It’s a highly important week across the 3A football division as five games pit league leaders against one another. In each case, the winner takes over sole possession of the conference lead and becomes the favorite to win the championship and gain the automatic postseason bid. All teams involved are unbeaten thus far in their conference schedule.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY TAMARA VAN DALE
There are several heavyweight matchups but the North Central 3 battle between Roosevelt (7-0) and Fort Morgan (6-0) will draw plenty of attention. They’re 1-2 in the RPI this week and they’re meeting for the first time since battling through a tremendous state quarterfinal a year ago. In that game, Fort Morgan scored the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute but then watched Roosevelt block the extra point. The Riders then drove down the field and booted through a game winning field goal as time expired.
Roosevelt has outscored opponents 343-33 and through the first five games, blew teams out in the first and second quarters. Over the last two weeks, they’ve used strong second halves to gain impressive wins over quality clubs. Coach Lane Wasinger’s team led Mead 9-7 at halftime but then won 37-7 by outscoring the Mavericks 30-0 in the second half. Against Northridge last week, Roosevelt had a 26-19 lead at intermission before outscoring the Grizzlies 34-0 in the second half on their way to a 61-19 decision.
Fort Morgan has also played well in the second half this year outscoring Scottsbluff NE, Brush, Niwot and Mountain VIew by 69 points in the third and fourth quarters combined. They blistered NIwot 32-0 in a wild third quarter and then outscored Mountain View 21-7 on their way to a 35-14 league win last week.
QB play has been strong for both clubs throughout the season. Brock Saya has thrown for 522 yards and six touchdowns in the wins over Mead and Northridge. On the season, the senior sits at 1,363 yards with 20 TDs and has tossed at least two scoring passes in every game this year. He’s been over 200 yards in four of seven games.
Fort Morgan’s Briggs Wheatley is at 494 yards and five touchdowns over his past two games. That pushed him to 1,211 yards and 10 scores for the sason. He connected with Frank Ortega on a 99-yard touchdown last week; one of two touchdowns on the night for Ortega. He leads Fort Morgan with 15 catches for 566 yards and has added another 442 yards on the ground.
Roosevelt also features a tremendous receiving group headed up by the tandem of Tucker Peterson and Keaton Kaiser. Both have 28 catches on the season; combining for 1,034 yards and 14 TDs including to 10 Kaiser.
Mead (5-1) and Holy Family (5-2) battle for the league lead in the North Central 2 with the Tigers clinching the title with a victory. They moved into great position by beating Frederick 42-35 in overtime last week. It was a crazy game as the Tigers surrendered a 14-point fourth quarter lead before surviving in the extra session.
Tigers QB Rylan Clooney completed 13 passes for 326 yards and six touchdowns with two apiece going to Jacob Lawler and Dominic Mazzula. This week, the Tigers offense faces a Mead defense that has given up only 23 points in their five wins. They did allow 190 yards rushing and 271 passing in their loss to Roosevelt. Jeremiah Strizki tops the defense with 51 tackles and Christian Ayers has 35. They’ve also forced 13 turnovers.
Win or lose this week, Holy Family is in great shape for the playoffs. They’re all the way up to third in RPI and their schedule is the major reason. Tiger opponents have won 75 percent of the games and that number will go up by facing Mead this week and Fort Morgan in their final game. Mead is 7th in RPI and also has a game remaining with Frederick so they’re also a great bet to earn a spot in the bracket.
Two teams that may need a conference championship to get in are George Washington (5-2) and Thomas Jefferson (4-3). They meet this week to decide the leader in the Denver Prep league and the loser will fall squarely onto the bubble for a wildcard berth. GW is 16th in RPI this week and TJ is 27th so both would prefer to win the league crown and not have to rely on a wildcard bid.
We were surprised to learn their meeting this week is the first between the two DPL school since 2015. They were slated to square off last Spring but the game was called off because of COVID. Thomas Jefferson has won two straight in the series including the 45-29 win in 2015.
Running the football is how the Spartans will get another win. They’re averaging 330 yards per game overall but has increased that number to 401 in league wins over Kennedy (55-24) and Lincoln (56-0). QB Austin Lindgren has 876 yards and 12 scores rushing and has added another 641 and three scores in the air.
George Washington has beaten Lincoln (67-6) and Riverdale Ridge (35-14) in league play. They feature a balanced attack with QB Bob Smith throwing for 643 yards and Cellus Honeycutt picking up 795 on the ground. He reached 100 yards in each of the first six games while Smith has tossed nine TD passes.
The Central West may be the most balanced league in Class 3A as the three games played last week were decided by a total of five points. Palisade and Steamboat Springs are the last two unbeatens (2-0) and they collide this week to determine the outright leader.
The Sailors are 6-1 but have been outscored on the season 158-152. Their two league wins are by two points as they edged Eagle Valley 31-30 in round one and then Glenwood Springs 28-27 last week. The kicking game played a major role in both as they booted a game winning field goal in the closing seconds against Eagle Valley and then blocked an extra point late in their win over Glenwood Springs.
QB Jake Hamrick has also played a role; throwing for 694 yards and five touchdowns in the wins. In last week’s win over Glenwood Springs, he moved past 15-hundred yards for the season. Cade Gedeon is the top receiver with 32 catches for 496 yards. Beck Vanderbosch is next with 22 receptions for 422 yards. Two others have at least 14 catches.
Palisade’s defense struggled against the pass in last week’s win over Summit (29-26); giving up 284 yards and three touchdowns. But their running game eventually wore down the Tigers defense as it generated 313 yards and four touchdowns. Look for more of the same strategy at Steamboat Springs this week. Phallen Salvati totaled 121 yards and Malakhi Espinoza had 106.
The Bulldogs have won eight straight in the series with Steamboat gaining their last win in 2009 (28-21). They reached the state finals that year and it marked their last winning season until this year.
The annual Cannon game between Pueblo South (5-2) and Pueblo East (4-3) will determine the Southern 2 league lead. Both clubs are 2-0 in conference play and each is battle tested after facing a tremendous non-league schedule. The Colts fell to Holy Family and Discovery Canyon but carries a five-game winning streak into the game. The Eagles have faced only two 3A opponents (league games) and went 2-3 against 4A teams in the first half of the season. That schedule has them up to fifth in RPI with South checking in at #11.
The East offense is still finding their way a bit as they totaled 226 yards in a 13-7 win over Pueblo County but bumped that number to 328 in a 44-0 win over Pueblo Centra last week. They averaged 7.4 yards per carry with Jayce Martinez leading the way with 79 yards. QB Zayden Stevens threw for 95 yards and a touchdown and the defense allowed only 96 yards overall.
South has a forfeit win over Canon City and a 49-14 win over Pueblo Centennila on their league resume. They scored six touchdowns on just 29 offensive snaps last week. Ethan Gonzalies rushed for 103 yards and two scores. Jace Bellah combined for 199 yards and four touchdowns offensively and also returned a fumble for a fifth score in the win.
Durango may still need two more wins officially clinch the Southern 1 championship but their 42-0 shutout of Discovery Canyon last week was probably the clinching win. They still have a game with Sand Creek (4-3) but Discovery Canyon beat the Scorpions 52-8 and the other three league teams have combined for just two wins. So the Demons will be highly favored in their remaining contests.
Last week, Durango jumped to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. They ran for 392 yards overall with Zach Haber getting 164 and Jordan Stanley 123. The Demons meet Sierra this week and then close with Mitchell and Sand Creek.
Lutheran and Green Mountain are both 2-0 and share the North Central 1 lead. They play in the final week. The Lions meet Conifer this week and Green Mountain goes to Littleton. The Rams have momentum following a big 31-16 win over Evergreen last week. Dom Sanchez ran for 96 yards and two scores as the Rams finished with 263 yards rushing. They allowed only 64.