Halfway through the Colorado Class 3A prep football season, many teams are starting to answer a lot of the questions that lingered at the beginning of the year.
Who is for real? The new team atop the CHSAANow.com coaches poll, the Mead Mavericks, have certainly made their case. Palmer Ridge has zoomed up the polls while lighting up scoreboards. Erie has taken on all challengers and disposed of every one.
Who is the surprise contender making noise? Youâ€™d be hard pressed to find a better story than the unbeaten Harrison Panthers. Or the undefeated Skyview Wolverines. Or the unblemished Berthoud Spartans.
Who can still turn it around? Well, everyone. League play begins in earnest across the state this week, which means each game has a bit more significance.
Remember: the RPI standings help to determine the top 16 teams for the playoffs, but league champs are still guaranteed a spot at the dance even if they find themselves outside that top-16.
And with many of the top contenders hailing from the same leagues, you can be certain that there will be a whole lot of statements to come.
If you find yourself in the bleachers at any one of the stateâ€™s fine prep football showdowns in the next five weeks, thereâ€™s a better-than-good chance that youâ€™ll be in for a real treat. Because now, the games really count. And there is little to no room for error.
Just look at the Tri-Valley League, for example.
That league is a brutal minefield that currently features three 5-0 teams (Berthoud, Erie, Mead) and three 4-1 teams (Roosevelt, Frederick, Holy Family). Thereâ€™s a reasonable chance that multiple teams will emerge from this league to make the playoffs. Thereâ€™s also a reasonable chance that playoff-worthy teams will be left at home.
Hereâ€™s how it all shakes out in Class 3A this week.
No. 3 Erie (5-0) at No. 4 Berthoud (5-0)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Berthoud High School
The Blitz: Well, this is one way to kick off league play. This battle of the unbeatens features teams from arguably the strongest league, top to bottom, in the entire state. The turnaround of these two squads cannot be overstated; last year the Spartans finished near the bottom of the league at 2-8, while Erie is but one win away from matching its total from all last season. Keep an eye on Berthoudâ€™s Brock Voth, a senior quarterback with 1,087 yards, 15 TDs, and just one interception. Oh by the way, heâ€™s also rushed for 337 yards and six scores. How will Erie counter? Itâ€™s no secret: junior running back Noah Roper will be tasked with carrying the workload for the Tigers. Roper is already nearing the 1,000 yard mark (984 yards, 15 TDs), and he also has two interceptions on the other side of the ball.
No. 5 Roosevelt (4-1) at No. 1 Mead (5-0)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Mead High School
The Blitz: Few have been as dominant as the Mavericks up to this point. Theyâ€™ve proved their mettle all season, averaging a state-best 48 points per game while surrendering a measly 55 points total. Mead has recent playoff success on its side, storming all the way to the state semifinals last year. But lest we forget, the Rough Riders won this very Tri-Valley League and reached the state title game just two short falls ago. The Mavericksâ€™ potent offensive attack is led by a trio of ground grinders: Tyler Keys (532 yards, 9 TDs), Nathan Mackey (531 yards, 6 TDs), and Derek Edwards (423 yards, 6 TDs). But donâ€™t count out Roosevelt, amid a three-game win streak over ranked or once-ranked opponents.
Frederick (4-1) at No. 7 Holy Family (4-1)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Holy Family High School
The Blitz: Seriously, welcome to the Tri-Valley League. All three league contests are certified marquee matchups this week, and these two squads, which both currently find themselves inside the top-16 in the RPI (Holy Family No. 9, Frederick No. 15), are hoping to start conference play off on the right foot. Holy Family is coming off its first loss, a surprisingly lopsided 39-3 contest in which they also lost starting quarterback Stone Samaras early on. Its unclear if Samaras will be back to lead the Tigers this week. Frederick, on the other hand, is among the stateâ€™s leaders in rushing yards per game (an almost unbelievable 338.4 YPG average), led by James Jones (635 yards, 9 TDs).
Lincoln (3-2) at No. 2 Palmer Ridge (5-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Don Breese Stadium
The Blitz: Another week, another aerial attack from Ty Evans and the Palmer Ridge Bears. After knocking off defending state finalist Discovery Canyon on Sept. 21, the Bears thoroughly dismantled previously unbeaten Canon City 43-0 last week. Evans was atop his game once again, throwing for 327 yards and four scores in the win, bringing his season yardage total to 1,543 and his touchdown count to 20. His favorite target, Anthony Roberson, eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the fourth straight game and scored a pair of touchdowns for the second straight game, further establishing the connection which has puzzled defenses all year. Will Lincoln be up to the task in this East Metro League opener?
No. 6 Skyview (5-0) at Evergreen (4-1)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Evergreen High School
The Blitz: Skyview has crossed over every obstacle thus far in the season, but now the real quest begins: to win the West Metro League for the first time in… ever. The Wolverines were a paltry 2-3 in league play last year, including a lopsided 33-7 loss to Evergreen to open league play. Whatâ€™s different this year? Senior running back Deyvon Butler, who has cruised through defenders to the tune of 909 yards and 13 touchdowns at the halfway point in the season.
Sierra (1-4) at No. 8 Harrison (5-0): The new South-Central League favorites? After spending the past few years at or near the middle of the road, the Harrison Panthers are suddenly emerging as valid contenders in their second year as S-CL members. Thatâ€™s thanks in no small part to Aumerie Shedrick and Orlando Westbrook, the RB/QB duo which has accounted for 25 of the teamâ€™s 26 offensive touchdowns. Should they play their cards right Friday against the Stallions, Harrison can enter their three-game stretch against the Pueblo squads (Central, County, and East) with momentum before a potential league championship showdown against Durango in the seasonâ€™s final week.
Vista Peak (2-3) at Denver North (5-0): The Vikings have yet to crack the top-10 in the coachesâ€™ poll despite cruising to an unbeaten record and already reaching the five-win mark for just the third time since 1996. They are, however, sitting at No. 13 in RPI heading into their East Metro opener against Vista Peak.
No. 10 Longmont (2-3) at Thompson Valley (0-5): Longmont is however in the top-10 despite a losing record. How is that possible? Well, the Trojansâ€™ two wins have played a tough schedule (OWP of .665), and their two wins have come against teams that were ranked No. 1 at the time — Pueblo East to open the season, and Holy Family last week.