Class 3A football teams finally join in on the postseason with eight first round games on tap this weekend. Roosevelt and Lutheran are the top two seeds and the only unbeatens in the field. They open as the favorites but Fort Morgan and defending state champion Durango are among the many challengers.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY SHAUN STANLEY
#16 Thomas Jefferson (7-3) at #1 Roosevelt (10-0)
Both teams are coming off state finals appearances but this is not a rematch of that game as Thomas Jefferson beat Gateway to win the 4A Spring championship but Roosevelt came up short to Durango for the 3A fall crown. Both are back in the playoffs but Roosevelt is favored after outscoring opponents 455-46 on the season. Only one of their games was decided by less than 30 points and that came late in the season in a 14-7 win at Fort Morgan. That win gave the Riders the league championship.
QB Brock Saya directs the offense and enters the playoffs with 1,824 yards passing with 25 TDs against just one interception. Top targets include Tucker Peterson and Keaton Kaiser who have combined for 79 receptions, 1,392 yards and 19 TDs. Ryan Doucette (660) and Xavier Ramirez (611) are both over 600 yards with a combined 19 touchdowns. The defense has created 29 turnovers in ten games with Cooper Walton (63) and Jaden Casanueva (57) topping the team in tackles.
The TJ attack is also triggered by QB Austin Lindegren. The dual threat senior closed the regular season with 812 yards and three TDs to go with 1,121 yards rushing with 17 more scores. Dmitri Haralambopoulous rushed for 672 yards with 14 TDs and Jake Tapia added 595 yards with five scores. The strength defensively is up front with tackle Dedrick Payne and his 51 tackles. LB Jalen Shipp leads the team with 74 stops.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Roosevelt rolled Thomas Jefferson 44-0 in 2017 in their only previous playoff meeting. Roosevelt has qualified for the playoffs every year since 2008 except for 2018. Thomas Jefferson’s three wins to the title last Spring were their first in the postseason since 2009. It was the third championship in school history.
#9 Pueblo South (7-3) at #8 Holy Family (6-4)
These two opened the season against one another and one will send an end to the season against the other. Holy Family collected a 34-27 win in week one and both had quarterbacks who are no longer starters play extended minutes. Tyler Stevens was the starter for Holy Family and finished with 220 yards and three TDs. Pueblo South lost starter Jace Bellah to injury but Elijah Aguilar stepped in to throw for 78 yards in the loss.
Bellah is back healthy for the Colts and he will need a big game for the Colts to advance and avenge the earlier loss. The senior played in just seven games but totaled 899 yards and nine TDs passing and 426 yards and eight scores on the ground. Mateo Esquivel (28) and Ray Aragon (25) combined for 53 catches and each hit the end zone four times.
Rylan Cooney is now the QB starter at Holy Family and the sophomore had a very good season. He tossed 16 touchdown passes with nine going to Dominic Mazzula who finished with 43 catches for 804 yards. Jacob Lawver ran for 114 yards in the earlier win over Pueblo South and finished the regular season with 805. He scored nine TDs overall.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: This is the first postseason between the Colts and Tigers. Pueblo South is in the bracket for a ninth straight year and has won three of their last four first round games. Holy Family has missed the playoffs just once since 2010 and makes their fourth straight appearance. They are just 2-9 all-time in the playoffs as a 3A club.
#13 Evergreen (8-2) at #4 Durango (8-2)
Durango is the defending 3A state champion from last Fall as they downed Roosevelt 21-14 to land the school’s first ever football crown. But it’s a different bunch of Demons this year as they now feature a power game under the direction of first year coach Todd Casebier. He’s actually going for his second title in six months as he also led Rifle to the 3A spring crown last May.
Zach Haber (1,082) went over the 1,000 yard mark last week and scored 15 TDs in the regular season. Nate Messier added 513 yards with seven scores as the Demons tallied 33 TDs on the ground. Jordan Stanley has only 12 catches but five went for touchdowns and sophomore QB Tyler Harms threw for 976 yards with 13 scores.
The defensive numbers could be even more impressive as the Demons went through the last five weeks without allowing a point. They outscored four league opponents 210-0 and also earned a forfeit over Mitchell. Cole Matava has 81 tackles and Jerick Baruch with 52. The Demons have created 22 turnovers.
Evergreen has enough firepower to dent the scoreboard against the Demons defense. QB Tommy Poholsky tossed 21 TDs with just four interceptions and totaled 1,879 yards passing. Seven receivers have at least 10 catches with Jacob Rutherford (40) and Owen Pardo (32) the top targets. They scored a total of 10 touchdowns. Gabe Zimmerer has 19 catches and also led the Cougars with 740 yards rushing with 13 TDs.
On defense, Evergreen has 17 turnovers including three interceptions from Kyle Solowetz. Jack Johnson has a team high 114 tackles.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: This is the first playoff meeting between Evergreen and Durango. The Cougars have dropped their last four playoff games with their last win coming in 2015 when they beat Holy Family 40-8. They’ve scored just 32 points in those four losses. Durango is in the bracket for a seventh straight year and has won three of their last four first round contests.
#12 Northridge (7-3) at #5 Mead (7-2)
This is another rematch from the regular season with Mead wanting a repeat and Northridge seeking a much better effort. The Mavericks rolled the Grizzlies 42-0 early in the season; getting three TD passes from Gavin Garrettson. He finished with 167 yards and the running game also averaged six yards per carry. Northridge generated only 120 yards of offense in the loss.
Mead has been inconsistent at times this year; losing to Roosevelt 37-7 but beating Holy Family 35-32. In the regular season finale, they surrendered 420 yards and six touchdowns rushing in a 45-19 setback to Frederick. While the Mavericks struggled against the run, the offense posted solid numbers as they ran for 268 yards and Gavin Garrettson threw for 164 yards. He added 73 rushing and Evan Morris chipped in 71. Corby Tecu provided a team high 85 yards on the ground and also caught six passes for 123 yards.
Northridge has plenty of weapons on offense. Cooper Rose threw for 1,161 yards and 15 TDs; Jayden Marquez and Brendan Peterson each caught four touchdown passes and Isaac Kness totaled 1,005 yards and eight scores.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: This is the first-ever playoff meeting between the two. Northridge has qualified for the first time since 2014 and has just one previous win. It came in their first ever postseason game back in 2004 when they fought past D’Evelyn 26-13. Mead is in the playoffs for a seventh straight year. They had to forfeit their first round game to Pueblo South last year but had won their last four opening playoff games.
#14 Green Mountain (6-4) at #3 Fort Morgan (8-1)
Fort Morgan’s only regular season loss came at the hands of top seeded Roosevelt as the Mustangs led 7-6 midway through the fourth before giving up the game winning touchdown. Otherwise, the offense churned out 302 points in their eight wins and many of those points were results of big plays from a talented group of skill players. QB Briggs Wheatley has almost 2,300 yards of offense and has been involved in 27 touchdowns. 15 of those scores are through the air with nine connections to Frank Ortega who has 24 catches for 720 yards. That’s an average of 30 yards per catch; a number that was boosted by a 99-yard td catch earlier this year. He’s added 656 yards and seven scores on the ground.
Also on the outside are Fernando Marquez with 36 catches for 518 yards and two touchdowns and Brayden Fajardo who enters the playoffs with 20 catches for 293 yards and four TDs. Ortega (4) and Marquez (2) have combined for six interceptions on defense with David Keller leading the defense with 61 tackles.
Green Mountain’s four losses all came against playoff teams as they fell to Golden (35-14), Holy Family (28-6), Pueblo South (23-21) and Lutheran (58-8). The lopsided loss to Lutheran came in the regular season finale so they’ll have to regroup quickly from that loss or face elimination from the bracket. The running game averages 204 yards per game and there is depth the backfield as five backs have at least 200 yards. Noah Dacres is the leader with 540 to go along with his four touchdowns.
Another player to keep an eye is Anthony Digrazia. He’s carried the ball only 38 times on the season but seven have ended with six points. He’s also picked off four passes defensively. George Soppe is another important player on that side. He’s accumulated a team best 75 tackles and helped them create 18 turnovers including 10 interceptions.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Green Mountain missed the playoffs in a reduced bracket COVID season but has been a semifinalist as recent as 2019. They’ve won their last two first round games. Fort Morgan is in the postseason for a fourth straight but has dropped their last three first round matchups. Their last win came in 2016 over Conifer (49-35). This is the first time the two have met in the playoffs.
#11 Pueblo County (7-3) at #6 Frederick (8-1)
Both clubs ended the regular season on a high note. As mentioned, Frederick rolled up 420 yards rushing in a key win over Mead in scoring the 45-19 decision. Pueblo County also pitched a shutout against Pueblo South (13-0) for a fourth straight. Both victories gave the teams a share of their conference championship and plenty of momentum entering the round of 16.
Three backs reached the century mark for Frederick last week; Parker Ayers totaled 197 yards with three touchdowns, River Lakey ended with 109 and two touchdowns and Cruz Zamudio finished with 108 and a score. On the season, the Warriors have a whopping 43 rushing touchdowns this year and average 353 yards a game. Their lowest output was 257 yards in a blowout of Centennial where the game hit a running clock rather quickly and lessened the number of attempts. Last week was the second time they’ve surpassed 400 yards in a single game.
Pueblo County also played Pueblo Centennial and scored a similar 48-3 victory. The Hornets also rely on their running game for their success; averaging 237 yards per game with 28 touchdowns. Cody Lanier is over the 1,000 mark (1,146) and has scored 11 touchdowns. Peyton Miller is next with 686 yards and six scores.
Schedule wise, Pueblo County is 1-3 against playoff teams with the win over Pueblo South their first against such competition. Losses have been suffered to Pueblo West (48-0), Roosevelt (49-0) and Pueblo East (13-7). Frederick is 1-1 against postseason clubs; the win over Mead last week and a tough 42-35 overtime loss to Holy family in mid-season.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Pueblo County has qualified for the first time since 2015 but has not posted a playoff win since beating Steamboat Springs 44-14 in 2008. Frederick was greatly affected by COVID last year and missed the playoffs but entered the bracket in both 2019 and 2018. The best run came in 2011 where they won two games and reached the state semifinals.
#10 Pueblo East (5-4) at #7 Palisade (8-2)
Some may be surprised that with a record of 5-4 that Pueblo East is even in the playoffs let alone the 10th seed but if you dive deeper into their schedule you’ll understand why. The Eagles, according to RPI, played the most difficult schedule in Class 3A as opponents won almost 69 percent of their games. Their lone loss to a 3A school came in conference play to Pueblo South (20-19) with the other three suffered against 4A clubs still alive in the playoffs (Palmer Ridge, Erie and Pueblo West).
East is young and has struggled much of the season on offense. While three quarterbacks have seen time, the Eagles have been able to rely on Blake Nazario for the entire season. He leads the clubs with 576 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Overall, the Eagles have just 19 touchdowns on offense this year with 14 coming in the ground game.
Palisade’s schedule is also filled with 4A competition as their losses came against Grand Junction Central and top playoff seed Montrose. They’ve gotten more healthy down the stretch; especially with the return of Franklin Barks. He finished the season with 520 yards rushing and six scores. Phallen Salvati, with 896 yards and 11 touchdowns is another offensive threat but the leader is Malakhi Espinosa. A physical QB, Espinosa leads the Bulldogs with 1,032 yards and 18 touchdowns while directing an offense that’s scored 41 touchdowns on the ground.
The Bulldog’s most important win of the season came early in conference play where they rallied late to stun Summit 29-26. The win gave them control of the Western Slope chase and momentum for the stretch drive. They outscored their final three opponents 135-60.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Pueblo East and Palisade have met once previously in the postseason with the Eagles collecting a 28-14 win in the 2014 quarterfinals. Palisade did not make the playoffs last year as they were ranked 9th in an eight team bracket. It was the first time they’ve not made the playoffs since 1999. Pueblo East has qualified for the first time since 2018 where they lost to Palmer Ridge in the state finals. They won three straight championships from 2014-16; Palisade has six titles in school history.
#15 Discovery Canyon (5-4) at #2 Lutheran (10-0)
The Lions feature the most explosive offense in the division as they totaled 528 points over ten games. They’ve allowed just 74 and have beaten opponents by an average of 45 points. In fact, no game against an in-state opponent has been decided by less than 34 games and the offense has bettered 50 points in six of ten outings. Discovery Canyon must stay in the game early and limit the fast start capabilities of the Lions. They’re coming off their running performance of the season with 319 yards in last week’s win over Sierra but the Thunder have not fared well against high quality competition this year. They have losses to Mead (50-7), Pine Creek (45-7), Durango (42-0) and Fort Morgan (35-21). Their best win came very early in the season against Pueblo South (21-13).
As you would expect, the numbers are eye-popping for Lutheran. QB Clayton Jacobs is nearing 2,600 yards of total offense with involvement in 38 scores. He’s tossed 23 TDs against just three interceptions and enters the playoffs with 1,746 yards passing. Numbers on the ground are 831 and 15. Five receivers have at least ten catches with Ryan Allen, Bryce Johnson and Joe Ciccio all producing five touchdowns. Dorian Pacheco (12) and Ryan Kenny (9) have combined for 21 rushing touchdowns and each is over 600 yards for the season.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Discovery Canyon ended a streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances as they missed out last season due to the reduced bracket from COVID. They’ve won five of their last six first round games. Lutheran has qualified for a fifth straight but their last playoff win came in 2011 when they beat Hayden in the 1A division. The Lions are 0-4 all-time in the Class 3A playoffs.