With the top two seeds in the bracket being upset in the semifinals, this week’s championship game features #9 Cheyenne Wells visiting #3 Hi-Plains. Neither finalist was ranked in the preseason polls, as they combined to receive just five points, but both quickly rose as the season progressed. Interestingly, the two squared off to get the season underway, and will finish the year with another chapter in the series.
Cheyenne Wells opened the season with a 60-34 defeat of Hi-Plains, who was without the services of Landon McCaffrey (knee injury). The Tigers outgained the Patriots 237-60 on the ground, with Jaime Huerta going for 111 yards and three scores. The senior would also throw for 161 yards and three more touchdowns. Huerta would add a defensive touchdown on a scoop-and-score.
The Tigers would post back-to-back shutouts in their next two contests, before falling in a tough game at Kit Carson, 22-14. That would be the first of three heartbreaking losses on the season for Cheyenne Wells. Two weeks later, they would watch a 41-8 lead at Stratton/Liberty dissolve and become a 49-41 loss. In the regular season finale, Eads outscored the Tigers 14-0 in the fourth quarter to claim a 36-34 victory.
Late game dramatics followed the Tigers into the play-offs, where they would get a second shot at Kit Carson. Cheyenne Wells built a 20-6 first quarter lead on the Wildcats, but the contest would come down to the closing seconds, where they pulled out a 56-50 win. Last week, after leading 20-8 at the break, the Tigers made sure there would be no late game collapse a second time against Stratton/Liberty, as they outscored the Knighted Eagles 44-22 in the second half.
Up to this point, Cheyenne Wells has outscored its opponents 505-233, utilizing a very balanced offense. The Tigers have thrown for 1881 yards and rushed for 1916. They have scored 34 touchdowns in each phase of the attack. Huerta leads the team with 1407 yards and 28 touchdowns passing, and 740 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Wyatt Fishler and Kendall Pelton have also been strong options on the offensive side of things. Fishler is second on the team with 579 rushing yards and 350 receiving yards. Pelton’s 609 yards receiving is tops, and he’s added 385 on the ground, with another 413 passing.
Defensively, Pelton leads the way with 87 tackles. Huerta is next at 73, and Beau Roth checks in with 65. Roth has recorded four of the Tigers’ 12 interceptions, and the defensive unit has registered 10 fumble recoveries and eleven different players have recorded at least one sack. The Tigers have scored five touchdowns on defense and special teams.
After the season-opening loss, Hi-Plains reeled off three straight victories, getting McCaffrey back for the last of those contests. In week five, the Patriots were outscored 56-43 by Kit Carson, dropping them to 3-2 on the campaign. They would respond by pounding Arickaree/Woodlin 82-16 the next week. That would start their current six-game winning streak, during which the Patriots have scored 367 points. Twenty teams failed to score that many points throughout the season.
Over the last two weeks, the Patriots have had to grind out wins against a pair of North Division foes, downing Pawnee 69-54 in the quarterfinals and squeezing past Fleming 38-32 in the semis. Last week, Hi-Plains held Fleming’s Alex Vandenbark to 38 yards rushing. Kolton Dickinson gashed them for over 200 yards. However, Cameron Klann went for 154 yards and three scores, and Riley Marzolf passed for two more.
Marzolf leads a potent passing attack with 1775 yards and 34 touchdowns. He threw for four touchdowns in a game six times this season. Klann is not only the top rusher for the Patriots with 1044 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he’s also the leading receiver. The senior from Flagler has 32 receptions for 595 yards and 16 scores. McCaffrey is second on the team in rushing (342 yards, 7 TD), receiving (25/488/12) and passing (172 yards, 3 TD). Sophomore Kyle Klann is tied with McCaffrey in receptions, and is second in yardage with 531.
No one on the team has found the ball carrier with more frequency than the younger Klann. His 110 total tackles leads the team by almost 30. James Bell is second with 82, and the elder Klann has 81 stops. Despite missing two games, Dustin Rico is fourth with 61 tackles and he leads the team with three forced fumbles. The defense has 30 takeaways, including 18 fumble recoveries. The Patriots have scored 12 touchdowns on defense and special teams, five by Cameron Klann.
Cheyenne Wells is looking fo its first championship in football, as the Tigers lost to Merino in the 8-man finals in 2003 (66-12) and to Haxtun in the 1A final in 1975 (12-6). Hi-Plains is 2-3 in title games, winning in 2004, beating Revere (35-22), and in 2008 against Idalia (75-24). The losses came to Arickaree (29-27) in 1987, Idalia (68-22) in 2009, and Stratton/Liberty (44-40) in 2013. Flagler is 2-6 in championship contests, winning 8-man titles in 1975 and 1976.