And then there were five.
Unbeaten teams in Colorado Class 3A high school football, that is.
Two of them — Mead and Erie — hail from the hard-to-beat Tri-Valley League.
Two others — Palmer Ridge and Harrison — are standing as tall as the Pikes Peak region they represent throughout the Monument/Colorado Springs area.
And one other — Denver North — is off to an impressive six game win streak to start the year yet has still yet to crack the top-10 in the rankings.
But nevermind that, the Vikings might say, as they are still sitting at No. 13 in the Ratings Percentage Index standings, and can figure to crack the playoff lineup simply by maintaining course and winning their own East Metro League.
Standing in their way, of course, is Palmer Ridge, which strides in as the No. 1 team in the RPI and No. 2 team in the CHSAANow.com coaches’ poll thanks to a 6-0 start which has seen the Bears put up 46 points per game while conceding just around 10.
Those two unbeatens will square off this Saturday in a rare 11 a.m. kick, while the No. 1 team for the past three weeks, Mead, will look to continue its own dominant run with a Thursday night kick against Frederick (5-1).
And speaking of the Tri-Valley League, how about this group of teams thus far?
After rolling through the nonleague slate with a combined 27-3 record, this six-pack of surefire contenders already find themselves in a dogfight each week from here on out. Each game will be sure to have a playoff atmosphere, as the only guaranteed ticket to the dance will be awarded to the king of the league. Everyone else, though their resumes will be plenty admirable, will have to leave it to the numbers.
Only four regular season weeks remain. The picture is starting to become clearer and clearer. Here’s how this week’s slate of big games shakes out.
No. 1 Mead (6-0) at Frederick (5-1)
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: Frederick High School
The Blitz: It would be hard to overstate how big each game in the Tri-Valley League will be from here on out. The Mavericks, on paper and on the field, have been arguably the most dominant team from top to bottom, dismantling four ranked (or once-ranked) opponents by a combined score of 163-41, including a 33-6 statement over red-hot No. 5 Roosevelt last week. And the way they’ve been able to do it has been no secret; it’s a steady dose of ground and pound with three capable and reliable weapons in Tyler Keys, Nathan Mackey, and Derek Edwards. This week, Mead will face a new test in Frederick, which snuck by Holy Family 7-6 thanks to a second half touchdown run by Kyle Pita in the league opener last week. Counting that squeaker, Frederick has reeled off three straight after its only loss to No. 6 Silver Creek in week three.
No. 2 Palmer Ridge (6-0) at Denver North (6-0)
When: 11 a.m., Saturday
Where: All City Stadium
The Blitz: Perhaps the only other team that has rivaled the dominance of Mead has been Palmer Ridge, an offensive force of nature which tends to attack through the air more so than on the ground. But that doesn’t mean the Bears, who are 6-0 for the first time on the gridiron in school history, can’t rumble with the best of them on the ground. While quarterback Ty Evans (1,762 passing yards, 24 TDs) leads the state in passing with nearly 300 yards per contest, the running attack of Raef Ruel (468 yards, 8 TDs) and company still puts up just over 150 yards per game as well. That will prove to be a difficult challenge for the Vikings, who have an impressive lineup of playmakers as well but have only played one opponent with a winning record at the time (Englewood in Week 3), leaving them with a combined OWP of .305.
Holy Family (4-2) at No. 3 Erie (6-0)
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: Erie High School
The Blitz: The Erie Tigers have produced statement win after statement win, most recently by knocking off previously unbeaten Berthoud in dominant fashion (33-7) in their Tri-Valley League opener last week. The offensive cog for the Tigers is Noah Roper (and, obviously, his five best pals on the offensive line), who has scored a minimum of two rushing touchdowns in each game (total of 17) and has a state-best 1,149 yards. Holy Family, meanwhile, has dropped two straight after losing their own offensive leader, QB Stone Samaras, to injury. While Kyle Helbig and company have done their best to pick up the slack in the absence of Samaras, the offense has mustered but three field goals since his departure.
No. 4 Harrison (6-0) at Pueblo Central (1-5)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Dutch Clark Stadium
The Blitz: Heading on down I-25 a ways, Harrison has arguably been the surprise team of the season; at least, for teams outside of the South-Central League. Not a single S-CL coach discounted the Panthers even last season when they were younger and less experienced. And now it appears that praise has been justified with their tear through the schedule up to this point. Running back Aumerie Shedrick has been as good as they come as a rusher in Class 3A, racking up 1,005 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground to begin his junior campaign. His lowest total in a game thus far? A mere 115 yards with three TDs on 15 carries, which came just last week in a 46-0 rout over rival Sierra. Pueblo Central, meanwhile, lost a 28-21 nail-biter to cross-county rival Pueblo County a week ago, though junior Nico Martin (549 rush yards, 6 TDs) has been known to put on a show under the lights at one of the state’s finest prep venues, Dutch Clark Stadium.
No. 8 Berthoud (5-1) at No. 5 Roosevelt (4-2)
Both teams are coming off losses, albeit to the No. 3 and No. 1 teams, respectively, and have plenty left to fight for at this point in the season. In fact, both teams are still solidly inside the top 16 in the RPI standings (Berthoud No. 8, Roosevelt No. 12) and a win here would give that resume a significant boost.
No. 6 Silver Creek (4-2) at Fort Morgan (3-3)
Both teams made deep playoff runs a year ago, and while the season hasn’t quite gone as expected for either, you can be sure that postseason aspirations are still running high among the Raptors and the Mustangs. This is a crucial Northern League battle, to be sure, especially given that both teams won their league openers and that No. 7 Longmont (3-3, 1-0) is steadily gaining traction of its own.