2-1)
It’s a cross classification game but important to both teams as they seek post-season entry. Class 2A Aspen tallied 164 points in three games but are coming off a bye so it will be interesting to see if their timing and execution remain intact. RJ Peshak has been very sharp. He’s been involved in 19 touchdowns while throwing for 748 yards and running for 413. Noah Hollander (24-385-5) and Max Ufkes (12-156-1) have combined for 36 catches, 541 yards and six touchdowns.
Grand Valley unveiled some new weapons in a 41-0 blowout of Roaring Fork last week. Jonathan Pena ran for 121 yards and two scores. Emmett Kuper added 63 and Jason Schubert picked up 58. Coming off the 299-yard effort, the Cardinals may try to establish the run game again to keep the Skiers offense on the sideline.
Weld Central (2-1) at Manual (3-0)
The Thunderbolts have not beaten a team that has posted a win this year but the unbeaten start has pushed them to seventh in the initial RPI standings. Still a win over 2A Weld Central would do wonders for their playoff chances. With 530 yards rushing on just 33 carries, Masiah Hudson is averaging 16 yards an attempt with seven touchdowns.
Following their loss at Skyview, Weld Central regained some confidence in drilling Jefferson 55-0 last week. They can also use a win as they face a tough league schedule including games with Platte Valley, Sterling and Valley. Those three have a combined record of 8-1 and two are in the 2A Top 10.
RPI STANDINGS (PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 19TH)
- Platte Canyon
- Crowley County
- Cornerstone Christian
- Monte Vista
- Clear Creek
- Rocky Ford
- Grand Valley
- Colorado Springs Christian