It’s back.
The smell of fresh popcorn at the concession stand. The 50-50 raffle. The pre-game jumping jack routine. The clatter of shoulder pads. The bright lights of Friday night.
It’s back. All of it.
And not a moment too soon.
The Class 3A prep football season gets underway in earnest this week with a full slate of games. Though a handful of 3A squads got a head start with Zero Week contests last week, the rest of the classification, including all 10 ranked teams, get to strap up their cleats and hit the turf starting on Thursday night.
What will this season bring?
For one thing, it’s certain to bring a whole lot of action. Despite it being the season’s true opening week, there are certainly no tune-up games on the slate — even for the top contenders. With strength of schedule factoring in as a key part of the Ratings Percentage Index, which now determines the playoff field, teams have to jockey for position from the opening whistle.
For some, that’s just the way they like it.
There are four battles between top-10 teams in Class 3A alone, including one showdown between No. 2 Discovery Canyon (last year’s 3A runner-up) and Class 4A No. 7 Fruita Monument.
Other highly ranked games this week include three-time defending state champion and top-ranked Pueblo East up against No. 7 Longmont, No. 3 Holy Family (1-0) against No. 8 Palisade, and No. 5 Mead traveling to take on No. 9 Lewis-Palmer.
Grab some of that popcorn. It’s football time.
Here’s how the full top-10 slate shakes out.
No. 1 Pueblo East (0-0) at No. 7 Longmont (0-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Everly-Montgomery Field, Longmont
The Blitz: The three-time defending state champions, the still-golden Eagles, square off against the Trojans of Longmont for the fourth straight season. Maybe it’s their good luck charm? Or maybe it’s just a great tone setter for two perennial title contenders. Last year, East won the season opener 27-3 against Longmont at Pueblo’s Dutch Clark Stadium, thanks to a solid debut from then-sophomore quarterback Luc Andrada (13-20, 151 yards, 2 TDs). This year, Longmont gets to play host to the budding rivalry for the first time since their 48-27 win over the Eagles two years ago. The home team has won each meeting between these two powerhouse programs over the last three years. Will the back-and-forth continue Friday?
No. 2 Discovery Canyon (0-0) at 4A No. 7 Fruita Monument (1-0)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Stocker Stadium, Grand Junction
The Blitz: Discovery Canyon, a perennial 3A power led by senior running back Trevor Ivy, returns to action after a 2016 campaign that saw them win 13 straight games to make the state championship. Fruita Monument, a top-10 team in Class 4A, is coming off a thrilling 36-35 win over Montrose a week ago in which two key backs — Braeden Graham and Treyton Queen — each tallied over 140 yards on the ground and combined to score the winning touchdown and two-point conversion for the Wildcats. The Thunder are looking to make it two straight over Fruita Monument after trouncing the ‘Cats 34-14 to open the season a year ago.
No. 3 Holy Family (1-0) at No. 8 Palisade (1-0)
When: 4 p.m. Friday
Where: Stocker Stadium, Grand Junction
The Blitz: This battle of top-10’s features a pair of Zero Week winners. Palisade is fresh off a 20-14 overtime win over crosstown rival Grand Junction Central in the first-ever battle for what’s known as the “War Dog Trophy” thanks to 170-plus yards on the ground from bruising fullback Terrance Williams. Holy Family, meanwhile, had a 33-27 comeback win of its own over Mountain View to open the season. And, to the surprise of no one, returning all-state quarterback Stone Samaras got off to a hot start with 363 yards through the air and three TDs. Who will remain unbeaten in this young season?
No. 4 Silver Creek (0-0) vs. Dakota Ridge (0-0)
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Everly-Montgomery Field, Longmont
The Blitz: Silver Creek is ready to get things started against a tough Class 4A opponent in Dakota Ridge, which last year went 6-4 and just missed out on the playoffs. The Raptors return running back Andreik Knechtel, who ran for over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns to help his team to a 13-1 season in which they reached the state semifinals. Can Silver Creek take the next step this year? This early season showdown will be a good indicator.
No. 5 Mead (0-0) at No. 9 Lewis-Palmer (0-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Don Breese Stadium, Monument
The Blitz: This Friday night lights showdown has high scoring written all over it. Last season, these were two of the highest-scoring teams in the classification, averaging 36 and 39 points per game, respectively. There’s no reason to expect that will change this year. The Mavericks stormed to the semifinals last season, riding the legs of returning running back Nathan Mackey (1,781 yards, 13 touchdowns). Lewis-Palmer has a flashy ground game of its own, led by speedster Dieudonne Chea (1,290 yards, 16 touchdowns). This game might resemble a track meet, but make no mistake it will be one of the best contests of the weekend.
No. 6 Fort Morgan (0-0) vs. Brush (0-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Fort Morgan High School
The Blitz: The Beetdiggers struggled last season, losing seven of their first eight games (including a 40-6 loss to Fort Morgan in the season opener). The Mustangs, meanwhile, stormed to the playoffs once again and are hoping for a return trip this year. Look for Trey McBride, one of the top tight ends in the state, to have a big impact for Fort Morgan all season long.
No. 10 Palmer Ridge (0-0) at Sand Creek (0-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Sand Creek High School
The Blitz: Palmer Ridge with a 28-12 win over Sand Creek to begin the season last year, thanks to a monster passing game from sophomore quarterback Ty Evans (360 yards, 2 TDs). What will happen in this year’s meeting? The Bears get their field general back in Evans, who finished with over 3,100 yards and 30 touchdowns as sophomore. The Scorpions, meanwhile, will look to improve in their second season under former state championship-winning head coach (with Pueblo East) David Ramirez.
Extra Points
Erie at Vista Peak: This week one matchup pits a pair of squads vying for a spot in the top-10, and most importantly the top 16 come November. Vista Peak is led by senior quarterback Derrick Smashum, who tossed a state-high 40 TDs a year ago. Erie, meanwhile, returns its leading rusher in junior Noah Roper (1,310 yards, 9 TDs last year).
Evergreen at Northridge: In a rare Saturday night showdown, Evergreen will travel to face the Northridge Grizzlies. Both teams are looking to improve on their win-loss totals from last season, and the Cougars just may have the young guns to do so. Last year’s opening season contest between the two was won 23-21 by Evergreen.
Pueblo County at Pueblo West: In the 18th iteration of the Pigskin Classic, the Hornets, a playoff team last year, will look to retain the rivalry trophy which they snagged from the Cyclones’ clutches for the first time in eight years.