With conference play finally underway, it’s the start of a new season in Class 3A football as every team is still in the playoff chase. Our weekly preview looks at eight contests on the schedule including a potential league championship battle between Conifer and Green Mountain. Those two clubs are in the top five of RPI and second matchup of Palmer Ridge and Lutheran puts together two teams in the top seven.
Lewis Palmer (3-2) at Thomas Jefferson (4-1)
The Central conference is loaded with good teams this year and Lewis Palmer is solid proof. The Rangers are 3-2 and 14th in RPI this week but those numbers are fifth best in the conference. Four teams enter league play at 4-1 and those four are also ahead of Lewis Palmer in the RPI standings.
Thomas Jefferson is one of those clubs as the Spartans have won four straight since an opening loss to Silver Creek. And since they’re 13th in RPI, this game is important as the winner may be the fourth and last club from the Central to make the playoffs.
This game starts a key stretch for TJ as they Discovery Canyon and Palmer Ridge over the next two weeks as well. The Spartans utilize quite a few weapons around talented QB Trent Koser as eight players have carried the football on the ground and 10 have caught a pass. That makes them hard to defend. Koser has thrown for 467 yards with three TD’s.
Running the football is crucial to the Rangers success. They’ve gained a total of 925 yards on the ground in their three wins but were limited to 80 in last week’s loss to Pueblo South and just 31 in the opening setback to Mead.
Lutheran (4-1) at Palmer Ridge (4-1)
It’s a second heavyweight clash in the Central as Palmer Ridge is 5th in RPI and Lutheran is 6th. It looks like a good matchup on paper but the Lions may catch the Bears at the wrong time as the two-time champs are coming off a frustrating 49-28 loss to Pine Creek last week. They gave up 533 yards rushing in the loss including 353 and four TD’s to all-stater David Moore.
The defense will probably be more challenged through the air against Lutheran. Max Rivken is coming off a five touchdown effort in Lutheran’s 78-0 blowout of Mitchell last week. And he tossed all those scores on just eight attempts. He completed seven for 158 yards. Andre Norman caught just three passes for 100 yards but all went for TD’s including a 49-yard bomb. The Lions also rushed for 182 yards and will work to that balance again against Palmer Ridge this week.
Green Mountain (4-1) at Conifer (5-0)
Conifer is 3rd in RPI and Green Mountain is 4th so there is plenty on the line in this one. The winner should end up with the Mt Metro championship and earn the right to play at home in round one of the playoffs. There is one wildcard team that also gets to host a post-season game and due to the strength of RPI, the loser of his one remains in the race for that spot.
The game features two of the best quarterbacks in Class 3A as both JR Hart of Conifer and Green Mountain’s Trey Towndrow could cross over 1,000 yards passing in the game. Hart needs 61 yards to get there and he has 11 touchdowns on the season. Towndrow is 28 yards shy of 1,000 and has tossed 12 scoring passes. He’s also a running trehat with 380 yards and five more scores.
Green Mountain has faced the stronger schedule. The Rams have beaten probable league champions Harrison and Palisade plus their loss to Lutheran looks more high quality as each week passes. Conifer has won four games by at least 29 points but only one came against a team with a winning record (Woodland Park). The Lobos’ fifth win came last week against Fort Morgan by seven points but they led the Mustangs 35-14 in the second half.
Pueblo South (4-1) at Pueblo East (1-4)
In looking at records, it appears to be a mismatch but this is one of the better rivalries in Colorado and could end up being a very good game. Both teams have solid tradition as the Eagles have played in four of the last five state championship games in Class 3A and the Colts won the 4A crown just two years ago. They’ve split their last six matchups with East scoring a 41-14 win in 2018. Pueblo South won in 2017 (34-19) on their way to the state title.
South remains favored of course. The Colts responded to a 24-19 loss to Palmer Ridge by thrashing Lewis Palmer 46-3 last week. Their tough schedule has them all the way to #2 in the RPI; trailing only unbeaten Mead.
Pueblo East, with losses to Pueblo West, Discovery Canyon, Palmer Ridge and Roosevelt, has also played a strong schedule but the 1-4 record has them just 23rd in RPI. That means they may need a win here or at least a strong showing through the rest of the conference slate just to make the 16-team playoff bracket. They’ve been in the post-season each of the past seven years.
Northridge (4-1) at Erie (2-3)
Somewhat of a role reversal for these two clubs this year. Erie is normally sitting at the top of the conference standings with Northridge closer to the bottom. But since an opening loss to 4A unbeaten Hinkley, the Grizzlies have won four straight and have climbed to 11th in RPI. Erie has losses to #2 Mead, #3 Pueblo South and #6 Frederick and that strong slate has kept the Tigers in the playoff picture. They’re 15th in RPI.
Because of that schedule, Erie may still be favored in this one. Northridge has not beaten a team with a winning record so other than the opening game with Hinkley, this is by far their most difficult test.
They’ve been passing dominated in the past, but this year feature good balance. Patrick Diem has rushed for 478 yards and six touchdowns and QB Israel Campa has 429 yards passing with five scores. The Grizzlies last made the playoffs in 2014 but a win moves them closer to ending that streak.
Erie reached the state finals two years and was a semifinalist last season. They’re seeking a fourth consecutive post-season berth. Mason Veve leads their ground game. He’s picked up 467 yards on the season and the Tigers as a team are up to 191 per game.
Others to Watch
Pueblo County (2-3) at Pueblo Central (4-1)
Central is trying not to repeat recent history. They were also 4-1 at this point last year but then lost all five conference games to again missing the playoffs. The tough stretch started with a narrow 17-14 loss to County and another tight game is expected.
Another indicator of a tight game is comparison scores with Harrison. County lost to the Panthers 21-14 in overtime last week and two weeks ago, the Hornets also fell short by a touchdown (14-7).
Both teams have some work to do for a playoff berth. Central is 17th in RPI and County is 26th but both will benefit from playing a strong league schedule.
Durango (3-2) at Pueblo Centennial (2-3)
The third matchup in the South Central could also be a good one. Durango has had two weeks to prep for the conference run and they’ll need the rest as this is the first of three trips in four weeks to Pueblo. They’re 9th in RPI.
Centennial got off the snide with a 21-0 win over Kent Denver in week five and then blanked Sierra 43-0 last week. Their defense hopes for a third straight shutout but it won’t be easy as the Demons have scored 108 points over their last two outings.
Roosevelt (2-3) at Fort Morgan (3-2)
Fort Morgan is 12th in RPI and Roosevelt 21st so both have strong playoff hopes. We think this winner of this one will challenge the Northridge-Erie winner for the North Valley championship.
The Mustangs have been inconsistent. They could not build on a great week three win over Lutheran as they fell to Conifer in game four. Coach Ty Davies’ club returned to the win column last week with a homecoming win over Northfield (35-14). Briggs Wheatley seems to be their top threat as the sophomore QB has rushed for 330 yards and passed for 219. He’s been involved in six touchdowns.
Roosevelt’s offense also gets positive work from the QB slot as Braeden Saya has 609 yards passing and 234 on the ground with eight touchdowns overall.