In combining for the last four state championships, Limon and Strasburg have drawn all the headlines in Class 1A over that stretch. The Badgers and Indians are the top two seeds in the bracket and again very involved in the title chase this year, but there are six other clubs that want to start their own history by claiming the crown. PHOTO PROVIDED BY I-70 SCOUT AND EASTERN COLORADO NEWS
Three of the four games are set to kickoff Saturday at 1:00pm. The exception is the matchup of Strasburg-Meeker which will take place Friday night at 6:30pm.
#1 Limon (4-0) vs #8 Holyoke (5-1)
The scheduled regular season matchup between the Badgers and Dragons set for week six did not happen but now the two long-time North Central league rivals meet in the first round of the playoffs. It’s their third meeting in two seasons as the clubs split two matchups a year ago; Holyoke won the regular season battle 14-12 with Limon taking the playoff semifinal 15-7 on their way to a second consecutive state championship. PHOTO PROVIDED BY I-70 SCOUT AND EASTERN COLORADO NEWS
Due to COVID, the Badgers have not played since beating Wiggins 42-12 on October 30th so they could well rested but also a bit rusty. The two-time defending champions have won 28 of their last 30 games and outscored opponents 159-19 in four wins this season.
Kory Tacha and Jeremiah Leeper both ran for 1,000 yards in 2019 and have continued that pace in 2020. Tacha has 507 yards with 11 TD’s and Leeper is close behind with 499 yards and five scores. Because they’ve been so effective, the Badgers haven’t thrown the ball much but Trey Hines and Brady Rockwell have combined for 303 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Alex Carr has just seven catches this year but three have gone for touchdowns.
Carr and Hines have both recorded two interceptions on defense and represent half of the Badgers eight forced turnovers. Ky Bandy (32) is the top tackler with Gaige Hilferty (23) and Tacha (21) sitting second and third in that category.
While Limon has had November off, Holyoke has been extremely busy earning three wins between November 3rd-14th. They scored late to edge Burlington 14-13 and then four days later earned a forfeit over Pinnacle. The Dragons then concluded the season with a 56-0 blowout of Rye in a game picked up late to replace the scheduled contest with Limon.
Miles Sprague has been the offensive workhorse this year. The junior QB and three-year starter has been more of a factor on the ground; totaling 745 yards and 10 TD’s there compared to 453 yards and four touchdowns passing. Wyatt Sprague is the top receiver with 19 catches for 318 yards and three scores.
Joey Beckner has had a monster year defensively; leading the Dragons with 67 tackles including 22 behind the line of scrimmage. He’s also picked up 14 sacks and hopes to spend a good share of Saturday in the Limon backfield. Miles Sprague and Aidyn Shaffer have each collected 50 tackles this year.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Limon has won four of five previous playoff meetings with Holyoke including the 15-7 victory a year ago. Four of the five games have been decided by eight points or less. Limon is 93-39-1 all-time in the playoffs including a 59-17 record while playing at home. Holyoke needs two more playoff wins to reach 500 for their all-time record (19-21). They have three wins since 1998 with two coming last season over Rocky Ford (57-6) and Colorado Springs Christian (27-0). It was their first semifinal appearance since 1998.
#4 Wray (5-1) vs #5 Hotchkiss (6-0)
Of the eight playoff qualifiers, Wray could be the most battle tested. Included on their resume this year is a quality win over Holyoke (27-7), a come from behind win over rival Yuma (27-9) and a wild road loss at Platte Valley (48-38). They led Holyoke from start to finish but trailed Yuma 9-7 at halftime before scoring 20 unanswered points in the second half. They also fell behind Platte Valley 34-6 in the first half before climbing to within eight twice in the second half.
QB Tyler Collins needs just 63 combined yards this year to move past 2,000 for the season. He finished the six-game regular season with 928 yards rushing and 1,009 passing and was involved in 25 touchdowns overall. He was more effective on the ground in last week’s win over Yuma; picking up 203 yards and three scores while being limited to 44 through the air.
Defending the run may be a concern for the Eagles this week as they face a Hotchkiss offense that has gained at least 240 yards on the ground in all but one game. Wray allowed 201 yards rushing to Yuma last week and 248 to Platte Valley the week before. Hoping to improve those numbers will be Junior Arambula and Collins who top the defense with 55 and 54 tackles respectively. Alex Aguilar has 49 and Brady Collins 39. Tell Wade has six sacks and 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Hotchkiss has generated 1,131 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in just the past three games. Mordecai White, with 617 yards and 10 TD’s, is the top rusher with Drayden Taylor also adding 391 yards and four scores. QB Yahir Chavez had a rare finish to the regular season as he ended up with the same exact number of yards (313) on the ground and in the air. He was involved in nine touchdowns overall.
The Bulldogs defense allowed just 36 points all season with only one opponent getting more than seven in a game. That was Paonia (14) where Hotchkiss led 51-0 at halftime. The Bulldogs limited Meeker to just eight points as they ended the Cowboys 25-game conference winning streak. That win also pushed Hotchkiss to the conference championship.
Defensive leaders are Traycer Hall (72 tackles), Taylor (56), Robert Cochran (49) and Carter Neff (46). Each of those four have at least six tackles for loss including a team high 14 for Hall. Coulson Hollembeak recorded 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Hotchkiss also intercepted eight passes including three from White and two apiece from Blaine Peebles and Hayden Moreno.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: This is the first ever playoff meeting between Wray and Hotchkiss. The Bulldogs made the playoffs last year; ending a streak of four years of missing the bracket. They fell to Highland (14-7) in the opening round and haven’t won a postseason game since 2012. The Bulldogs reached the semifinals that season by beating Wiggins (48-7) and Limon (47-26). The season also finished off three consecutive semifinal appearances. Hotchkiss is 16-18 overall in postseason play including a state championship in 1949. Wray’s state crowns came in 1984 and 1993. The Eagles are 46-40-2 all-time but have just one win since 2012. It came last year over Florence (13-10).
#2 Strasburg (6-0) vs #7 Meeker (5-1)
Since moving to Class 1A before the start of 2016, Strasburg has not played a season that didn’t end up with a trip to the state championship game. Including this year, the Indians are a remarkable 54-4 in that window with titles coming in 2016-17 and runner-up finishes in 2018-19. Their state championship in 2016 came at the expense of Meeker (34-14) and Friday marks the first meeting between the two since that contest.
Dominant is not a strong enough word to describe the Indians this year. Granted, they’ve played a less than stellar schedule given to them by CHSAA, but have still outscored those opponents 325-0 on the season. Despite not being in a close game all season, past playoff experience from key players on this year’s squad should get them ready for another postseason push.
QB Collin Russell has attempted just 44 passes this season but 13 of them have gone for scores. He’s averaging 23.5 yards per completion. Jack Swanson has seven receptions and six have reached the end zone. On the ground, the Indians average 9.6 yards per carry with Trystan Graff topping the individual sheets at 739 yards and 12 TD’s. Russell has another 213 yards and six scores.
Defensively, the Indians have used the entire roster as 30 players have earned at least one tackle. Matthias Brown is the leader with 41 and AJ Hemphill has 30. They’ve forced 14 turnovers including four interceptions from Swanson.
We don’t look for Meeker to be intimidated by all those impressive numbers. The Cowboys have been in tight battles including a 36-14 win over 2A qualifier Moffat County and a rugged 14-8 road loss at Hotchkiss. Since that loss, the Cowboys have beaten Cedaredge, Olathe and Paonia by a combined 123 points.
QB Ryan Phelan has nearly 6,000 yards passing on his career and he enters his final playoff push with 918 yards this season. Spud White (19), Kelton Turner (10) and Clayton Clatterbaugh (10) have combined for 39 catches and seven scores. Turner (585) and Jeremy Woodward (512) anchor a balanced ground game and they’ve totaled 15 touchdowns.
A key for the Meeker defense has been turnovers as they forced 19 in six games. Turner and Trinden Powell each have three interceptions and Connor Blunt has three fumble recoveries. Clatterbaugh has the most tackles (42) followed by Blunt (35) and Zachary Eskelson (33).
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Meeker is in the playoffs for a seventh straight season. They’ve won at least one playoff game each year including a 34-20 decision over Buena Vista last season. They’re 30-29 all-time in playoff competition with seven trips to the state finals. They’ve dropped their last three quarterfinal battles; falling to Centauri (41-6) last season and to Limon in both 2017-18. Strasburg is 14-2 in the last four playoff years bringing their overall record to 24-12. They’ve won their last four quarterfinal games by an average of 27 points and posted three shutouts. The Indians have four state championships; 2017, 2016, 1990, 1989.
#3 Florence (5-0) vs #6 Centauri (6-0)
This is one of just three state quarterfinal games in any class featuring two unbeaten teams. Both have simply overwhelmed the opposition this season with Florence outscoring opponents 179-27 and Centauri having the even bigger margin of 348-15.
The Falcons have scored a multitude of ways this year but the leader is Mason Claunch. The junior has racked up a whopping 21 touchdowns rushing in just six games with a yardage total of 870. McKay Russell started five games at QB and tossed nine touchdown passes including a combined six to Baron Holman (4) and Peyton Polzin (2).
The Falcons defense has provided five touchdowns including two returns from both Holman and Zach Buhr. And for good measure, Centauri has also scored three times on special teams.
Looking to slow down all those numbers will be the running game of Florence as they hope to control the clock and limit their turnovers. Because they’ve blown out most opponents, the Huskies have attempted just 14 passes all season. That means the running game does most of the damage and Owen Busetti (425 yards) leads that charge. He’s scored eight touchdowns to go along with nine from QB Jacob Kennedy. Kennedy has 390 yards.
Those stats have been compiled in just four games. The Huskies haven’t been on the field since October 30th when they moved past Bayfield (49-7). They did not play in week five and then earned a forfeit over Trinidad to close up the regular season.
Some defensive players to watch for Florence include Jian Aguilar (37 tackles) and Gabe Carter (36). Carter has eight tackles for loss with Bijah Cornell earning eight. Busetti has two interceptions and Joseph Boyer has both a fumble recovery and interception.
For Centauri, Buhr and Claunch lead them in tackles with 62 apiece. Danny Brady has added 45.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Centauri is in the playoffs for the eighth straight year and Florence is making their 20th appearance over the last 21 but the Falcons and Huskies have not previously met in any bracket. The Falcons are one win away from a fourth consecutive trip to the 1A semifinals and two wins away from earning their third trip to the state championship game since 2013. Centauri is 15-16 overall in playoff football but 11 of those wins have come in the past seven seasons. Florence last reached the Final Four in 2012 (Class 2A) and has just two wins since that season. They beat Wray 29-23 in 2018 and Strasburg 26-20 in 2013. They are an impressive 43-26 all-time in the postseason with five state championships; the most recent in 2011.