League champions could be crowned in five of the seven 1A football conferences this weekend. The remaining two won’t be determined until the final week of the regular season. We explain in detail in our weekly report.
Bennett (3-0) at Manual (1-2)
Platte Canyon (3-0) at Clear Creek (2-1)
Front Range Christian (0-3) at Vail Christian (0-3) (Sat)
Since they already have a league loss to Bennett, Clear Creek must get the win over Platte Canyon on Friday to stay in the league championship chase. Platte Canyon is tied with Bennett in first place. Should both the Huskies and Tigers win this week, their week nine showdown will determine the top two spots.
On paper, the matchup between Clear Creek and Platte Canyon is highly interesting. The Golddiggers have attempted 240 passes compared to just 116 rushing attempts. The Huskies conversely have run the football 235 times this year with only 15 pass attempts. In a similar matchup with Bennett earlier this year, Clear Creek allowed the Tigers 647 yards on the ground and nearly 19 yards per carry.
In that loss, the Golddiggers did score 36 points and Ty Judge threw the ball 49 times completing 22 for 406 yards and five touchdowns. While Platte Canyon is not as explosive as Bennett in the running game, their ball control offense is designed to limit opportunities for the opponent. With that in mind, Judge may have fewer opportunities and must make the most of his chances.
Overall, Bennett has 2,967 yards rushing in just six games. They were on pace to set a new state record for most rushing yards in a season but a forfeit from Front Range Christian may prevent that from happening. QB Rocky Lechman needs just three yards and one touchdown to reach 1,300 yards and 20 TD’s on the season.
Despite the two early league losses, Manual is still in contention for a wildcard berth. The Thunderbolts are 21st in RPI this week and playing Bennett will boost their strength of schedule. Getting a win over the Tigers will help even more.
Bennett is number one in the RPI standings this week with Platte Canyon sixth and Clear Creek ninth. That puts the league in position to land three teams in the 16-team bracket. And two of the clubs could be playing at home in round one as the runner-up will likely battle the second-place team from the North Central or Western Slope for the lone wildcard team that hosts a first round game.
Wiggins (0-3) at Burlington (3-0)
Wray (1-2) at Holyoke (0-3)
Limon (3-0) at Yuma (2-1)
Burlington and Limon appear headed to a week nine collision to determine the league champion and second place team. If both win this weekend, that’s the scenario heading into the final week of the regular season. Both teams are also battling to play at home in round one of the playoffs as Limon is 5th in the RPI and Burlington 10th. The league champion is guaranteed to host and as mentioned, one wildcard will also get that advantage.
Limon though must first focus on Yuma as the Indians are just one game off the pace. Their loss came against Burlington (40-8) two weeks ago and they will need a much better performance this week to remain in the chase. The Indians face a Badgers defense that has not allowed a point in three conference games and has five shutouts overall.
Yuma has scored 102 points in seven games with 48 coming in the win over Lyons. In the North Central, they’ve sandwiched the Burlington loss with wins over Wiggins (20-14) and Holyoke (18-0). Yuma is 19th in RPI and still pushing for a playoff spot. Monte Vista, Colorado Springs Christian, Olathe, Buena Vista and Hotchkiss are the five teams immediately ahead of them.
Badger QB Cannan Bennett continues to throw the ball this season. He finished 5-8 last week with 101 yards and two touchdowns. It was his third game over 100 yards this season and each time he’s tossed two touchdowns. He managed just three scoring passes during the entire 2016 season.
Hauk Hubbard paces the ground game with 755 yards and nine touchdowns. Bennett has added 285 yards and five scores there.
Burlington has won three straight since the wild 50-38 loss to top ranked Bennett. In those three wins, the Cougars have scored at least 36 points and not allowed more than 20.
Cornerstone Christian (2-1) at Strasburg (3-0)
Highland (2-1) at Estes Park (0-3)
Lyons (1-2) at Byers (1-2) (Sat)
When Cornerstone Christian beat Yuma and Wray in non-league action, we thought they may be the top challenger to Strasburg in the Northern and the game this week would decide the league championship. But the Bulldogs dropped a conference game at Highland (22-7) two weeks ago and now need to upset the defending state champions to stay in the race.
Strasburg has already beaten Highland so a win gives the Indians a second consecutive league championship. If Strasburg wins, Highland is also in the best shape to finish second as they did a year ago.
Concerning the playoff chase, Strasburg is 4th in the RPI and in good shape as a league champion or wildcard. Cornerstone Christian is 11th and Highland 12th this week so both have a bit of work to do before scheduling a playoff game.
Strasburg is favored on Friday. While Cornerstone lost to Highland, the Indians clubbed the Huskies 42-0. In that win, the defending champs churned out 307 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Michael Spence and Hunter Bergstrom each scored twice. Spence led the team with 93 yards and Mario Dupree added 58. Bergstrom finished with 39 on just five attempts.
In their 22-7 loss to Highland, Cornerstone managed just 34 yards rushing on 22 carries. QB Zach Dube did throw for 133 yards and may be asked for a similar effort this week.
Ellicott (1-1) at Trinidad (1-1)
Crowley County (2-0) at Dolores Huerta (0-3)
Crowley County is alone in first and clinches the league championship with a win if Ellicott also takes out Trinidad. The Chargers have already beaten Rocky Ford and Ellicott so a second loss by Trinidad makes the regular season finale with the Miners meaningless in the title chase.
Ellicott looks to rebound from last week’s 50-7 loss to Crowley County. The Thunderhawks defense gave up 330 yards of offense and the Chargers scored twice through the air and three times on the ground. Tyler Schwartz also returned one of three interceptions for a touchdown. The Thunderhawks are just 2-5 overall and with an RPI standing of 26th, likely out of the playoff picture.
Trinidad is 35th in RPI points so the only way they get to the tournament is winning the league championship. That will take a win this week over Ellicott and next week against Crowley County. Even then they may fall short on tiebreakers in a possible three-way logjam with Rocky Ford. The Miners are 2-5 with wins against John Mall and Dolores Huerta. Neither opponent has registered a win this season.
Centauri (2-0) at Dolores (1-1)
Ignacio (2-2) beat John Mall (0-3) 2-0 (Forfeit)
Plenty to accomplish for Centauri as they get set for the long road trip to Dolores. A win gives the Falcons the league championship and a perfect regular season. Since John Mall has forfeited their remaining games, the Falcons have already picked up a win in week nine as they were scheduled to face the Panthers then. The extra rest will also aid the Falcons to get entirely healthy for what could be a deep playoff run.
Centauri and Monte Vista appear to be the only two league teams headed to the playoffs. The Falcons are second in RPI and trail first place Bennett by just .009 points overall. But since Bennett faces either an unbeaten or one loss Platte Canyon team in week nine, their strength of schedule likely will be boosted enough to keep them ahead of the Falcons.
Monte Vista is 14th in RPI and will step away from the conference for an important non-league game with Rocky Ford that we mention farther down in the story. Dolores and Ignacio are 28th and 29th in RPI and more than likely out of the playoff picture.
Centauri has been dominant this season winning each game by at least 14 points and outscoring opponents by a total of 183 points. They’ve held their first two league opponents out of the end zone; allowing only a safety to Monte Vista in a 25-point win over their arch-rivals.
Dolores opened 0-2 but has won four of five and pitched three shutouts in the process. Austin Hackney leads the Bears in rushing (628 yards) and tackles (83) for the season. Forrest Pejsa is second in tackles with 77 and QB Justin Purkat has thrown for 783 yards and ten scores.
Peyton (3-0) at Buena Vista (3-0)
Colorado Springs Christian (2-1) at Lake County (1-2)
St Mary’s (0-3) at Rye (0-3)
Fans expected defending league champion Peyton to be unbeaten in league play at this point but following an 0-4 start, many are surprised to see Buena Vista right there with them atop the standings. Now the two square off in Chaffee County for the outright lead with Buena Vista clinching the championship with a win. Peyton takes over sole possession of the lead with a victory but cannot wrap up the title unless Lake County also beats Colorado Springs Christian. Peyton and CSCS clash in week nine. Buena Vista though has already beaten the third-place Lions.
Peyton has been more explosive in league play; chalking up 128 points in three wins compared to just 83 for Buena Vista. The Panthers defense has also been stingy; giving up just one touchdown over the same stretch. Buena Vista has also been solid on that side of the ball; allowing only 31 points including just six in the quality win over Colorado Springs Christian two weeks ago.
Much of the improvement for Buena Vista in league play has come on the ground offensively. Their season high as a team in non-conference play was 102 yards in the opener against Alamosa but totaled 189 yards against Lake County and 142 against Colorado Springs Christian to open conference play.
It’s been a team effort as Nick Villalobos led the way with 73 yards against Lake County and two others had at least 45 yards. QB Parker Johnson led the charge against Colorado Springs Christian. He finished with 127 yards and nearly 13 yards per attempt. Johnson has also thrown for at least 140 yards in two games this year and has 558 for the season.
To upset Peyton, the Demons must somewhat control the Panthers ground game which averages 251 yards per game. It’s a four-headed attack led by Tyler Noffsinger (514) and Gunnar Saarela (403). Josh Gonzales, with 394 yards, has also been effective this season along with QB Ty Walker (358 yards).
Those four have combined for 21 touchdowns and Walker has added 504 yards and 10 more scores in the passing game.
Both teams could use the win as neither is safely in the playoff bracket at this point. The Panthers are 6-1 overall but a strength of schedule of just .262 leaves them 13th in the RPI standings. Buena Vista, on the strength of their three-game winning streak, has climbed back to 17th. Their strength of schedule is .679.
Colorado Springs Christian also needs to keep winning. The Lions are 15th in the RPI standings and will be helped by playing Peyton in the final week. As mentioned, that game will have league championship implications if both teams win this week. If Peyton falls and CSCS grabs a victory, then their regular season finale will determine second place.
Grand Valley (0-3) at Cedaredge (0-3) (Thurs)
Olathe (2-1) at Hotchkiss (1-2)
Meeker (3-0) at Paonia (3-0)
It appears the league championship game is again a battle of Meeker and Paonia. This will mark the fourth straight year the winner of their head-to-head battle likely ends up with the conference crown. Paonia, thanks to their win over Olathe last week, grabs a title with a victory. Meeker only clinches with a win if the Pirates also come up short at Hotchkiss.
The three recent battles between the two clubs have been very tight. Meeker won a defensive struggle (12-7) last year with Paonia taking the previous two by a combined 10 points. The Eagles won in 2015 by a 34-30 count and then 22-16 in the 2014 contest. Round four could be another closely fought meeting.
Each club has a senior or two that’s been through most of the rivalry games and won’t be intimidated by the big game atmosphere.
On Meeker that list is headed up by Logan Hughes, Doak Mantle and Trapper Merrifield. And nine seems to be their magic number. Hughes is a third-year starter at QB who has passed and rushed for nine touchdowns apiece this season. He’s thrown for 1,205 yards. Mantle has nine rushing touchdowns and tops the Cowboys with 589 yards rushing. Merrifield, with 25 catches, is the leading receiver and you guessed it, nine touchdowns.
In last year’s win, Hughes threw for 216 yards and two scores; Mantle collected 29 yards rushing but Merrifield did not catch a pass playing behind the talented senior class of Hunter Garcia, Cole Brown and Sheridan Harvey. He did provide six tackles defensively to help hold the Eagles to just the one touchdown.
Jaden Miller is the unquestioned leader for Paonia. He rushed for 977 yards as a junior but has already amassed 1,115 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. He was held to 37 yards on 10 carries against Meeker last year but has picked up at least 140 yards in each game this season.
Several other seniors are on the Paonia roster but most play along the interior line. They will be crucial however as the Eagles must establish their running game to hand Meeker their first regular season loss since 2015 which ironically came against Paonia.
In the RPI, Meeker is 3rd this week and will be in the playoffs regardless of how they end up in league play. Paonia is also in great shape. They sit 8th but a win this week guarantees the Eagles a first round game at home. They likely will be forced to travel in the opening round as a wildcard.
The game between Olathe and Hotchkiss is equally important to those clubs. The winner more than likely ends up third and that team also gains valuable RPI points. Both teams are on the bubble this week. Olathe is 16th and Hotchkiss 18th. Cedaredge is 24th and Grand Valley 25th so those clubs have very slim playoff hopes.
Monte Vista (4-3) at Rocky Ford (5-2)
This game was scheduled later than normal as both teams lost a conference game when an opponent could not field a program. Rocky Ford missed out when Calhan dropped their program before the 2016 season and Monte Vista had an open date when Center had to drop this year because of low numbers.
But now the late addition becomes very important as both schools are trying to chase down a wildcard berth. Despite one less win, Monte Vista is ahead in the race as they sit 14th in RPI and Rocky Ford is 20th this week. Strength of schedule is the difference. Monte Vista has played opponents who have won 57 percent of their games compared to just 31 percent for Rocky Ford.