Fresh battles dominate the Class 3A state quarterfinal pairings as only one of the four matchups have occurred previously in the playoffs. That’s between Holy Family and Evergreen but the remaining three contests involving Roosevelt-Fort Morgan, Pueblo South-Mead and Durango-Lutheran have never taken place in the post-season. PHOTO BY SHAUN STANLEY
The 3A playoff opener this week features Holy Family vs Evergreen on Friday followed by Saturday meetings between Durango-Lutheran and Roosevelt-Fort Morgan. Pueblo South has already earned a forfeit win over Mead as the Colts advance to the state semifinals.
#1 Roosevelt (5-0) vs #8 Fort Morgan (4-1)
This matchup was supposed to take place in week five but now will occur with much more on the line as the winner stays in the state championship chase. Fort Morgan had to pull away from the regular season meeting because of COVID concerns and many fans thought the missed game might cost the Mustangs a playoff berth. The Mustangs still managed to find a way into the bracket as Conifer and Canon City lost in the final weekend and they picked up a win over Summit.
Roosevelt has been ranked #1 in the coach’s poll much of the season and was pushed only once; a 21-20 overtime decision against Mead in week two. The Roughriders won every other game by at least 35 points and finished the season outscoring opponents overall 205-30. Fort Morgan, in contrast, lost to Mead 35-0 but rallied with two wins over Thompson Valley (60-14) and Summit (47-8) to stay alive.
The quarterbacks in this one, have similar names and both serve as leaders of their offense. Brig Hartson leads Roosevelt with 15 combined touchdowns including 13 through the air. He’s thrown for 838 yards and rushed for 204. Briggs Wheatley is a dual threat as well for Fort Morgan; leading the Mustangs in both passing (563) and rushing (417) yardage. He’s been involved in eight scores overall.
Wheatley gets help from the duo of Frank Ortega and Brayden Fajardo. Ortega has picked up 348 yards on the ground and Fajardo has 17 catches for 223 yards.
Roosevelt has great depth at receiver led by Keaton Kaiser. He tops the team with 27 catches for 304 yards and two scores. Tucker Peterson averages 24.4 yards on his 15 catches and has reached the end zone eight times. Jaden Herrera also has three scores among his 11 receptions. Keegan Sterkel has 393 yards and four scores in the run game with support from Cooper Walton (208 yards).
Walton (44) is the top tackler; followed closely by Logan Pool (43). Clayton Robinson is also very aggressive on that side of the ball as enters the quarterfinals with 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Walton has added 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: While the Roughriders and Mustangs meet often in the regular season, this is their first postseason clash. Roosevelt is 16-28 all-time in the playoffs and their last win came in 2017 when they beat Thomas Jefferson 44-0. They also reached the 2015 state finals where they fell short to Pueblo East 57-31. It’s one of two state championship game appearances with the first coming in 2000 in Class 2A. Fort Morgan’s last postseason win was earned in 2016 over Conifer (49-35). They last made the semifinals the year before by beating both Pueblo County and Palisade. The Mustangs are 31-33 all-time in postseason play with three state titles; 1999, 1992, 1952.
#4 Pueblo South (4-0) vs #5 Mead (5-1)
As mentioned, Mead had to bow out of the playoffs due to COVID issues that popped up after the pairings were released on Sunday. The forfeit moves the Colts into the semifinals for the third time in four seasons. They will be on the road against the Roosevelt-Fort Morgan winner next week. South is now 20-22 all-time in playoff football with their only state crown coming in 2017 by beating Pine Creek 25-14.
#2 Holy Family (6-0) vs #7 Evergreen (4-2)
An improved defense makes Holy Family a serious threat to the state championship this year. Over the past four years, the Tigers have surrendered at least 25 points per game but that number is just ten this season after giving up 60 points through six games. And that includes a win over high scoring Lutheran where they allowed the Lions only 14 points. That win also likely pushed Holy Family into the playoff bracket.
Jared Delgado (44 tackles), Brady Samaras (43) and Justin Trostel (26) lead the hard-hitting unit. The trio has also combined for 11 tackles for loss. The Tigers have 14.5 sacks including 3.5 from Samaras and three from Dominic Neely. As a group, the Tigers have 16 takeaways and have returned both a fumble and interception for a score this season.
On offense, Trevin Johnson and Matt Mollendor are a good one-two punch in the backfield. Johnson ended the regular season with 786 yards and 11 TDs and Mollendor added 383 yards and five scores. Michael White (903) fell just 97 yards of 1,000 on the season and threw 12 touchdown passes. Seven of those went to Liam Gray and four to Benton Daniels. Gray has 16 catches and averages 25 yards on each. Daniels totaled 11 receptions for 179 yards.
Following a tough road loss at Durango (17-8) in week four, Evergreen had to win out to stay in the postseason discussion and did so in impressive fashion. They bounced back to down Green Mountain (49-7) in week five and then won the annual Mountain Bowl over Conifer (34-20).
The biggest question for the Cougars is the availability of QB Griffin Lauritano. Following a transfer back from Georgia when this state decided to offer football in the fall, the senior was allowed to play in the regular season but is not eligible for the playoffs. His absence could be a big one. He generated nearly 11-hundred yards of offense with 20 combined touchdowns in just five games. If Lauritano is out, the starter may be sophomore Kyle Solowetz who completed seven of nine attempts for 36 yards in an opening loss to Palisade.
The Cougars may also turn to Noah Martens a bit more on offense. He rushed for 871 yards and three touchdowns this season. Top receivers include Danny Schneider (19 catches) and Carter Cassin (18) with Cassin hauling in six TD passes.
Zach Hansen (71 tackles) and John Wagner (63) head up the Cougars defense. The group has produced two touchdowns and 12 turnovers; evenly split between interceptions and fumble recoveries.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: The Tigers and Cougars have met once previously in the playoffs with Evergreen collecting a 40-8 first round win in 2015. That was also Evergreen’s last playoff win as they’ve dropped their last four outings. They sit 6-13 all-time in the post-season and have advanced to the semifinals just once in their history (1999). Holy Family is in the bracket for the ninth time in the last ten years. They are just 1-8 in that stretch with their lone win coming in 2016 (Rifle). They are 19-19 overall with two state titles. Both came in Class 2A as they beat Buena Vista 35-20 in the 2005 finals and Eaton 14-7 in 2002.
#3 Durango (5-0) vs #6 Lutheran (4-1)
It’s been an eventful football season in Durango as the Demons have dealt with cancelled games, injuries and COVID but they’ve overcome it all to finish unbeaten and with the number three seed. Last week’s win over Canon City continued that trend as they scored the win without Jordan Woolverton and Ben Finnesmith in the lineup. Third string quarterback Jordan Stanley rushed for 135 yards and also threw for 149 yards and a TD as he took his first varsity snaps since middle school. Nate Messier added 155 yards as the Demons totaled 340 on the ground in the win.
Woolverton and Finnesmith are both expected on the field this week and they should make an immediate impact. Woolverton was involved in 11 touchdowns in just four games while reeling off 629 yards passing and 169 rushing. Finnesmith grabbed 11 passes for 153 yards and two scores and also added 194 yards and four touchdowns running the football while seeing some time at QB when Woolverton was out with injury.
Messier and Gage Mestas also provide spark for the offense. Messier topped the rushing charts with 419 yards and seven scores and Mestas added 254 yards on 14 receptions.
The defense, which allowed just 62 points in five games, intercepted 10 passes including three from Woolverton. Thomas Barnes (42) and Kyler Reimers (37) combined for 79 tackles and Ford Pitts contributed four sacks. Reimers added three.
Other than the stumble against Holy Family, Lutheran was dominant this season. They lost to the Tigers 38-14 but won their remaining four games by a combined 148 points. The Lions though, haven’t played since falling to Holy Family so this is their first chance to take out some of that frustration.
Known for their high scoring offense, the key for Lutheran may be their running game. They ran for at least 310 yards in each of the three games leading up to Holy Family but were limited to 112 by the Tigers. Ryan Kenny (489) and Dorian Pacheco (462) lead the attack and have combined for 13 touchdowns.
QB Clayton Jacobs, with 323 yards and three scores, is a factor in the ground game but can also turn in big plays in the passing attack. He finished regular season play with 1,082 yards and 13 TDs. Brody Donahue (16), Michael Lopez (11) and Pacheco (10) all reached double figures in catches. Colton Thewes has just nine catches but five have gone for scores.
Pacheco is the defensive leader. He’s the only player on that side of the ball with both an interception and fumble recovery and leads the Tigers with 76 tackles. Kenny is next with 61.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Durango is in the playoffs for the sixth straight year and 10th time since 2009. They have just three wins that span including a first round win over Palisade (23-14) last year. They missed the semifinals with a 21-14 loss to Pueblo South the following week. Durango last reached the Final Four in 1997 where they lost to Hinkley (36-15) in Class 4A. Lutheran seeks their first postseason win since 2011. They beat Hayden (35-6) in Class 1A that season. They’re 0-3 all-time in Class 3A action losing first round games to Pueblo South (46-8) last year and to Palisade in both 2014 and 2013. This is the first playoff meeting between Durango and Lutheran.