It took three weeks and dozens of games before a top-heavy Class 5A finally turned in a result that could be discussed as the first, legitimate eyebrow-raiser of 2018.
ThunderRidge 28, Fairview 24 certainly qualifies. No, it wasn’t power vs. power, but a more-intriguing Grizzlies team in Highlands Ranch probably earning second-year coach Doug Nisenson a signature victory against a Knights program that has been a constant in the upper mix with a 44-5 regular-season stretch.
“It was awesome and I’m really proud of the kids,” Nisenson said, and not just in passing. ThunderRidge was down 24-7 in the second quarter “and to come back on a team like that and step up against a quarterback like that, it was a big-time win,” he added.
Furthermore, the Grizzlies turned in a huge stand, stopping Fairview near the goal line and with less than 3 minutes to play. Senior linebacker Cy Paul made the strip as well as the fumble recovery, and ThunderRidge, which has matched its 2017 victory total, ground out a first down to continue as one of 10 remaining big schools entering Week 4 with 3-0 marks.
Hit for 379 yards passing by Fairview junior Aidan Atkinson, ThunderRidge didn’t blink and scored the game’s final 21 points. Nisenson, who also had stints in North Carolina and Arizona before joining ThunderRidge in 2013, said the objective “was to take away the big play” on defense with the likes of Sam Motzkas (two sacks). Its offense mostly involved the strong numbers of senior quarterback Ryan Gilmore (three touchdown passes on just six completions; 175 yards rushing), Ethan Frasier (two TD catches) and Spencer Lambert (81 yards rushing, one TD).
A very proud ThunderRidge ruled 4A before moving up in 2008 (it’s 76-40 since joining 5A) and Nisenson is aware of program history, if many others today aren’t.
“This generation hasn’t seen the dominance of the previous ThunderRidge,” he said.
The attempt to give it something similar to watch and experience will continue this week, when the Grizzlies, whose next five foes have less-than-.500 marks, will host Thornton’s Horizon on Thursday, 7 p.m., at Shea Stadium.
The fourth nonleague week also includes the following matchups marked below for your viewing pleasure:
Best bets …
Cherry Creek (3-0) vs. Pomona (2-1), Thursday, 7 p.m., NAAC
Very odd that a matchup of this caliber is to be played on a Thursday, but this is what happens when the Denver area almost exclusively shares stadiums. … Cherry Creek was quite impressive the past week, ripping on Mullen 35-8. In particular, the Bruins lines were stout and the defense permitted only 167 yards. … Plus, QB Alex Padilla and WR Marcus Miller played a lot of pitch and catch – Padilla was a crack 26-of-34 for 287 yards and three TDs, and Miller had 11 catches for 147 yards and two of the TDs. … As for Pomona, it met Valor Christian again and surrendered only 191 yards, but gave up a fourth-quarter TD and fell 14-6. … The Panthers moved regularly against the Eagles, piling up 332 yards rushing (RB Theorius Robison had 219 and QB Colten Muller 110), but managed only a Muller-to-David Ross TD toss in the opening quarter.
Pine Creek (3-0) at Valor Christian (3-0), Friday, 7 p.m., Valor Christian
There are those who think the 4A Eagles and 5A Eagles should have been meeting regularly. And they could be correct. The last time they did match up was in the 2011 4A title game, won by Valor 66-10, which retains a spot in in-state postseason annals. It was Valor’s final 4A appearance. The other was in the 2010 4A quarterfinals, again won by Valor, 41-16. … Pine Creek’s mark to date includes a road victory at Rio Rancho, N.M., by 45-23. … Junior RB David Moore III has 501 yards rushing for four TDs as well as 4,032 yards and 45 TDs in his career. … Of course, Valor was pressed by Pomona last week, but new coach Ed McCaffrey got through his first in-state test versus local elite. … Senior Luke McCaffrey was only 11-of-27 for 130 yards last week, but threw for two TDs.
Regis Jesuit (1-2) at Mullen (2-1), Friday, 7 p.m., Brother Bernard Kinneavy Field at de La Salle Stadium
Just mentioning Regis Jesuit-Mullen oozes the term rivalry, a parochial battle across the board for decades. … Not surprisingly, they have split the past four meetings and there were two close ones a year ago. Mullen rallied late in the third game of the regular season to take a road thriller, 40-39, for a prominent entry into the series history before the host Raiders gutted out a 17-10 squeaker in the first round of the playoffs. … Senior RB Kiahn Martinez leads the younger, inexperienced Raiders with 282 yards rushing and the team’s only four TDs on the ground. … Mustangs junior RB Damien Cearns has rushed for at least one TD in all three games and has five on the season. … Senior Wilson Bialecki has been in on 34 tackles.
Columbine (3-0) vs. Highlands Ranch (1-2), Friday, 7 p.m., Shea Stadium
These two don’t see that much of each other despite being in the southern area, but Columbine has won three meetings over seven years, including last year’s 45-14 thumping. … Not surprisingly, the Rushing Rebels have rolled to 814 yards rushing, topped by junior Tanner Hollins’ 336 for a team-high four TDs. … Columbine’s 22 points permitted ranks it third in 5A. … Next week, the Rebels will wrap up nonleague interestingly – they will host Olathe, Kan. … Last week’s 20-17 victory in OT was the first for new Falcons head coach John Trahan. … The nonleague schedule turns very ambitious in Weeks 4 and 5 for Highlands Ranch, which will host Columbine and be at Pomona, respectively.
Fountain-Fort Carson (1-2) vs. Grandview (3-0), Saturday, 1 p.m., Legacy Stadium
Defense, or rather the lack of it, has been a problem for the usually gritty Trojans. They have been hit for 104 points over the past eight quarters and their 118 permitted has them fifth from the bottom of 5A. … FFC and Grandview have played twice since 2012 with the Wolves winning both games, both in the playoffs. … Wolves senior Jordan Billingsley has team highs of 541 yards rushing and five TDs. … Sophomore QB Jacob Burr has been efficient with 16 completions in 27 attempts and 251 yards, a 15.3 average. His primary target has been champion basketballer Dayne Prim, who has seven receptions for 134 yards and the team’s three TDs through the air.
Also keep an eye on …
Ralston Valley (3-0) vs. Loveland (2-0), Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
The Jeffco Mustangs and senior Brad Roberts (208 yards rushing on only 12 carries for five TDs) will get a road taste of 4A against the Indians.
Poudre (1-2) vs. Cherokee Trail (3-0), Friday, 7 p.m., Legacy Stadium
Senior QB Grant Ciccarone (eight TD passes) and the Cougars can equal the past season‘s victory total if they handle the visiting Impalas of Fort Collins.
Prairie View (0-3) vs. Smoky Hill (3-0), Friday, 7 p.m., Stutler Bowl
Yes, we know the hosts aren’t playing the likes of Alabama or any program close, but Obasanjo Sanni (552 yards rushing, four TDs) and Smoky Hill are nearing their first winning season since a guy named George H.W. Bush was in his second year as U.S. President.
Eaglecrest (3-0) vs. Legacy (0-3), Friday, 7 p.m., Adams 12 North Stadium
QB Dylan James has rushed for eight TDs, thrown for two more and the visiting Raptors have won 23 regular-season games in succession. They also lead 5A in scoring (50.0 points per game).
Wheat Ridge (1-1) vs. Arvada West (3-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m., NAAC
Former Wildcats star, NFL player and current head coach Brad Pyatt clearly has A-West going in the right direction. And senior QB Johnny Krutsch has 11 TD tosses and only one interception. It’s also an all-Jeffco meeting.
Boulder (2-1) vs. Denver East (2-1), Saturday, 2 p.m., All-City Stadium
Not to be smart, but who had either program – let alone both – off to winning starts? Thought so … a couple of programs hungry for victory will fight to move to 3-1, which is going to be a big boost.