While Conifer, Palisade, Harrison and Pueblo South have already locked up league championships, three more champions across the 3A football landscape still need to be settled. They will be decided in the final teams as league unbeatens battle for the top spot in the Central, North Metro and North Valle conferences.
Palmer Ridge (8-1) at Discovery Canyon (8-1)
Not only does the winner end up with the Central conference championship, that team will also be in discussion for the top overall playoff seed. That’s because Discovery Canyon enters the final week 4th in RPI and Palmer Ridge fifth. And regardless of outcome, both the Thunder and Bears should host a first-round playoff game next week.
The key is probably how effective the Discovery Canyon running game can be. They average 311 yards a game on the ground and a total like that could help keep an explosive Palmer Ridge offense on the sideline. Marshall Pike will be the focus of the Palmer Ridge defense but he should still get the ball quite a bit as he enters the game with 1,325 yards and 20 TD’s on the season. Kevin Frye, with 359 yards and four TD’s, is a nice second option. QB Jonah Isakson has produced 404 yards rushing and can throw the ball if needed. He has 687 yards passing with seven TD’s but the Thunder prefer to throw on their terms and not let the defense dictate when. They face a Palmer Ridge defensive unit that’s allowed just 62 points in their eight wins and 49 in the one loss to 4A power Pine Creek.
Offensively, the Bears have been under 40 points just twice this season and have tallied at least 42 in every conference game. Big plays come on the outside from Anthony Roberson (32 catches – 9 TD’s) and Kaden Dudley (19 receptions – 4 TD’s) who both average over 22 yards per catch. Luke McAllister completes 61 percent of his passes and has 13 TD’s against just two interceptions. Balance comes from Raef Ruel with 902 yards and 20 TD’s on the ground.
Pueblo South is a very good common opponent to measure this game with as well. Palmer Ridge edges the Colts 24-19 while the Thunder fell short 31-22.
Frederick (9-0) at Mead (9-0)
We get the very rare regular season finale of unbeaten clubs in this one as both the Mavericks and Warriors are 9-0 for the season. And neither has been pushed that much this year. Frederick rallied past Erie 21-20 early in the season but has won every game since by at least 31 points. Overall, they’ve outscored opponents 447-110. Mead topped Roosevelt by 13 points but has won all remaining games by at least 21. They’ve downed opponents by a combined 388-76 result.
Concerning RPI, Mead is in much better shape. The Mavericks are #2 and will be at home in round one. A win gives them an argument a top overall seed with the likes of Palmer Ridge and Pueblo South if they both win this week. Frederick is #8 this week but should be at home in round one as this game should boost their strength of schedule.
Maybe the most important thing to watch in the North Metro title game is defense to see which team can come up with a stop or two because the offensive numbers for both teams are eye-popping. Mead runs for 315 yards a game and averages nearly ten yard per carry (9.7). Frederick picks up 346 yards each game and averages over 12 yards an attempt. Mead has scored 39 touchdowns on the ground and Frederick 38.
Individually, Jake Wachter paces Mead with 1,022 yards and 15 scores. He’s at 114 yards a game on his own. Brayden Keys (560 yards) and Nathan Bailey (547) have combined for 13 TD’s.
Frederick has a good 1-2 punch of Brandon Hornby (649 yards) and Dominik Schleif (502) who have scored 15 TD’s but the catalyst is dual threat QB Jake Green. He’s rushed for 1,146 yards and 14 TD’s to go along with 1,241 yards and 22 TD’s through the air. His top target is Dylan Sindelar with 28 catches for 556 yards and ten scores.
Mead can also throw the football if called upon. Brady Veltein has 542 yards and 12 TD’s passing with Tyler Ward collecting four of those scoring tosses. Wachter and Preston Tillema each have three.
Fort Morgan (7-2) at Erie (6-3)
For the second straight year, the Mustangs and Tigers meet to decide the North Valley championship. Erie topped Fort Morgan 31-28 on the road last year so the Mustangs look to return the favor on the Tigers’ home turf this Friday.
Both teams are on the fringe of hosting a first-round game as Fort Morgan is 9th and Erie 11th in RPI. The winner should gain enough ground to get into the top eight and play at home next week so there’s a lot riding on this one other than the league title.
Erie has played a strong schedule with losses to Pueblo South, Frederick and Mead who enter the final weekend with a combined record of 26-1. The Tigers have won their last four and in doing so have pushed their rushing average up to 226 yards per game. Much of that comes from Mason Veve who leads the Tigers with 1,005 yards and ten scores. Gavin Mendoza, with 885 yards and 10 TD’s, is also effective throwing the football.
Fort Morgan opened 2-2 with losses to Thomas Jefferson and Conifer but they also have a quality win over Lutheran (15-14). An overtime win over Roosevelt (28-27) seems to have sparked them as they’ll carry a five-game winning streak into the title showdown. Sophomore Briggs Wheatley was not the starting quarterback at the start of the season but he now leads the team in passing (586 yards) and rushing (486). He’s combined for 13 touchdowns.
Another key could be the big play defense of the Mustangs. They’ve recorded 17 turnovers including seven from Fernando Marquez. He’s recovered two fumbles and intercepted five passes.
Pueblo East (4-5) at Durango (6-3)
While the winner will not finish higher than second in the South Central chase, the outcome is important to both clubs. Pueblo East is 15th in RPI and may need a win to get into the bracket. Durango is 7th and safely in the field but a win could lock up a home game in round one which due to location is a bigger benefit to them than most schools.
Under five hundred on the season, Pueblo East remains in playoff contention due to a brutal schedule. Seven of their nine opponents are either already in the playoff bracket or are strong contenders to get there. Recent play from the Eagles will also force the Durango defense to prep for two different styles of offense. Jaxson Herring has replaced injured starter Jack Helzer at QB the last couple of weeks and with him on the field, the Eagles are more of an option attack. Helzer, which according to the Pueblo Chieftain is back practicing and could see some time this week, provides more of a passing attack. He’s thrown for over 1,000 yards in just six games this season.
Durango’s offense continues to put up a big number each week. They’re averaging 40 points a game and over the last six have totaled 283. That includes the wild 35-34 last second loss to Pueblo South two weeks ago. Junior QB Jordan Woolverton has been involved with 34 TD’s this year including 22 through the air. He’s tossed just one interception. Ben Finneseth (35 catches) and Gage Mestas (25) both average nearly 20 yards per catch with a combined 16 TD’s. Everett Howland has reached the end zone 10 times and is over 1,100 yards for the season.
Holy Family (#14), Thomas Jefferson (#16), Roosevelt (4-5) and Lewis Palmer (#18) are battling with Pueblo East for the last few available playoff berths. East, because of their high-level schedule, is probably in regardless of their game with Durango turns out. Thomas Jefferson may also be in good shape as the will get a nice boost in schedule strength when they go up against Lutheran. Roosevelt must finish the season with starting QB Braeden Saya but they should still get by Niwot. Lewis Palmer hosts winless Littleton in the final week and that may keep them from moving into the top 16.