Excellent rivalry matchups that always play in a role in laying out the 2A Football playoff bracket are set for this weekend.  La Junta and Kent Denver continue their recent intense series while long-time Weld County rivals Platte Valley and Eaton also collide this week.
Friday marks the third straight year the Sun Devils and Tigers have met in the regular season.  Two years, La Junta made a huge statement in whipping Kent Denver 35-6 on their way to their first state championship since 1958.  They also downed the Sun Devils 17-10 in that final.  Last year, Kent Denver returned the favor with a physically demanding 10-7 win.  The Sun Devils booted the game winning field goal in the final two minutes and just one play after Jon Nuschy dropped an interception near the goal line.
The teams are a combined 5-0 with La Junta ranked #2 and Kent Denver #5 this week.  La Junta survived a scare from Pagosa Springs in week two but bounced back nicely in taking out Alamosa 34-0 last week.  Nuschy ran for 234 yards and two touchdowns as the Tigers generated a total of 359 yards rushing.  Mitch Peabody added 77 yards and Ryan Malden 42.  Nuschy also threw for 93 yards and two more touchdowns.
Kent Denver is in the middle of their most extensive three-game stretch of the season.  The Sun Devils downed local rival Faith Christian 23-17 last week, head to La Junta this week, and then tangle with a much improved and currently unbeaten 3A Pueblo Centennial in week five.  If they get by these next two, the Sun Devils are almost assured of being unbeaten at years end.
In last week’s win, Kent had great offensive balance with 187 yards rushing and 118 through the air.  Joey Licht tossed two touchdown passes and added a third score on the ground.  Seth Lindsey led the ground game with 104 yards and Dylan Wells caught five passes for 67 yards and a score.
The Sun Devils defense allowed 113 yards rushing to Faith Christian and that’s where their focus will be again this week; slowing down the Tiger running game.  Nuschy ran for 66 yards and threw for 53 in last year’s loss.  In 2016, he ran the ball a combined 39 times in the two games for 216 yards.
For Platte Valley, the game with Eaton is always one that is circled on the game schedule but this year they may have several loops in dark ink around the contest.  That’s because the Broncos saw an end to their unbeaten season to the Reds in a 9-6 second round playoff loss last season.  They had beaten Eaton 41-21 in the regular season but could not reach the end zone in the rematch.
Coach Troy Hoffman’s club generated 260 yards of offense in the playoff game but could not break the goal line.  Trevon Wehrman rushed for 111 yards and passed for 97.  He was also effective in the regular season win; totaling 331 yards.
The Broncos are 3-0 this year and have outscored Berthoud, Lutheran and Elizabeth 111-30.  They hope to avoid being overhyped this week and must wait until Saturday night at 6:00pm to kickoff.
Eaton is averaging 36 points in a game in beating Sterling (37-25) and D’Evelyn (34-0) this year.  But the offensive unit does not get full credit for the numbers.  The Reds defense caused five turnovers against D’Evelyn last week and returned three of them for touchdowns.  Henry Fritzler and Ty Garnhart both returned fumbles for scores while Gage Butler went all the way following an interception.
The Reds do not return many key players from last year’s playoff win.  Garnhart is one who stepped in at QB to replace an injured Austin Coalson but he’s moved back to the outside in favor of sophomore signal caller Scott Grable.  Trevor Cunningham scored the only TD for the Reds last year but he was lost to graduation.
Salida (3-0) moved into the rankings at number nine this week and will celebrate by hosting local rival Buena Vista.  The Demons jump up from 1A and enter the game at 2-0.  Until last year, Buena Vista had dominated the series of late winning six straight games from 2011-16.  Only one of those contests were decided by less than 42 points and the Demons won the first five in that stretch by a combined score of 237-6.  Included in the run was four consecutive shutouts.
The Spartans ended the stretch in a big way last year with a 55-7 blowout.
Last week, Salida held off Delta 28-22; surviving for the win by recovering a fumble inside their own 10-yard line in the final minute.  They had a big game offensively; running for 239 yards including 101 from Eli Smith and 95 from Vince Deleo.  They combined for three touchdowns.  QB Zayne Walker threw for 128 yards and ran for 58.  Smith added five catches for 81 yards.
Buena Vista has wins over Platte Canyon (26-6) and Cedaredge (41-27).  Last week’s game was wild from the start as the Demons led 21-14 after one quarter.  After a Bruins second quarter TD tied the game, the Demons then scored the next 20 points to take command.
The Demons strong running game may have worn down the Bruins.  Buena Vista ran for 373 yards including 178 from Drew Martin and 172 from Parker Johnson.  Johnson scored four times and Martin twice.  Martin also led the defensive charge with 13 tackles.  Macachi Bardol and AJ Smethers were next with nine apiece.
Coming off the loss to Buena Vista, Cedaredge also bumps up to 2A this week to challenge Aspen.  The Skiers (1-1) also came up short last week but they played extremely well in a 20-8 setback to top ranked Bayfield.  Aspen actually led the game 8-7 at halftime but could not muster any points after intermission.
Defense against the run hurt Aspen as they allowed 367 yards rushing to the defending state champions.  They will need to be better against Cedaredge who ran for 282 yards in the loss to Buena Vista.  Wade Barnard went for 100 and Jared Reynolds added 98.  Reynolds also had 149 yards and four touchdowns in the opening win over Steamboat Springs.  Overall the Bruins ran for 323 yards in that victory.
A third contest out west is an interesting one between #8 Basalt (2-0) and Pagosa Springs (1-2).  The Pirates are below five hundred on the season but over the past two weeks have played as well as anyone.  They led La Junta 14-12 at halftime before falling 24-14 in week two and last week took out some of that frustration in a 31-12 win over then #3 ranked Centauri (1A).
QB Cade Cowan was the key to the win.  He opened the scoring on an eight-yard touchdown run and added three touchdown passes on the night.  Overall the double-wing option attack of the Pirates finished with 312 yards of offense.
If it becomes a shootout, Basalt has more than enough offense to keep up.  They rolled past 3A Battle Mountain impressively (47-6) last week and like Pagosa, the Longhorns got a great game from their quarterback.  Trevor Reuss completed 8 of 11 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns.  He added a fourth touchdown on the ground and added 35 yards there.
Jake Reardon also had a big night.  He scored on a 70-yard touchdown run and defensively, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass.  Overall the Longhorns created four turnovers.
This is a key game for the Longhorns as if they get a win, they will more than likely be 6-0 heading into a rugged final stretch that sees games with Delta, Rifle and Aspen in consecutive weeks.
Top ranked Bayfield (3-0) is another highly ranked team facing a local rival as they square off against 3A Durango.  The Demons are the last team to beat Bayfield in the regular season as the Wolverines have won 17 straight since falling 14-6 in 2016.  Bayfield won last year’s battle 20-13 behind 191 yards passing and two touchdowns from QB Hayden Farmer.
#4 Resurrection Christian (2-0) comes off their bye week to host Classical Academy (0-2).  We’ll see if the week off slows down the Cougars at all following impressive win over Sterling (24-3) and Faith Christian (28-7) to open.  Conversely, TCA is coming off a loss to Sterling last week (40-28).  The Cougars defense will focus on Titans QB Ethan Boyles who has combined for 505 yards of offense and five touchdowns.
#6 Rifle (2-0) meets 3A Pueblo County (1-1) and this game will be won in the trenches.  Rifle has rushed for over 300 yards in each of their wins over Eagle Valley and Grand Valley.  Pueblo County has picked up 462 yards in their two games.  They lost to Pueblo West 20-0 in their opener and last week stuffed Canon City 32-27.  Lane Sherwood is the Hornets QB and he’s attempted just five passes this season but leads the team with 277 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
#10 Berthoud (2-1) returns to the rankings this week.  They’ve won two straight following the opening loss to Platte Valley (16-0).  QB Jake Lozinski was limited to 13 yards passing and 73 rushing against Platte Valley but totaled 276 yards in a 49-14 win over Elizabeth and 187 in last week’s 45-7 win over Skyview.  He’s been involved in eight touchdowns in those two wins.
Next up for the Spartans is a date with Thompson Valley (0-2) on Friday.  The Eagles were blown out by Loveland (55-0) last week and have dropped 15 straight games.  Ironically, their last win came against Berthoud (28-0) on September 30th, 2016.