3A FOOTBALL PREVIEW – WEEK 10

Don’t look now, but ⸺ actually on second thought, go ahead and look.

And try not to blink

Because in 48 final scoreboard minutes, the Class 3A football regular season will be over, and the playoffs will be here.

As long as it seemingly took for football season to arrive on the illuminated turf and grass fields Colorado, it is now drawing closer and closer to its thrilling climax.

And guess who is back for a starring role?

The three-time defending state champion Pueblo East Eagles, that’s who.

After a less-than-ideal start that saw East go 0-5 and fall in danger of being cut from the script completely, the Eagles have now reeled off four straight wins and their most recent against Harrison last week clinched the South-Central league championship.  So now in one form or another, the road to the 3A trophy will once again go through Pueblo’s Belmont neighborhood.

What’s that old saying, “It ain’t over until it’s over?” Cliché as it may be, it provides a good segue.

Because speaking of resilience, how about those No. 1 ranked Mead Mavericks?

On their way to clinching a playoff spot of their own, the Mavericks faced arguably the most adversity they’d seen all year. Trailing after the first quarter for the first time this season, Mead stormed back with big plays galore and a staggering 456 yards on the ground to beat Erie 42-28 in a thrilling and high-stakes rivalry game which also delivered the Tri-Valley League title to the Mavs.

The Eagles and Mavs are two of five teams which have already locked up postseason berths, along with Palmer Ridge (East Metro League champ), Canon City (Southern League champ), and Evergreen (West Metro League champ).

That means there are still 11 spots virtually up for grabs this week, so it bears repeating: keep a close watch on the gridiron this week, and try not to blink.

Here’s how the final week of the 3A regular season shakes out.

*Note: Since the RPI standings are all that really matter at this point, those will be the rankings referenced throughout.

 

No. 14 Longmont (6-3, 4-0) at No. 18 Fort Morgan (6-3, 4-0)

At Stake: Northern League Championship

When: 7 p.m. Friday

The Blitz: Gotta love this. For these two teams, a win here could be the only door into the playoffs. A Northern League title secures a spot for the winner, while the loser will be left at the mercy of math, of all things. Longmont has won five straight after a bit of a rocky start, dominating their last five foes to the tune of 44.4 points per game while surrendering an average of just 13. Fort Morgan, meanwhile, has been equally as tough throughout the early league slate, and the return of senior Trey McBride just might give the Mustangs the firepower they need. A win would also make Fort Morgan a spoiler of sorts, possibly jumping up to take a playoff spot from a non-league champion ranked inside the top 16.

 

No. 9 Palisade (7-2, 4-0) at No. 8 Rifle (8-1, 4-0)

At Stake: Western Slope League Championship

When: 7 p.m., Friday

The Blitz: Another game for all the marbles. These two hard-nosed squads feature potent rushing attacks (each averaging more than 300 yards per game) and a nose for the playoffs. Rifle has reeled off seven straight wins, their last and only loss of the year coming on Sept. 1 against Montrose — which, of course, Palisade beat 28-27 the following week. A lot has changed since then, and this one could come down to whoever can stop the other’s all-state caliber running back.

 

No. 13 Thomas Jefferson (7-2, 3-1) at No. 17 Denver North (7-2, 2-2)

At Stake: The Dance

When: 4 p.m., Friday

The Blitz: Both teams salvaged their playoff hopes with wins last week, and now this critical East Metro League clash could be the last chance for both the Vikings and the Spartans to boost their resumes. A loss would be catastrophic to any postseason hopes, with Fort Morgan still lurking with a chance to steal a spot from a top-16 team and Pueblo East already assured to do so.

 

Extra Points

Berthoud (6-3, 1-3) at No. 1 Mead (9-0, 4-0)

The Mavericks finish the regular season with final tune-up against the Spartans, who despite three league losses still have a chance of cracking the postseason due to their RPI, which is currently at No. 12. A win here could solidify those chances, but don’t expect Nathan Mackey, Tyler Keys, Derek Edwards, and the gang to take things lightly.

 

No. 2 Palmer Ridge (9-0, 4-0) at Vista Peak (4-5, 2-2)

Palmer Ridge closes out the regular season hoping to make it a perfect 10. Ty Evans has put up video game numbers in leading the Bears this season, with 2,357 yards passing to go with 30 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He’s one of the reasons why Palmer Ridge should be taken very, very seriously when the final 16 go to battle.

 

Pueblo Central (2-7, 1-3) at No. 19 Pueblo East (4-5, 4-0)

No. 10 Harrison (8-1, 3-1) at No. 16 Durango (6-3, 3-1)

No. 6 Erie (7-2, 2-2) at No. 15 Frederick (6-3, 2-2)

This is among the most interesting trio of games to keep an eye on this week. Should Pueblo East take care of business against Central, which has scored a total of 13 points against the Eagles over the past three seasons, it will complete a historic run back to the playoffs as the top dogs (or, birds) in the South-Central League. The only question left is: whose spot will the Eagles take? With the Eagles ranked outside the top 16 in RPI and a win over No. 34 Central unlikely to improve their standing, it could be S-CL league foe Durango (No. 16), Tri-Valley’s Frederick (No. 15), or more ironically Longmont (No. 14, who beat East in the season opener) left steaming at home. Durango will look to make its case stronger with a win over No. 10 Harrison, which is coming off its first loss of the year. Of course, should Frederick find a way to top No. 5 Erie, and if Longmont wins the Northern league outright with a win over Fort Morgan, those two will likely see playoff football in their futures anyhow. But either way, it will still make for an interesting bracket release on Sunday.

 


Nick Jurney

Nick Jurney

Nick Jurney is a former sports writer at the Pueblo Chieftain who now makes a living as a digital marketing specialist and freelance writer in Fort Collins. You can follow him on Twitter @NVJurney for sports musings, movie reviews, and pictures of his dog.

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