After three rounds of playoff football in Class 2A, it’s down to La Junta and Kent Denver for the state championship on Saturday.  The host Tigers are unbeaten on the season while Kent Denver makes a return visit to the site of their only regular season loss.
La Junta grabbed a relatively easy 35-6 win over Kent Denver in week three and what has been the case much of the season, the Tigers used a strong defense and timely big plays for the victory.  La Junta limited Kent Denver to just 94 yards of offense and the Sun Devils scored their only touchdown of the game when they trailed 28-0.
La Junta opened the scoring on a safety forced by Dax Bender and then Apela Furtado-Tom returned the ensuing free kick for a touchdown to create a quick 9-0 advantage.  The Tiger defense recovered a fumble deep in Kent Denver territory to set up the third touchdown on a short run by Bender.  Carlos Triana would add two rushing touchdowns and John Nuschy finished off the scoring with a TD dash in the fourth quarter.  Charles McKissick scored the only touchdown of the game for the Sun Devils.
As they look for a better offensive showing in the rematch, the Sun Devils can turn to a trio of rushers who have performed well in the playoffs.  McKissick has 286 yards in the three wins and has scored a touchdown in each.  He led the offense with 152 yards in the semifinal win over Delta as the Sun Devils never trailed.
Spencer Seramuga (842 yards) leads Kent Denver in yardage overall and has 237 yards in the post season including 108 in the quarterfinal win over Classical Academy.  Josh McDonald also had a big day against the Titans with 128 yards but has managed just 60 yards combined in the other two wins.
Passing wise, the best combination for Kent Denver in the playoffs has been Joe Licht to Max Waldbaum.  They hooked up four times including two touchdowns against Delta last week and Waldbaum enters the championship game as the top receiver overall (25 catches) and the playoffs (8).  Licht also tossed a pair of touchdown passes against Classical Academy and now has 17 for the year against just two interceptions.
La Junta’s offense is centered on Nuschy who has nine touchdown passes in his first three playoff games.  He matches Licht with 17 touchdown passes and just two interceptions but is a much bigger threat on the ground.  The sophomore went past the 12-hundred yard mark for the season in the comeback win over Bayfield last week.  He’s complimented in the running game by Bender (617 yards), Triana (479) and Deron Bletson (424).
Defense though is the major calling card for La Junta as they look to finish off a perfect 13-0 season on Saturday.  In three playoff games, the Tigers have allowed only 20 points (6.5) and just 67 points all season with five shutouts.  Only two opponents, Classical Academy and Bayfield, have scored double figures against the Tigers defensive unit.
Despite those impressive scoring numbers, the Tiger defense has recorded only 13 turnovers the entire season.  The team has seven interceptions including three from Wyatt Buhr and six fumble recoveries with two coming from Joe Martinez.  Salvador Vega has six sacks and Jeremy Carrillo five.
Conversely, the Sun Devils defense has registered 34 turnovers this year equally split between interceptions (17) and fumble recoveries (17).  Conrad Yost tops the secondary with five interceptions and Waldbaum has recovered four fumbles.  The Sun Devils have 40 sacks overall including six from TJ Love.  Kent’s defense gave up 35 points in the loss to La Junta and 113 over the remaining 11 games.  They’ve been stronger in the playoffs allowing just 44 points in three wins (14.7) and may need to register some big plays from the group to avenge the 29-point regular season loss.
Kent Denver is 3-2 all-time in state championship games and is in their fourth title since 2009.  The Sun Devils won their last championship in 2012 by beating Platte Valley 28-17.  Other crowns were earned in 1991 and 1986.  La Junta has not been to the finals since 1962 when they lost to Air Academy 14-7.  They ended a stretch of five consecutive wins in the championship round for the Tigers dating from 1925 to 1958.  The two clubs have met once previously in the playoffs with Kent Denver scoring a 58-21 win in the 2014 opening round.
Beat Weld Central 27-6
Beat Classical Academy 27-24 (OT)
Beat Delta 21-14
Beat University 42-0
Beat D’Evelyn 41-7
Beat Bayfield 14-13