Football in November is a glorious thing.
The sooner the sun goes down, the sooner the lights can come on.
It’s showtime.
While not every Class 3A opening round playoff football game will be played under the lights this week, the spotlight will still be shining bright on the 16 teams who are lucky enough to be playing at this time of year.
The playoffs are finally (already?) here, and the 3A field has all of the stars and surprises who are seemingly fit to make this one of the most exciting tournaments of the year.
Mead hasn’t lost a game since last November. Palmer Ridge made it to November unblemished for the first time ever. Three-time defending state champion Pueblo East hasn’t lost a game in November since 2013. There are storylines galore during this opening slate, with plenty more set to emerge throughout the next four weekends of prep football.
Here’s how the opening round of the 3A playoffs shakes out.
No. 1 Mead (10-0) vs.  No. 16 Harrison (8-2)
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Mead High School
The Blitz:  The Mavericks have been every bit as good as advertised this season, gashing opposing defenses to the tune of 4,071 yards rushing – far and away the highest total among all classifications. That 400-plus YPG average was built on the legs of senior trio Nathan Mackey (1,298 yards, 15 TDs), Tyler Keys (1,216 yards, 19 TDs) and Derek Edwards (797 yards, 7 TDs). It’s with good reason that these rumbling Mavericks are the top seed in the tournament, and that offense (just five giveaways) is perfectly complemented by a stout defense (26 takeaways). Harrison, which started out 8-0 before sneaking into the playoffs after back-to-back blowout losses, features a crop of young talent, including QB Orlando Westbrook (responsible for 26 TDs this year) that is eager to play spoiler. Let the games begin.
No. 8 Longmont (7-3) vs. No. 9 Skyview (9-1)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Everly-Montgomery Stadium, Longmont
The Blitz: For the fifth straight year, second straight as a Class 3A team, Longmont is in the playoffs – though the road there wasn’t without a few bumps. The Trojans lost three of four to open the season, though two of those losses came to the respective No. 1 and No. 3 seeds in this field. Since then, Oakley Dehning, Drake Engelking and the boys have reeled off six straight and won the Northern League crown. Their adversaries, Skyview missed out on a league crown and unbeaten regular season by one measley point. Other than in that 10-9 loss to Evergreen, the Skyview offense has been among the best in class, led by Deyvon Butler (1,567 yards, 21 TDs). Also, the Wolverines’ turnaround from a 3-7 program two years ago to a second straight playoff appearance should certainly be acknowledged. Consider it so.
No. 4 Canon City (9-1) vs. No. 13 Durango (7-3)
When: 6 p.m., Friday
Where: Canon City High School
The Blitz: While the Tri-Valley League got the most representation with four in the playoff field, it should be noted that the South-Central League, where Durango finished as runner-up for the second straight year, produced three. The Demons ran roughshod over S-CL teams not named Pueblo East, outscoring opponents 165-37 on their current four-game win streak. Canon City, meanwhile, has been consistently spry all year, the lone blemish on its record coming from Palmer Ridge. The Tigers won five straight to capture the Southern League over reigning champ Discovery Canyon, thanks to an impressive 1,500 yard passing season from Zac Hanenberg.
No. 5 Erie (8-2) vs. No. 12 Pueblo East (5-5)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Erie High School
The Blitz: It just wouldn’t feel right if the three-time defending state champion wasn’t at least in the field. And the Pueblo East Eagles made sure they were going to have a say in the defense of their crown(s). After an 0-5 start, each loss coming to a playoff team (including two in 4A), Luc Andrada and the Eagles roared through the South-Central League (where they’ve won 21 straight) to make the field as the only league champ ranked outside the RPI top-16. Their reward? A second straight opening round playoff game against Erie, which is a year older and a year wiser. The Tigers feature the state’s leading rusher, Noah Roper, who has more rushing yards (1,866) than East’s entire team (1,837) and nearly as many touchdowns (28 for Roper, 24 for East). Last year, the Eagles beat Erie 27-15 en route to gold trophy No. 3. This year, the Tigers have home field. Buckle up.
No. 3 Roosevelt (8-2) vs. No. 14 Thomas Jefferson (8-2)
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Roosevelt High School
The Blitz: If you’re looking for style points, you’re not necessarily going to find them at the home of the Rough Riders. But darned if they don’t know how to get the job done. Roosevelt, the state’s runner-up in 2015 before dropping to a sub-.500 record last year, finds itself back in the dance thanks to solid and sound fundamental football, particularly at home. The Rough Riders are unbeaten (5-0) on their home field this year, averaging a full 12 points more there (27.6 ppg) than on the road (15.6 ppg). More importantly, the Rough Riders are holding opponents to just 11.4 ppg within the friendly confines of their Johnstown stadium. That bodes well against a Thomas Jefferson team which has scored 40-plus in seven of its eight victories, including five 50-plus point outbursts, and is looking to serve as the road warrior.
No. 6 Palisade (8-2) vs. No. 11 Discovery Canyon (6-4)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Stocker Stadium, Grand Junction
The Blitz: Another playoff-savvy team which shrugged off a slow start to make the playoffs was Discovery Canyon, which is looking for another deep run and redemption after falling short in last year’s title game. The Thunder have won four of their last five after a 2-3 start, thanks to a solid team rushing attack (238 ypg). Palisade, the champions of the Western Slope, has the home field advantage and a slightly more potent rushing attack led by Terrance Williams (1,060 yards), Cameron Tucker (13 rush TD), and Austin Bernal (15 rush TD). Stylistically, these two teams aren’t all that dissimilar; it will simply come down to execution.
No. 7 Evergreen (9-1) vs. No. 10 Rifle (8-2)
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Trailblazer Stadium, Lakewood
The Blitz: Evergreen has flown largely under the radar, perhaps undeservedly so, as one of the most sound and consistent teams in the state this season. After an early loss to Harrison, the Cougars have reeled off seven straight and won the West Metro League in (mostly) convincing fashion, edging Skyview 10-9 in the de facto championship way back in the league opener on Oct. 6. A balanced offensive attack and capable defensive pass rush led by Mason Edwards (five sacks) will aim to topple Western Slope runner-up Rifle, which features one of the best O-lines and running backs (Tanner Vines, 1,677 yards, 18 TDs) in the state.
No. 2 Palmer Ridge (10-0) vs. No. 15 Berthoud (6-4)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Don Breese Stadium, Monument
The Blitz: What more can you say about one of the state’s best quarterbacks, regardless of classification? Oh, only that he still has another full season to play – after he leads his Palmer Ridge Bears as far as they can go in the playoffs, of course. Ty Evans, a junior and University of Arkansas commit, has lit up scoreboards and stat sheets to the tune of 2,597 yards and 34 touchdowns this season, helping the Bears to their first ever unbeaten regular season. Now the real show can begin, and fortunately for Evans he has a capable supporting cast, led by Zach Hester (73 tackles, 10.5 sacks) and a defense which has only conceded 76 points all season – 25 less than Palmer Ridge has scored in its final two contests. But, Berthoud may have the most deceiving record and seed in the entire field, entering as the fourth representative of the Tri-Valley League and featuring their own steady field general in QB Brock Voth (2,133 yards, 21 touchdowns). The only question is: who will shine brightest under the crisp November lights?