Here we are in the last week of September and our weekly 1A football report can finally focus on conference play and not just RPI positioning for the playoffs.  Regardless of how they fared through the first six weeks of the season, each team remains in the post-season chase as league champions earn automatic bids to the bracket.
The North Central features four teams in the top seven this week and two of them square off as #5 Wray heads to #6 Burlington for the latest in their long-running series.  The host Cougars have won the last three meetings including a 36-20 decision last year.  Wray won the previous three games between 2012-14 and all six games have been decided by 16 points or less including three by five points or less.
Both teams enter the conference riding three-game winning streaks.  Burlington lost to two-time defending state champion Strasburg in their opener but has knocked off Ellicott (52-0), Lamar (34-29) and Manual (38-0) since.  Wray has not experienced ill effects from the forfeit loss to Highland in their opener and has dominated Sheridan (48-0), Cornerstone Christian (28-0) and Brush (26-7) in their last three games.
The Eagles of course will want to run the football.  Coach Levi Kramer’s team averages 265 yards per game and has scored 18 touchdowns on the ground.  They also average 6.5 yards per carry as a team.
The ringleader is Cade Hillman.  The senior has gained 459 yards with seven scores and has surpassed the 100-yard mark in three games.  Emmanuel Huerta, with 260 yards and five touchdowns, has developed into a nice second option and Junior Arambula, with 121 yards, is also getting some carries.  Huerta picks up 8.4 yards an attempt and Arambula 7.6.
Those three also top the defensive charts as Hillman has 40 tackles, Arambula 29 and Huerta 27.  The Eagles have recorded 13 sacks and 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.  Six different players have also produced one of the seven turnovers.
Burlington starts a very critical stretch when they kick it off on Friday.  After the Eagles, the Cougars must deal with #7 Holyoke and #1 Limon in the next two weeks.  QB Braden Witzel and RB Kaden Meurisse are their two keys offensively and the duo also play major roles on the defensive side.
Top ranked Limon looks to avoid a letdown following the huge win over Strasburg last week.  They head to Wiggins.  Holyoke takes on Yuma.  The Dragons have allowed only six points all season and those came on a kickoff return.
Jefferson could have a say but the winner between Clear Creek and Platte Canyon this Saturday might end up with the Foothills crown.  And based on RPI standings, the league champion may be the only team to reach the playoffs so that makes the game even more important.  Clear Creek is 22nd in RPI points and Platte Canyon 25th.  Jefferson (3-1) has the best mark in the conference but is only 28th.  League champions get automatic bids and the remaining bids are doled out based on RPI standings.
The game features two completely different offense.  Platte Canyon has had 120 rushing attempts in four games and attempted just 38 passes.  They’ve compiled 531 yards rushing and 241 through the air.  Clear Creek meantime has 110 passing attempts compared to 99 rushes.  They’ve thrown for 871 yards and run for 556.  Scoring production though has been more prevalent on the ground as the Golddiggers have 10 rushing touchdowns and seven through the air.
Lucas Gerding leads Clear Creek in both passing yards (847) and rushing (309).  He’s combined for 11 scores.  Trevor Tinajera is the top rusher (320 yards) for Platte Canyon and Liam Murphy is tops in passing yardage (222).
Jefferson entertains Lake County on Thursday night.  Sheridan also goes to Manual on Friday with the winner of that game putting their first mark in the victory column.
The Western Slope could be an interesting race this year.  Olathe and Paonia have the best records (2-2) and the remaining four teams have just one win overall.  As a result, we expect surprises every week and each contest will carry importance.  This week, Hotchkiss goes to Paonia, Grand Valley is at Meeker and Olathe is on the road to Cedaredge.
All three games could be tight but we’ve picked the Paonia-Hotchkiss game as our feature because of the great rivalry and proximity of the two schools.  It’s called the North Fork Bowl and it could be a very good game this year.
All four of Paonia’s games have ended with shutouts and the Eagles have been on the good side of two of them and the bad side on the other two.  So, if the Eagles score on Friday, there’s a good chance they will end up on top.  Anthony Felice leads a balanced running game.  He has 270 yards and three scores but Jesse Burns, Sackett Chesnik and Grey Neal all have over 100 yards a well.
Hotchkiss is led by Jace Peebles with 669 yards and five touchdowns.  QB Yahir Chavez is second with 241 yards rushing and three scores.  Overall the Bulldogs need just nine yards to reach 11-hundred for the season.
Another race that is wide open to start the schedule is the Tri Peaks.  Colorado Springs Christian and Florence are 3-1 with Rye, St Mary’s and Buena Vista all sit at 2-2.  And if you talked long enough, a case could be made for every team to make a run at the championship.  The league is also well represented in the RPI with Buena Vista #8, Colorado Springs Christian #9 and Florence #12.  Buena Vista welcomes St Mary’s to Chaffee county this week and Florence is home to Rye.  Colorado Springs Christian stays home to host Ignacio in a non-league game.
Ignacio is part of the Southern Peaks which is another five-team conference so each week, one of the teams will get a break from league play.  On tap this week are games between Centauri-Center and Monte Vista-Dolores.
Centauri has lost just two conference games since the start of the 2013 season but one of them was against Center in 2016 (17-12).  The teams did not play last year because the Vikings could not a field a team so this is their first meeting since that upset.
This year, the Falcons allowed 31 points to Pagosa Springs but has surrendered only 16 in their three wins.  Since they go to Monte Vista next week, the Falcons could virtually wrap up another league championship with wins in both.
One of Centauri’s wins this year is against Olathe with the Falcons scoring a 39-9 decision.  Conversely, the Vikings lost to Olathe 49-0 so they enter the contest as heavy underdogs.  Regardless of the result, Center has already had a successful return to the gridiron; posting wins over Lake County, Trinidad and John Mall.
Habrian Delacruz has thrown for 422 yards and five touchdowns for the Vikings.  His top receivers are Devin Porres (8-72), Carlos Almeida (8-146) and Armando Salazar (7-101).  All three are underclassmen.
Monte Vista finally got their ground game in full gear in last week’s 46-22 win over Rocky Ford.  The Pirates entered the game with just 259 yards rushing in their first three games but exploded for 455 yards on a whopping 75 attempts last week.  Kaidon Wentz (211 yards — 4 TD’s) and Tyler Vigil (176-2 TD’s) both had big days.  Despite the win, the Pirates are 27th in RPI and may need to land the league title to get a playoff bid.
Rocky Ford’s run defense will need to be much better if they wish to upset arch-rival Crowley County in the Santa Fe league opener for both clubs.  The Chargers generated 305 yards on the ground with three touchdowns in last week’s 33-10 win over Yuma.  Tyler Schwartz picked up 189 yards and scored twice.  They’ll look to establish the running game again as they seek an 8th straight win over the Meloneers.
Rocky Ford last beat the Chargers in 2010 (28-24) and most of the games since have been lopsided. Crowley County posted four consecutive shutouts from 2011-14 and outscored the Meloneers 207-0 in that stretch.  The Chargers won 40-8 last year and 47-26 in 2016.
Should Crowley County get this win this week, they’ll likely be 6-1 when they line up against Peyton October 20th in the projected league championship game.
Peyton looks to stay perfect as they visit Ellicott on Friday.  Trinidad also goes to John Mall.
Last week’s loss to Limon was just the second as a 1A team for Strasburg since they moved to the division in 2016.  They should rebound nicely against winless Lyons this week and the Indians are again expected to run through the Northern conference schedule with ease.  Cornerstone Christian, Highland and Estes Park are all 2-2 and those three could battle for second.
That makes the matchup between Cornerstone Christian and Estes Park the most important this week.  A win gives the Bobcats their first three-win season since 2013 and sets them up for a potential playoff run.  They start the game 17th in RPI points.  Cornerstone is 24th in RPI and could use a win as they try to make the climb into the top 16.
Highland is 16th in RPI and they open their conference run at winless Pinnacle.  Next up for the Huskies is Strasburg and then Cornerstone Christian.