No one can question Eaton’s status as the top Class 2A in the state at this point. But that doesn’t mean Brush is going to stand pat come Saturday. These two northeast Colorado foes reside in the same true Patriot League (although the league is split into the East and West for football) so there’s no chance that the 2A state football championship leaves the league. It’s just going to be a matter of which team takes it home once the game ends at the CSU-Pueblo Thunderbowl on Saturday.
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY OT SPORTSCHECK AND EMILY HOGSETT
Eaton has good memories of that field. It was a 28-21 win over Lamar last year that gave the Reds their first state title since 2000. That game was the last time that Eaton has truly been contested in the postseason, winning their three playoff games this year by an average of 26 points per game.
The best chance of falling short of competing for a second straight state championship was last week in a rematch against University. The Bulldogs were the only team to put up more than seven points against Eaton all season, but it wasn’t enough as they lost the regular season contest 27-20 on Oct. 14. Last week, University again put up a valiant offensive effort but came up short for a second time, losing 39-24.
Considering how tough University had played all year, putting up 39 points could qualify the semifinal game as one of Eaton’s best offensive performances of the season. Walker Martin put up big play after big play as he connected on 5 of 8 passes for 261 yards. Each of his five completions went for touchdowns as he exploited the Bulldogs inability to defend the Eaton receivers. Zac Grable caught three passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns to lead the pack. Austin Martinez caught just one pass, but it went for an 80-yard touchdown reception. Ryder True’s one reception was a 37-yard score. True also ran for 44 yards and scored a rushing touchdown. The running game was certainly effective as the Reds rushed for 179 yards as a team, but the big plays that resulted in points were generated through the air.
Eaton’s defense had a task in slowing down a University offense that had the ability to put up more than 40 points per game, a number they reached in three of their seven wins this season. Eaton made Greg Garza a tad uncomfortable throughout the course of the day. They sacked him twice with Morgan Tribbett and Ryan Dirksen each accounting for 1 ½. Martin and Ethan Florez each grabbed two interceptions and Dirk Duncan recovered a fumble.
Heading into the state championship game, Eaton’s performance on the defensive side of the ball is crucial another state title win. Duncan and True are the only two players to break the 100 mark in tackles with Dirksen recording 102 to this point and True right behind him at 101. Dirksen is also averaging just under a sack per game, totaling 11.5 to this point in the season.
Brush’s path to the state title game is a bit more unexpected on the surface. The Beetdiggers entered the 2A state tournament as the No. 7 seed. Even if they had a shot to get through Resurrection Christian, they’d still likely have to face a tough TCA team. Quarterfinal week turned out to be a bit of a stunner as the Beetdiggers held Rez to just 17 points. Down in Colorado Springs, Severance was on its way to its first semifinal appearance after scoring an upset win over TCA.
Brush had taken on the Silver Knights in the regular season and lost that game 20-7. But the difficulty in beating a team more than once when it comes to football isn’t really a myth at this point. Cesar Hinjos ran like a man possessed, totaling 204 yards and scoring three touchdowns on the day. After jumping out to a 21-10 lead at halftime, the Beetdiggers seemed content – and determined – to control the game on the ground. Alejandro Maltos-Garcia attempted just 10 passes (completing only four of them) and throwing for 37 yards and one touchdown. Outside of Hinjos, the Beetdiggers produced just 122 yards of offense. But that really didn’t matter. They were going to ride the senior running back until they bucked them. Otherwise, why ride at all?
Defensively, they showed a bit of hope that they can contain Martin when Eaton and Brush take the field on Saturday. The Beetdiggers picked off four passes and allowed just 191 passing yards to a team that was playing from multiple scores behind for most of the game. The secondary showed the ability to create turnovers, but the entire unit needs to be focused on slowing down the offense as a whole. Kaden Moriarty leads the team in total tackles with 98. Ty Griffith and Hinjos are second and third with 71 and 70, respectively. Hinjos is also the team leader in sacks with six. The Beetdiggers have forced 24 total turnovers this season. Kaden Schwindt is one of four players to record two interceptions and Joel Esparaza has scooped up two fumble recoveries. Every bit of those production aspects of the Beetdiggers defense will be needed if they’re going to turn around their recent misfortunes against Eaton.
In the 13 times that Brush and Eaton have played in the MaxPreps era (2004-now), the Beetdiggers have a 7-6 but they haven’t gotten a win since 2015 when they edged out the Reds 18-13. Eaton is on three-game winning streak against Brush with the last win coming last season (28-0).
This will be the third time these two teams have met in the postseason. Eaton won the first meeting way back in 1925, topping the Beetdiggers 12-0. Brush won the last two postseason clashes by a combined score of 68-35. Both of those games were in the semifinals so Saturday marks the first time that the Reds and Beetdiggers will meet with the state championship game on the line.
That showdown is set for a 6 p.m. kick at the CSU-Pueblo Thunderbowl.