1A FOOTBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

Regardless of outcomes from semifinals in Classes 3A through 5A, the battle between #1 Meeker and #2 Strasburg will be the only state championship game featuring two unbeaten clubs.  Both the Cowboys and Indians are 12-0 on the season as they get set to collide on Saturday but none of the players on either side were born the last time their team played or won the championship.
The host Cowboys are making their first finals appearance since 1996 and this year’s club is trying to become the first to ever win the championship.  Meeker is 0-5 in state championship games and has lost each by at least 13 points.  Strasburg has two state finals appearance winning both games in overtime and in back-to-back years against Fowler in 1989 and 1990.  Saturday also marks the first time the two teams have ever met in the post-season.
Despite the distance between the schools, they have five common opponents this season.  Strasburg has beaten Grand Valley, Cedaredge and Paonia in the playoffs by a combined 93 points while Meeker knocked off those three teams in successive weeks of the regular season by 79 points.  Both also defeated Highland in the regular season with Meeker winning 18-8 to open the season and Strasburg 59-22 inside their conference.  And both clubs have a win over 4th ranked Bennett as the Cowboys eliminated the Tigers 34-24 in last week’s semifinals and Strasburg won a wild 54-44 affair in week three.
Both defenses will be tested in different ways on Saturday.  Meeker must contend with the speed of Strasburg while the Indians face the top passing offense in Class 1A.
Meeker’s offense is paced by QB Logan Hughes who has thrown for 2,420 yards and 31 touchdowns this year; both of which are tops in Class 1A.  The junior is also hot coming off a season best 326 yards and three scores in last week’s come from behind win over Bennett.  In three playoff games, Hughes has completed 36 of 58 passes for 704 yards and nine touchdowns.  He can also move the football on the ground; sitting third on the team with 403 yards including 110 and two scores in the post-season.
Three players have caught over 30 passes this year; a group led by Sheridan Harvey with 41 receptions for 714 yards and five scores.  Harvey has 12 catches in the post-season for 203 yards and caught two touchdowns against Platte Canyon in the quarterfinals.  Cole Brown has caught 11 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs giving him 37, 698 and 11 for the season.  Hunter Garcia is also a threat.  He’s third on the team with 34 receptions for 663 yards and six scores.  In the playoffs, his numbers are 10 for 193 with a touchdown catch against Ellicott.
Meeker’s running game is anchored by Doak Mantle (1,002) who went past the one thousand yard mark against Bennett last week.  He was limited to just 13 yards on 10 carries against Bennett and likely needs better numbers for the Cowboys to win their first ever football title.  He did score on a crucial 21 yard touchdown reception against the Tigers.
Strasburg’s defense has not faced a team that will throw the ball as much as Meeker.  During the regular season, the biggest test likely came against Burlington in the season opener as the Cougars ended the season with 868 yards passing; about a third of the Meeker total.  Strasburg limited Burlington to 148 yards passing in a 48-14 blowout.
The Indians have recorded ten interceptions this season including four from Martin.  They’ve also recovered 13 fumbles.  Pressure will come from John Still who leads the team in tackles (72) and sacks (4).  Overall the Strasburg defense has 68 tackles for loss and 16 sacks.  Overall, the Indians surrender about two touchdowns per game (14.3) and have held three post-season opponents to 39 points including a first round shutout of Grand Valley.
Strasburg’s big play offense has scored a whopping 80 touchdowns this season and needs just 13 points Saturday to reach 600 for the season.  The Indians average 49 points per game and have been held under 40 points only once all season.  They were limited to just 29 points against Cedaredge but did turn it over twice inside the Bruins red zone.
With defenses focused on Strasburg’s running game, the Indians passing attack has been more of a factor in the playoffs.  Conner Martin has thrown for 441 yards and eight touchdowns in wins over Grand Valley, Cedaredge and Paonia.  He entered the post-season with less than 1,000 yards overall but now has 1,414 yards with 22 touchdowns overall.  The senior has also thrown just one interception through 12 games and like Hughes, is a dual threat with 481 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
Martin does a great job of distributing the ball to playmakers Hunter Bergstrom, Jeremy Ladd and Chase Starman.  Bergstrom is the top rusher (1,033 yards) and has also caught 21 passes for 421 yards.  Overall, the senior has combined for 19 touchdowns with seven coming in the post-season.
Ladd is also effective on the ground and through the air with a combined 11-hundred yards of offense.  He’s scored 12 touchdowns on the ground and added seven more in the passing game.  Ladd caught three passes including two for touchdowns against Cedaredge in the quarterfinals and has 146 yards rushing in three playoff wins.  Starman has reached the end zone a dozen times this year and is third on the team with 532 yards rushing.
Looking to stop that trio will be a Meeker defense that has forced 27 turnovers on the season including 18 interceptions.  Mantle heads up the secondary with six interceptions and Garcia has five.  Up front, the duo of Chase Rule (157 tackles) and Casey Turner (146) will look to slow down the Strasburg running game.  They allow less than 13 points a game and have surrendered 45 points in three post-season wins.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 1:00pm on Saturday and can be seen live through the NFHS Network by clicking on the link below.

LIVE VIDEO COVERAGE

STRASBURG STATE CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
1990:  Beat Fowler 12-6 (OT)
1989:  Beat Fowler 6-0 (OT)
MEEKER STATE CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
1996:  Lost to Bayfield 14-0
1995:  Lost to Burlington 52-22
1968:  Lost to Sheridan 41-6
1954:  Lost to Louisville 26-13
1953:  Lost to Holly 19-0
1952:  Lost to Holly 24-9
STRASBURG PLAYOFF RESULTS
Beat Grand Valley 54-0
Beat Cedaredge 29-11
Beat Paonia 49-28
MEEKER PLAYOFF REULTS
Beat Ellicott 43-6
Beat Platte Canyon 28-15
Beat Bennett 34-24

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