2A FOOTBALL – SEMIFINALS PREVIEW

Without a league member in the top 10 much of the season, the Patriot West could have been considered the weakest conference in Class 2A.  League champion Eaton and runner-up Resurrection Christian has proven that statement to be completely false as each has won two playoff games to reach the state semifinals. Both were underdogs each time out and will be again as the Reds host defending state champion La Junta and the Cougars entertain unbeaten Bayfield.
 

#4 La Junta (10-1) at #7 Eaton (9-2)

Coaches and players in Eaton have called the first two rounds of the playoffs as their redemption tour as they’ve avenged regular season losses by beating Sterling and Platte Valley in back-to-back weeks.  To keep that theme going in the semifinals, the Reds have to trace back to the 2015 season where they lost to La Junta 33-14.  Seniors on this year’s club were just sophomores at the time but a few still played key roles.  Travis Cunningham recorded 11 tackles and Jake Sandau had nine.  Austin Coalson completed 10 passes in the game and would be the starting quarterback again this Saturday but will again sit out due to a shoulder injury suffered in the opening playoff win over Sterling.
Ty Garnhart will start for the second straight week.  He completed just one of seven passes against Platte Valley last week but contributed an important 46 yards in the running game.  Cunningham led that attack with 95 yards on 16 carries and he scored the only touchdown of the game.
With the offense doing just enough to get the win, the Reds defense was at their best in keeping the Broncos out the end zone.  They allowed just two field goals in the 9-6 decision and held the Broncos to their fewest points in a game since a 2011 playoff loss (35-7) to Faith Christian.
Braeson Lewis led the Eaton defense with 10 tackles and Trenton Kramer added seven.  Henry Fritzler chipped in six and three others finished with five.  Sandau also had a key interception.
Looking ahead to Saturday, the Reds defense will face a different challenge.  Platte Valley offered up a spread attack that forces opponents to defend the entire width of the field.  La Junta is probably more physical as they prefer to run the football from their I-formation behind a big offensive line.
The Tigers are in the state semifinals for a third straight year but it took a gritty effort against Classical Academy to get there.  Details of the game are not available from MaxPreps but the recap from the La Junta Tribune Democrat newspaper indicated the Tigers tied the game on a 13-yard pass from Jon Nuschy to Wyatt Buhr.  Following an interception by Mitchell Peabody, Nuschy scored the go-ahead touchdown on a five yard run.  Another interception from Zach Archuleta wrapped up the win for the defending state champions.
Nuschy finished with 213 yards rushing on 34 carries and also completed four of nine passes for 44 yards.  Buhr added 45 yards with the touchdown run and reception.
La Junta and Eaton have played once before in the post-season but it’s doubtful anyone remembers because it happened 92 years ago.  The Tigers topped the Reds 16-0 to capture the 1925 all-classification football championship.
With a win on Saturday, La Junta gets a chance to win back-to-back championships.  Eaton is in the semifinals for the first time since falling to Brush 42-14 in 2014.  Their last semifinal win came in 2003 as they doubled up Faith Christian 28-14 before losing to Denver Christian in the state championship game the next week.
 

#3 Bayfield (11-0) at #15 Resurrection Christian (7-4)

The second semifinal pits the most dominant playoff team against the most surprising.  Bayfield has rolled past their first two opponents by a combined 92-0 score while the Cougars have stunned #2 Kent Denver and #7 Faith Christian in the first two rounds.
After holding Elizabeth to just 57 combined yards in the first round, the Bayfield defense was again superb in beating Basalt 41-0 last week.  Basalt threw for 96 yards but was limited to just 68 yards rushing on 34 attempts.  Leading rusher Noah Williams ran the ball 16 times but finished with a season low 32 yards.  Hunter Killough led the charge with 13 tackles; Cole Wood had 11 while Mike Kirk and Kirk Malone each chipped in 10.  The Wolverines also recorded five sacks including two apiece from Ryan Phelps and Wyatt Killinen.  Killough and Keyon Prior also picked off passes.
On the season, Bayfield’s defense has 51 sacks with Phelps (17) and Wood (11) leading the list.  They’ve also forced 34 turnovers including 27 interceptions.  Killough tops that chart with six.  Snooks is next with five including four in the playoff win over Elizabeth.
The offense was just as sharp; especially quarterback Hayden Farmer.  The junior completed 11 of 14 attempts for 225 yards and five touchdowns.  Three of those went to Dax Snooks and the other two to Prior.   In two playoff starts, Farmer has been nearly perfect; hitting 17 of 21 attempts for 386 yards and seven scores.
David Hawkins was the top rusher with 53 yards on only four attempts last week.  Carol Heide (73) and Hunter Killough (62) led the way against Elizabeth.
Resurrection Christian has pushed through plenty of adversity to reach the semifinals for the first time as a 2A program.  They trailed #2 Kent Denver 21-14 in the fourth quarter of round one but rallied for two fourth quarter scores to spring the upset.  Then last week, the Cougars gave up 17 first quarter points against Faith Christian but still pulled out a 28-24 decision.  Coach Mark Roggy’s club eventually scored the game winning touchdown after converting a fake punt on 4th and 20.
In looking at the numbers, Resurrection Christian has not been overly impressive on offense but they’ve bumped their scoring average from 18 points in the regular season to 28 in the playoffs.  After attempting just one pass in the regular season, Buck Coors has provided a spark at quarterback.  Entering the game late against Kent Denver due to injury, he completed three of four passes for just ten yards but one went for a crucial score.  In last week’s upset of Faith Christian, Coors was 11 of 18 for 168 yards and two scores including a 54-yard scoring strike to Kyle Lueck.
Defensively, the Cougars may need to pressure Farmer to slow down the Bayfield passing attack.  Ryan Hecker leads Resurrection Christian with six sacks and freshman Tanner Applebee has five.  If pressure doesn’t occur, then the Cougars secondary may need to make some big plays.  Zuhlke has three interceptions and Lueck two but overall, Resurrection Christian has forced just 11 turnovers this year.
Zuhlke is the top tackler with 109 but five others have recorded at least 50.
Saturday marks the first ever playoff meeting between the two programs.  Resurrection Christian is in the semifinals for the third time in school history.  They lost to Paonia in the Class 1A semifinals in both 2014 and 2015.
Bayfield won the state championship two years ago and also captured a crown in 1996.  The Wolverines lost to La Junta 14-13 in the semifinals last season.  They’re 3-2 all-time in this round.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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