Week five of the Class 2A Football season marks the start of conference play and a couple of titles could be up for grabs on the opening weekend. #3 Classical Academy and #5 La Junta do battle inside the Tri Peaks and #1 Kent Denver could get a strong challenge from Elizabeth. In each case, a third team has eyes on a conference crown and will watch results very closely.
Through the next five weeks, Colorado Preps will preview the matchups in each Class 2A conference. League champions earn a guaranteed berth to the post-season so the games carry much more importance.
#3 Classical Academy at #5 La Junta
#9 Salida at Florence
Manitou Springs at Lamar
In what was one of the best regular season games of 2016, La Junta has better memories than Classical Academy. The Tigers trailed much of the game but then won in the closing seconds on a 28-yard TD pass from Jon Nuschy to Dax Bender. The win kept the Tigers unbeaten on the season and led them to the conference championship on their way to their first state title since 1958.
The rematch should be a good one as both teams have played well against solid competition. La Junta ended their 16-game winning streak with a hard fought 10-7 loss at Kent Denver last Saturday. Two big plays hurt the Tigers. They led 7-0 late in the first half but then gave up a long completion that setup the Sun Devils only touchdown of the day. Then with under three minutes left in the game and still tied at seven, Nuschy nearly intercepted a pass on third and goal. The junior standout may have had a chance to return the interception for a touchdown but instead Kent Denver kicked the game winning field goal on the very next play.
Nuschy leads the Tigers offense with 377 yards rushing and 291 passing. He combined for 280 yards of offense in last year’s win over Classical Academy. La Junta also hopes to get Wyatt Buhr back in the lineup this week. He missed the Kent Denver game due to injury.
Classical Academy has posted win over Sierra, Sterling, D’Evelyn and Pueblo Central. Much of their offensive success lies with the duo of Cade Bethany and Brayden Luft. Like Nuschy, Bethany is a dual threat with 394 yards passing and 150 yards on the ground. He’s combined for six touchdowns this year and totaled 168 yards of offense against La Junta a year ago. Luft, with 432 yards, averages over seven yards per carry with five touchdowns.
Salida is the third team that should be involved in the conference championship discussion. The Spartans though have won just four conference games in three years so stepping into a contenders’ role will be a bit different. QB Bridger Russell has thrown for 940 yards and 12 TD’s this year but attempted just seven passes in the blowout of Gunnison two weeks ago. His top target is Sevrin Kaess with 23 catches for 468 yards and eight scores.
Florence is just 1-3 against a tough schedule that’s included losses to Alamosa, Rifle and Elizabeth (35-7 last week). They have not allowed more than 86 yards passing in any game this year but has not faced an opponent that throws as much as the Spartans. In three losses, the Huskies have surrendered at least 251 yards rushing.
#1 Kent Denver at Elizabeth
Ridgeview Academy at Machebeuf
Englewood at Sheridan
Kent Denver kept top billing in the 2A rankings by edging La Junta 10-7 last Saturday. As mentioned, the Sun Devils used a big completion from Joey Licht to Dylan Wells just before halftime to set up a game tying touchdown. Licht was sharp the entire day completing 8 of 14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown to Conrad Yost. Wells also turned in a second big play as his interception stopped La Junta’s last chance and wrapped up the victory.
Although the Sun Devils never broke a big play on the ground against La Junta’s defense, they did continue to pound the football between the tackles. Seven Lindsey and Josh McDonald combined for 37 carries and 189 yards and their efforts helped Kent control field position throughout the second half.
Elizabeth has also matched up with La Junta; falling to the defending champions 21-13 in week three. The Cardinals equaled Kent Denver on the ground with 189 yards rushing including 138 from Reece Ullery. Averaging over nine yards per carry, Ullery has rushed for 116 yards in each game and leads the team with 627 yards and five scores. In the 35-7 bounce-back win over Florence last week, the junior collected 164.
Kent Denver knocked off Elizabeth 39-20 last year. Elizabeth entered the game just 1-3 but they’ve turned that record around to 3-1 this season. Ullery had 62 yards against the Sun Devils defense a year ago and will be matched up against many of the same players. Licht tossed three TD passes for Kent and finished with 146 yards passing.
Machebeuf (4-0) expects to compete for the league championship so they will watch the Kent-Elizabeth game with much interest. The Buffs are coming off a win over 1A Holyoke last week and open league play against winless Ridgeview Academy.
#10 Basalt at Steamboat Springs
Aspen at Coal Ridge
Moffat County at Roaring Fork
Basalt is in the Top 10 and right now favored to win the conference crown but the winner between Aspen-Coal Ridge steps forward as the top challenger. Both teams have been a pleasant surprise this year. After coming for just three wins last season, the Skiers and Titans are a combined 7-1 going into conference play.
Both have featured explosive offenses of late but each seems to do it a bit differently. Aspen QB RJ Peshak threw for 329 yards and four TD’s in last week’s quality 30-26 win at Grand Valley. Overall the Skiers average 283 yards passing and 189 rushing.
Coal Ridge meantime used 384 yards rushing from Jacx Powers as the exploded past Olathe 57-26 last Friday. Powers is 12 yards shy of 800 for the season and has eight touchdowns overall. He’s helped the Titans score 114 points over the last three weeks as they seek their first winning season since 2010.
Basalt should roll past winless Steamboat Springs as the Sailors simply look for something positive to build on for new coach Shawn Baumgartner. Given time, Baumgartner can produce a winner as his Hayden teams routinely made the 1A playoff bracket. The Longhorns have scored at least 35 points in their past three wins and feature a three-headed monster on offense. QB Trevor Reuss has thrown for 536 yards and six touchdowns; Raul Torres has caught 15 passes including four scores and Noah Williams has produced 270 yards and three TD’s on the ground.
#2 Bayfield at Gunnison
#8 Alamosa vs Montezuma Cortez
Pagosa Springs at Delta
With Bayfield and Alamosa both expected to score lopsided wins, the best matchup in opening week finds Pagosa Springs on the road to Delta. The Pirates (2-2) have the better record but the Panthers (1-3) have played the far better schedule. Three of the four games for Pagosa Springs have been against 1A clubs while two of Delta’s losses are to 3A rivals Durango and Palisade by a combined six points.
Delta led Palisade the entire game but their frustrating season continued when the Bulldogs scored a winning touchdown in the final minute. The loss overshadowed a tremendous effort from Brendon Starr who rushed for 249 yards on just 23 carries. He could see even more attempts this week.
Pagosa Springs has won two straight with wins over Monte Vista (26-7) and Ignacio (49-0).
Bayfield is coming off a physically and mentally exhausting battle with Durango (20-13). It was the Wolverines first-ever win against their local rivals. Next up they face a Gunnison club that’s been outscored by 150 points this season.
Alamosa has had two weeks to practice since beating Trinidad 42-6 in week three. Other than the loss to La Junta (21-13), the Moose have outscored the opposition 122-13. Cortez is coming off a much needed 38-6 win over Ignacio. Jacob Schuster, with 136 yards, led the ground game. Ike Dennison also tossed four touchdown passes including two apiece to Cole Herrmann and Vinny Conklin.
Eaton at University
Prospect Ridge at Resurrection Christian
Academy at Pinnacle
With a team in the Top 10 this week, this race could be considered wide open. Record wise, Academy (3-1) has the best record but the Wildcats wins are against teams with a combined two victories. And they lost their only matchup against a team with a winning record (Valley) 35-0. Resurrection Christian is the defending league champion but the Cougars have just one win; beating Moffat County 27-18 last week.
That leaves the Eaton-University game as a possible league championship game on Friday. Both teams are 2-2 and battling consistency. The Reds defense has surrendered 110 points over the last three weeks but faces a University offense with just 80 points through four games.
Both teams have played good schedules. Eaton has wins over Lamar and Brush and losses to Sterling and Platte Valley; both of which are ranked in the top six this week. University has rolled past Middle Park and Fort Lupton but come up short against Machebeuf and Strasburg who are a combined 7-1.
#4 Platte Valley at Fort Lupton
#6 Sterling vs Brush
Weld Central at Valley
Platte Valley and Sterling are the clear front-runners in this conference with the winner of Weld Central and Valley earning a solid shot at ending up no worse than third. The two played an entertaining game a year ago and a repeat is possible. Weld Central dropped a week two game at Skyview but has responded with dominating wins over Jefferson and Manual. Valley scored a big win over Academy in week three but struggled offensively in the rain last week in a 7-0 loss to Colorado Springs Christian.
Platte Valley averages 36 points a game and is favored to roll past Fort Lupton who gives up 28. Brush played well in a loss to Faith Christian but has scored just 42 points overall this season. Sterling meantime has put up 130 so if it turns high scoring, the Tigers have a huge advantage.
Tigers QB Bodie Hume went over 1,000 yards for the season with 338 yards and five TD’s in last week’s 48-28 win at Eaton. Christian Rose caught seven passes for 141 yards and a score. Isaac Harris caught two scoring passes; Axel Henry and Jayson Frank each one.
#7 Faith Christian at Jefferson
Arvada at D’Evelyn
Denver West at Middle Park
While Faith Christian opens league play at 3-1, the rest of the conference has combined for just three wins. Of the rest, D’Evelyn (1-3) will be the toughest challenger as the Jags have played a very strong schedule including losses to three ranked opponents. Their game with Faith Christian on October 14th should again determine the top two spots.
Faith is coming off their second shutout of the season; a 9-0 win at Brush last Friday. Jefferson ended a season long scoring drought last week but still fell short of Sheridan 37-8. The Saints were outscored 143-0 over the first three weeks.