There were upsets aplenty in the first round of the Class 2A postseason, with the higher seed falling in three of the four quarterfinal games. PHOTO PROVIDED BY DANIELLE BYNUM
Now that only four teams remain, there’s no reason to expect any less excitement from Saturday’s semifinals. Resurrection Christian, the top overall seed, will play on the road at Eaton and Lamar will host Delta in order to decide which two teams will compete for the state championship at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl the following Saturday.
Resurrection Christian (6-0) at Eaton (5-2) 1 p.m.
In a wild first round, Resurrection Christian was the only higher seed to escape the blitz of upsets by the underdogs, winning 40-14 against Moffat County. One of the teams doing the upsetting, Eaton took down Pagosa Springs, 41-7.
Now in the semifinals and despite a strange and shortened 2020 season, the top-seeded Cougars and fifth-seeded Reds have found their way back to one another to reprise a familiar rivalry from the old Patriot West League.
“Getting a chance to go against Eaton is always fun,” Resurrection Christian head coach Jeff Van Winkle said. “I started coaching a couple years ago and going against Eaton in our league was a great rivalry. Coach Lemon just does a great job. They’re a very disciplined team and they’ve got some really big guys. I watch those guys every year and they just keep getting bigger. They’re a machine on defense and they’re always a tough game, so we’re really looking forward to Saturday.”
Both teams have shown they are adept at protecting the scoreboard and defense might be the name of the game on Saturday.
The 14 points Moffat County scored against Resurrection Christian in the quarterfinals were the only points the Cougars have allowed all season. Eaton has allowed seven or fewer points in five of the seven games the Reds have played, including last week’s drubbing of Pagosa Springs.
Senior linebackers Christian Scandrett and Tanner Applebee, who lead their team with 59 tackles apiece, are a big reason for Resurrection Christian’s defensive success. Junior Ethan Florez leads the Eaton defense with 52 tackles and senior Gage Butler has a team-high four interceptions.
Offensively, Eaton’s run-heavy attack features three backs in Scott Grable (484 yards), Salvador Rojas (434) and Florez (539), who have combined for 1,457 yards and 25 touchdowns behind the Reds’ powerful offensive line. For Resurrection Christian, junior quarterback Will Schrotenboer has passed for 1,003 yards and 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions. He also posted season highs in completions (18), pass attempts (30) and yards (281), and threw four touchdowns passes against Moffat County.
Both Resurrection Christian and Eaton have reached the semifinals in the past three years and are geared up to compete for a finals berth. Given this season’s unusual circumstances, both teams are also just glad to still be playing.
“Getting a chance to play is such a blessing,” Van Winkle said. “These kids have had so many things taken from them and just to get out and compete is huge.”
Lamar (6-1) at Delta (5-1) 1 p.m.
In the quarterfinals, both Lamar and Delta pulled off upsets to get where they are now. Seeded seventh, Lamar took down No. 2 Sterling, 14-6, while sixth-seeded Delta eliminated No. 3 Platte Valley, 38-6.
After each team played the road warrior last week, the honor to host Saturday’s semifinal matchup goes to Delta. That’s great news for the Panthers, who haven’t hosted a semifinal game since 2013. Despite the limited number of fans likely to be in attendance, that also means the Lamar Savages will have to be on their game in a hostile environment.
“Any time you go to another team’s field, taking care of the ball is going to be your prime concern,” Lamar head coach Jason Tice said. “You can’t give the other team short fields and easy scoring opportunities. Defensively, we’re going to have to be sound in our alignment because they throw a lot of different formations at you to try to exploit mismatches.”
Exploiting mismatches and developing creatively on the fly certainly have been keys for the Panthers, who lost standout quarterback Nolan Bynum to an injury against Englewood in Week 4. Junior Nathan Scharnhorst has filled in admirably for Bynum, throwing for 362 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception while scoring five rushing touchdowns in three games.
The Delta defense also has eight interceptions on the season and has allowed an average of just 13.5 points a game.
“I think it’ll be a really good game this Saturday,” Delta head coach Ben Johnson said. “Their quarterback is really athletic and a strong competitor. They have a lot of weapons and we’re doing some things better now, so it should be a tough, well-played contest.”
Lamar quarterback Zane Rankin is indeed a strong competitor. The senior has thrown for 1,178 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also leads the team with 534 rushing yards and seven scores on the ground, while remaining one of the Savages’ top tacklers. Defensively, Lamar has allowed an average of 12.4 points. Senior Devyn Kincade leads the team with 61 total tackles and seven sacks.
Coming off a narrow victory in a defensive struggle with Sterling, Tice said he expects more of the same from Delta.
“To be honest, they remind me a lot of Sterling,” Tice said. “They’re big, they’re fast and you have to defend the entire field. They’ve had some adversity and that can tend to bring a team together. They’re a great team and it’s the semifinals, so we’re preparing for a tough game.”