Percentage wise, it was the most difficult bracket to qualify for and now the eight teams in the chase for the 4A state championship begin that quest. Quarterfinals are set for this week with Dakota Ridge, Loveland, Palmer Ridge and Ponderosa hosting high level opponents. PHOTO BY LANCE WENDT
Loveland and Broomfield open the schedule on Friday night with the three other games set for various times on Saturday. Ponderosa meets Fountain Fort Carson at 10:30am, Palmer Ridge and Ponderosa collide at 1:00pm and then Dakota Ridge entertains Montrose at 3:00pm with that game set for Englewood high school.
#1 Dakota Ridge (6-0) vs #8 Montrose (4-2)
Outscoring opponents by a ratio of nearly 10-1 (310-32), Dakota Ridge has not been pushed this season. The offense has generated at least 42 points in every game while the defense has surrendered only six points over the past four weeks. But even though the Eagles have not been in a tight game this year, most of the key players were involved in their push to the state semifinals last year so they will rely on that experience for this year’s playoff run.
QB Ben Gultig was the starter last year and threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns in three playoff games. He also ran for 230 yards and three more scores. In 2020, the senior has combined for 16 touchdowns and 1,270 yards of offense. Charlie Offerdahl led the Eagles with 428 yards and 11 TD’s this year and also produced 352 yards with six scores during the 2019 postseason. And top receiver Mason Galbreath hauled in 18 passes for 276 yards and three scores this year after totaling 10 catches for 182 yard and two touchdowns over the playoffs last Fall.
Big plays have been the focus of the Eagles defense which has produced 21 takeaways including five interceptions from Offerdahl. Steve Reyes (30) and Sean McNamara (28) are the top tacklers.
By contrast, Montrose played one of the more difficult schedules in the state and that pushed them into the playoffs despite their 4-2 record. Losses were suffered on back-to-back trips to the metro area against Palmer Ridge and Ponderosa. They also rallied from a 14-0 hole to stun Fruita Monument (28-27) in overtime so the Indians are very battle tested.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: This is the second playoff meeting in the past three years as Montrose collected a 26-14 win in 2018. That matchup also came in the opening round (Sweet 16). Montrose is in the bracket for a fourth straight year and a win gets them to the semifinals for the second time in three years. Montrose has reached the finals seven times with a lone state championship in 1950. Dakota Ridge is at 500 all-time in the playoffs (13-13). They’ve reached the championship game once (2004) and fell short to ThunderRidge (45-29). This is their third straight playoff appearance.
#4 Loveland (6-0) vs #5 Broomfield (5-0)
A ton of playoff history between these two as the Indians and Eagles have combined for 10 state championships overall. They meet in just one of three first round games in any class this year featuring two unbeaten clubs. Both likely secured their place in the bracket with overtime wins in the final two weeks; Loveland edged Skyline 27-26 last week and Broomfield knocked off Windsor 17-14 in week five.
Nothing has come easy for Broomfield this year as they’ve outscored opponents by just 56 points on the season. In addition to the victory at Windsor, the Eagles have two other wins by single digits; over Monarch (27-20) and Brighton (30-21). Loveland also worked through a tough win over Monarch (14-3) but the remaining four victories all came by at least 26 points.
Cole Lacrue has been the key for Broomfield. The sophomore QB has had a tremendous campaign; throwing for 841 yards and nine touchdowns against just one interception. Weapons on the outside include Josh Dunn, Dom Bustamente and Trent Finnegan. Dunn leads the team with 19 catches and six touchdowns and averages over 20 yards a catch. Bustamente and Finnegan each have 17 receptions with one score apiece.
Hall Edmonds paces the ground game with 426 yards while Lacrue has added five scoring runs. Edmonds (49) is also the top tackler and has 21 more stops than any teammate. The Eagles have just seven turnovers in five games with Blake Naranjo recording both a fumble recovery and interception.
Loveland’s attack is run-oriented. They average 356 yards per game and have totaled 27 of their 36 touchdowns in that manner. Zack Ratowsky, with 860 yards and 13 TD’s, is the number one option with QB Garrett Harstad next in line with 517 yards and nine scores. Joe Killian (320) and Tyson Williams (267) add another 587 yards and have combined for five touchdowns.
Loomis and Williams each have three interceptions for a Loveland defense that has 16 takeaways in just six games. Loomis also tops the defense with 69 tackles and Jadyn Tafoya is next with 49. Both have seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Combined the Indians (51-30) and Eagles (42-35-1) have earned 93 playoff wins. Broomfield has three state crowns and Loveland seven. The Indians won the most recent title; producing a perfect and dominating 14-0 run in 2018. They’ve faced off eight times with each program grabbing four wins. The last meeting came in the 2017 quarterfinals with Broomfield scoring a narrow 28-27 decision. The series dates back to 1978 but no team has won two straight against the other in the playoffs.
#2 Palmer Ridge (4-0) vs #7 Pine Creek (2-2)
Because of recent success, proximity and now playing in the same classification, this game will continue the developing rivalry between the Bears and Eagles. Palmer Ridge won the last three state championships in Class 3A before bumping up a division this year. Pine Creek is the defending 4A champion and has captured four titles since 2013.
Both teams missed two weeks of the season while battling COVID. Pine Creek’s absence came at the start of the year while Palmer Ridge has not played since rallying past Montrose (42-20) in week four. In that game, they trailed 20-7 at halftime before exploding for 28 points in the third quarter. Pine Creek opened 2-0 but closed the year with narrow losses to 5A playoff qualifiers Legend (21-20) and Regis (17-14).
The teams matched up in the regular season last year with Pine Creek cruising to a 49-28 decision. They led 35-7 at intermission. The Eagles though graduated most of their lineup from that game with Beau Freyler the most notable returnee. He picked up seven tackles and classmate Gavin Whetzal added three. Whetzal is the top tackler this year (35) while Freyler is the top rusher (339 yards) and receiver (13 catches).
Palmer Ridge has a longer list of returnees from last year’s game including QB Luke McAllister and receivers Kaden Dudley and Marcellus Reed. McAllister has totaled 1,070 yards and 16 TD’s in four games this year; he threw for 332 yards and three TD’s against Pine Creek last year. Dudley has 18 receptions this year and latched onto two passes for 42 yards vs Pine Creek a year ago. Reed also had two catches in last year’s matchup and has 10 receptions including three touchdowns in 2020.
Other players to watch for Palmer Ridge are receivers Anthony Costanzo (11-211-6) and Cameron Jones (10-238-5) and defenders Kelenn O’Connor (32 tackles) and Saxon Wright (31). Wright had 18 stops versus Pine Creek last year and O’Connor 10.
For Pine Creek, QB Josiah Roy has 538 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Alex Nelson has caught two touchdown passes and Brett Alvey has earned 30 tackles. Overall, the Eagles have produced just three turnovers in four games.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: Palmer Ridge has won 12 straight playoff games and is 13-4 in the postseason overall. The Bears are making their second 4A appearance as they also qualified in 2015. That year, they beat Dakota Ridge 39-21 in the opening round before falling to Windsor 20-14 in the state quarterfinals. The Eagles are 12-3 in the playoffs since the start of the 2016 season and 31-12 overall. They beat Broomfield 34-3 for the title last year and also flew past the Eagles 36-14 for the 2016 crown. Other championship trophies were lifted in 2013 and 2014. This is the first playoff meeting between the two.
#3 Ponderosa (6-0) vs #6 Fountain Fort Carson (5-1)
Statistics and data points indicate this could be a very good football game. Both teams have worked through tough schedules with Ponderosa outscoring the opposition 215-70 and Fountain Fort Carson by the margin of 243-83. The Mustangs finished off their perfect regular season with a 40-13 win over Longmont and also picked up quality victories against Fruita Monument (28-21) and Montrose (21-14) during the run. Fountain Fort Carson lost to Rampart (17-14) in week five but had the very rare chance to avenge that loss in the regular season and did so one week later; dumping the Rams 33-17.
Q Jones is the focus of the Fountain Fort Carson as the senior has generated 1,395 yards and 16 touchdowns in just six games. He’s been above 160 yards in each game and went for 313 against Vista Ridge and 294 versus Pueblo West. He’s been limited to just one touchdown in the last two games.
Tai Faavae, with 267 yards and three touchdowns, adds some depth to the Fountain Fort Carson run game and also leas the team with 41 tackles. Nick Neely is next with 29. Against Ponderosa, pass defense will be important and the Trojans stack up well with 28 sacks and nine interceptions. Those interceptions have come from just three players; Curtis Jackson has four, Tashon Smith three and Faavae two.
QB Jack Hanenburg directs the Ponderosa offense and he’s had a very efficient season. Completing 64 percent of his attempts, the senior has totaled 1,078 yards passing with 11 TD’s. He’s also reached the end zone nine times on the ground. Kolton Miller and Carter Motichka are the top receivers and both average over 21 yards per catch. They’ve combined for 34 receptions and 730 yards. Cael Porter, with 578 yards and four touchdowns, anchors the running attack.
On defense, the Mustangs have also been good at taking the ball away. They have 14 turnovers including three interceptions from Miller and two apiece from Jack Ward and Brendyn Herrick. Noah Randall has also picked up two fumbles. Porter, with 71, and Brady Porter with 44, are the top two tacklers.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: This is the first ever playoff meeting between the Mustangs and Trojans. Ponderosa is in the bracket for an 8th straight season and last reached the semifinals in 2018. Their only state championship came in 2003 (beat Overland 30-12). They’ve won three of their last four first round games and are 16-23 overall in the playoffs. Fountain Fort Carson has dropped six straight postseason contests. Their last win came in 2014 when they toppled Rocky Mountain 21-7. The Trojans are 23-31 in their playoff history and made the finals twice but have yet to claim a state championship.