Oftentimes in college football, top-level teams will open their season against schools with a hyphen, ampersand or both their name. We’re talking an opponent such as Tuscaloosa-Huntsville Tech & Aviation, to use a fictional example.
Anyhow, the result is a predictable 62-3 blowout in favor of the upper-echelon team.
Well, don’t count Pine Creek as the high school version of one of those squads. Rather than opening against a hyphen-worthy opponent, the Class 4A defending-champion Eagles will get 2017 started at 5A ThunderRidge (7 p.m., Saturday).
Sure, the Grizzlies are coming off something of an off year at 4-6, but they are two seasons removed from an appearance in the 5A quarterfinals and typically contend in the big-school classification. They’ll serve as a worthy opponent for a top-ranked Pine Creek squad that has won three of the past four 4A crowns and appeared in four of the past six championship games.
Many eyes will be affixed to DM3 — Pine Creek running back David Moore III — who rushed for 1,585 yards as a freshman last season. That total included 201 yards in a 36-14 title-game win against Broomfield.
Pine Creek’s clash with a 5A opponent seems to be a theme in the opening week among top-level 4A squads, and here’s a look at some of the key matchups in the opening week.
No. 2 Broomfield vs. Legacy: The crosstown rivals will renew their rivalry Friday night at North Stadium, where Broomfield will be aiming to halt a four-game losing streak in the series. It’s worth noting that three of the four losses were one-score games, so this is usually a tight one.
Broomfield quarterback Steven Croell will look to build on a strong sophomore season in which he tossed 22 touchdowns against only five interceptions. While the Eagles will have many new skill-position players on display, last year’s trip to the title game will yield a confident bunch heading into the opener. The 5A Lightning are coming off a solid 8-3 season.
No. 3 Ponderosa at Legend: This matchup served as an epic opener last season, as 5A Legend eked out a 31-28 win in the matchup of Parker-based squads. Legend’s offensive output was impressive considering Ponderosa proceeded to allow only 25 points over the next eight weeks.
Keep an eye on Ponderosa twins Sterling and Quinton Ostdahl in this one. Sterling is the Mustangs’ standout quarterback and Quinton the leading tackler from last season. The latter could see increased time as a ball carrier.
No. 5 Windsor at Vista Ridge: We finally have a 4A-on-4A matchup here, as the squads reprise their season-opening battle from last year. Windsor won that one 33-21 en route to a 9-4 season that culminated with a trip to the semifinals.
The 2015 champs will return running back Brandon Ramirez and quarterback Connor Apodaca. They’ll face challenge in the form of Vista Ridge running back Jaylen Thomas, who rushed for 836 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
No. 6 Loveland at Westminster: Loveland coach Wayne McGinn will once again take on his alma mater, and he’s hoping it goes as well as last season when his Indians blanked the Wolves 26-0. Granted, Westminster was still the Warriors in McGinn’s day, but he’ll be returning to the school nonetheless.
Running back Zach Weinmaster is back for Loveland after rushing for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore. Westminster, meanwhile, will be looking to retool from a 1-9 season that was a firm rebuilding effort after going 9-1 in 2015.
No. 7 Fruita Monument vs. Discovery Canyon: The Wildcats got off to a thrilling start last week with a 36-35 win over Montrose. They’ll look to keep it going against a Discovery Canyon squad that enters the season ranked No. 2 in 3A. Braeden Graham and Treyton Queen each rushed for more than 140 yards in the win and combined for three touchdowns.
No. 8 Monarch vs. Bear Creek: The Coyotes celebrated their return to 4A last season by winning the Northern League. They’ll aim to take it a step further this season by making an impact in the postseason. Phil Bravo’s squad will have to replace two 1,000-yard rushers and its starting quarterback, but the Coyotes are known to retool quickly. Bear Creek is seeking a rebound from a 3-8 season.
No. 9 Denver South vs. Boulder: Denver South will be under the leadership of Ryan Marini after 10-year coach Tony Lindsay took a job with the Far Northeast Warriors, a program closer to his home. South, which had its undefeated season interrupted in the quarterfinals last season, will look to start the season in similar fashion as last year when the Rebels routed Boulder 56-17 in the opener.
No. 10 Pueblo West vs. Pueblo County: This inter-city rivalry will have Pueblo West seeking revenge on the 3A Hornets. Pueblo County defeated the Cyclones 34-20 in the opener last season behind solid all-around performances by quarterback Jace Fillmore and running back Adrian Soto. Pueblo West rebounded from the disappointing opener to advance to the postseason and finish 7-4, but Monte Pinkerton’s group will be eager for the rematch.
Other rivalry games of interest in Week 1 include Pueblo Centennial at Pueblo South, Rifle at Montrose, Mountain View at Thompson Valley and Grand Junction at Grand Junction Central.
Coming off the stinging loss to 3A #3 Holy Family last week, Mountain View looks to make it two straight over Thompson Valley after doubling up the Mustangs 28-14 a year ago.  Both starting QB’s return from that contest.  Mountain View’s Peyton Mayes threw for 192 yards and two scores and Kanaan Turnbull of Thompson Valley totaled 188 yards and a TD.
Following a two-year break when Grand Junction Central dropped into Class 3A, the Warriors and Grand Junction resumed their rivalry last year.  The Warriors took the win 33-31 as part of their 6-5 playoff season.  Grand Junction last beat the Warriors in 2013 (49-3) but again the two teams did not play in either 2014 or 2015.
The South-Centennial clash is about the only Pueblo school’s matchup without a title as they simply play for pride.  The series has been even of late with South holding a 3-2 advantage over the last five including a 28-0 shutout a year ago.  The Colts also have the benefit of one game under their belt this year as they belted Wheat Ridge 42-0 in zero week.
Montrose and Rifle both saw action in week one.  The Indians gave up a late touchdown in a narrow loss to Fruita Monument (36-35) and Rifle blew past Basalt 34-14.  The Bears generated 419 yards rushing including 227 from junior Tanner Vines and 114 from sophomore Levi Warfel.  Montrose allowed 316 yards on the ground to Fruita but will seek improvement defensively in game number two.
Also of note is Saturday’s Heritage at Rampart clash, which features teams receiving votes in the pre-season rankings.  #4 Chatfield has a bye this week after dropping its opener 49-32 to Braden River Florida last Thursday.