Two games will decide next week’s matchup for the Class 4A state football title. Dakota Ridge will take on Loveland and Palmer Ridge heads to Fountain-Fort Carson as those teams will clash for the right to play one more week and do so on at the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl at Colorado State University-Pueblo. PHOTO BY LANCE WENDT
With these logically being the four best teams remaining, no win will come easy and a lot will go into determining which teams will live to fight another day.
Loveland vs. Dakota Ridge (at Englewood HS), 1 p.m.
For the bulk of the season, Dakota Ridge has claimed the No. 1 ranking in the CHSAANow.com coaches poll. It was no surprise when the playoff bracket was released that the Eagles (7-0 overall) claimed the top overall seed. In six regular season games, they scored no fewer than 42 points and never gave up more than 14.
Those numbers were child’s play considering what Dakota Ridge did to open the 4A playoffs. The offense was more than efficient, scoring 10 total touchdowns to get a 76-34 win over No. 8 Montrose. Ben Gultig provided balance to that offense by throwing for 210 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 101 yards and one touchdown. Noah Triplett also had a major impact, rushing for 93 yards and three of the team’s seven total rushing touchdowns.
The running game will work for both squads as Loveland has made no bones about their ability to control the game on the ground. The team rushed for an average of almost 300 yards per game and has attempted just 48 passes all season. Zack Rakowsy leads the way with 1,043 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year.
Loveland’s 28-7 win over last year’s runner-up, Broomfield, was also powered by the defense. Joe Killian’s lone interception of the year came in that game and he returned it for a touchdown, a highlight play that made the rounds on social media. In all, Loveland (7-0) forced four Broomfield turnovers and that number will likely have to carry over to give the team a shot at slowing down one of the state’s most prolific offenses.
Loveland and Dakota Ridge are not familiar to each other as there is no record of the teams meeting dating back to at least 2004. Saturday’s semifinal game between the two will kick off at 1 p.m. at Englewood High School. Dakota Ridge will serve as the home team but the game wil be played on neutral turf.
Palmer Ridge at Fountain-Fort Carson, 1 p.m.
Even after moving up the 4A level this season, Palmer Ridge hasn’t lost any of the luster that led the program to three consecutive 3A championships. The Bears (5-0) ran the table in the regular season and outscored their opponents 188-27. Colorado State commit Luke McAllister has his fair share of targets to throw at as Kaden Dudley, Anthony Costanzo and Marcellus Reed have all proven to be collegiate-level players.
Palmer Ridge opened the 2020 playoffs with a 26-7 win over Pine Creek, getting a win over the Eagles after losses in the previous two years. McAllister threw for 367 yards and five touchdowns. Reed was the primary receiving target, catching six passes for 187 yards and four of McAllister’s five touchdowns.
This wasn’t the first time that McAllister and one of his receivers were in sync in a big game. Earlier in the season it was Dudley making key catches which helped the Bears battle back from an early deficit against Montrose.
“Kids get in the flow and get a hot hand and you have to ride that sometimes,” coach Tom Pulford said after the win against Montrose.
Pulford hopes that the quarterback can keep a hot hand and the Bears can make their way to CSU-Pueblo for the third straight season.
Standing in the way is a major speed bump. In its first year in 4A, Fountain-Fort Carson has looked the part of a formidable foe to anyone daring to step on the field. The Trojans are riding the legs of standout back Q. Jones who rushed for over 330 yards and scored three touchdowns to help the Trojans (6-1) beat Ponderosa 41-28 in the quarterfinals last week.
In his first six games of the year, Jones rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns leaving no doubt that he is one of the top backs in the state.
If he can rush for his season average of 230 yards, there is no limit on how high this team can go in the playoffs.
“It can take us really far,” coach Jake Novotny said. “He’s been doing this his entire high school career and it’s a shame he doesn’t have a Division I offer yet.”
Jones will take the field against a Palmer Ridge team that is loaded with D-1 talent itself so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some offers rolling in after Jones shows that he is every bit on their level.
Palmer Ridge and FFC will kick at 1 p.m. at Fountain-Fort Carson High School.