Before these state high school football playoffs began, the Class 3A tournament was billed as having the potential to be the most exciting.
After the opening round, consider the hype met. And exceeded.
The first round of the playoffs included a pair of lower-seed upsets, the three-time defending state champion ousted by a two-point conversion, and a Beast Mode-esque run that seemed to defy the laws of not only football, but physics (looking at you, Palisade’s Terrance Williams).
Despite being a favorite seed-wise, the biggest result might have come out of Erie, where the Tigers knocked off the thrice reigning champion Pueblo East Eagles.
The Eagles had been as hot as can be over the past month, and their 14-point outburst in the first quarter seemed to signify the momentum of the five-game winning streak they had brought into the game.
The Tigers never once held the lead in the game until there was but 52 ticks remaining, when Noah Roper plunged up the middle for what proved to be the game-winning two-point conversion. Erie had scored moments later and initially lined up for the extra point that would potentially tie the game at 21, but after two timeouts, much deliberation, and some prodding from the voices in his head(set), coach Chad Cooper opted to go for the win.
In doing so, Erie gained redemption from last year’s opening round loss to the eventual champion Eagles, and set up a quarterfinal berth against Durango.
“I got a little push from my box, and they said, ‘Do it,’” Cooper said after the game. “And we did it. It’s a step forward for our program. And I have a feeling this might not be the last time we see Pueblo East.”
Now we reach the quarterfinals, where the great eight will be whittled down to the four elite. On paper, the four games feature an interesting clash of styles, perennial powerhouses, scrappy newcomers, and storylines galore. But as we all know; this game isn’t played on paper.
Without further ado, let’s get into this week’s breakdown and see how the Class 3A quarterfinals shake out.
No. 8 Longmont (8-3) at No. 1 Mead (11-0)
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Mead High School
The Blitz: Following the same tried and true formula which helped Mead High School cook up a perfect regular season, the Mavericks’ running attack went straight up roughshod over Harrison in a 56-19 opening round victory. Nathan Mackey was the unstoppable force, while the Mavs’ O-Line was a collective immovable object, and the two combined two produce 236 yards on just 13 carries with three touchdowns on the day. Longmont, meanwhile, crashed Skyview’s playoff party early with a 36-12 win to set up this highly anticipated rematch. The Mavs beat the Trojans 38-14 on Sept. 22, though certainly things have changed as that is the last loss that Longmont has suffered to this point. The Mavs are looking to use the same formula to produce another box office smash, while the Trojans are hoping that, for once, the sequel is better than the original. Grab your popcorn, folks.
No. 5 Erie (9-2) at No. 13 Durango (8-3)
When: 12 p.m., Saturday
Where: Durango High School
The Blitz: By virtue of the coin flip rule, the lowest seed remaining in the tournament gets to host this epic quarterfinal matchup. Durango, representing the South-Central League and the southwest corner of the state, is fresh off an upset performance over No. 4 Canon City. Led by a magnificent performance by freshman QB Jordan Woolverton, who threw nearly as many touchdowns (three) as he had incompletions (four), the Demons won the right to host the red-hot Tigers. Noah Roper broke more tackles than One Direction did hearts, carving up Pueblo East to the tune of 203 yards, a couple of touchdowns, and the most critical two-point conversion of his life. What will he have in store this week?
No. 6 Palisade (9-2) at No. 3 Roosevelt (9-2)
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Roosevelt High School
The Blitz: Seriously, did you guys see that Terrance Williams run? Sweet sassy molassy. WIlliams went berserk on the Discovery Canyon defense last week, helping the Bulldogs advance past the first round of the playoffs for the fifth straight year. Their reward? A meeting with Roosevelt, which has been rough riding over teams at will as of late. The key matchup in this one might be that of Palisade’s three-headed rushing attack (Williams, Austin Bernal, and Cameron Tucker) up against the stout front seven of the Rough Riders, which has conceded just six points over its last three games combined.
No. 2 Palmer Ridge (11-0) at No. 10 Rifle (10-2)
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Rifle High School
The Blitz: Another instance in which the higher seed has to hit the road, only this one is in the northwest corner of the state in a battle of the Bears. Palmer Ridge, with Arkansas-bound QB Ty Evans, boasts the most potent aerial attack in this tournament, averaging more than 284 yards per game. Rifle, meanwhile, is literally the polar opposite, throwing for around 78 yards per game while utilizing a ground game that is rivaled production-wise only by No. 1 Mead. These two feature a clash of styles, so it will be interesting to see who can establish their brand of football first.