Nine weeks of regular season competition has whittled the field from 31 teams down to 16. After this weekendâ€™s opening round of the six-man playoffs, that number will be cut in half. The following preview is in bracket order.
#1 STRATTON/LIBERTY (8-0) VS #16 BRIGGSDALE (4-4) 7PM FRIDAY
Stratton/Liberty, champion of the East Central, scored at least 51 points in all but one game this season. In that lone exception, the Knighted Eagles led 47-0 in the third and did not score again. Prior to last weekâ€™s game against Flagler, Stratton/Liberty had allowed 14 points or fewer in every game. The Panthers scored 40 against the Knighted Eagles, but it wasnâ€™t enough.
Jacob McCormick leads a high-powered rushing attack with 1353 yards and 24 touchdowns on only 100 carries. The team averages close to 340 yards on the ground and has scored 46 TDs. When they do put the ball in the air, Tyson Lichty has completed 47.8% of his passes for 343 yards and has thrown 11 touchdowns against only one interception. His younger brother, Jaret, has caught nine balls for 162 yards and six TDs. Defensively, seven players have recorded at least 45 tackles, led by Eltan Yarger with 81. Phillip Pickard has nine of the teamâ€™s 14 sacks, and the Lichty brothers each have four interceptions.
Briggsdale enters the playoffs with a 0-4 record against teams in the field. All four of those losses came to fellow North Division opponents. The Falcons finished fifth in the division, but the strength of that division helped them make the final 16 in the RPI. They scored at least 58 points in three of their four wins, but only scored a total of 58 points in their four losses.
No Falcon has rushed for more than 600 yards, but five have gained at least 200. True Miller leads that group with 562 yards, followed closely by Luke Stewart with 545. Both have a team-high six TDs. Ty Blickem is the leading passes with 562 yards and 12 touchdowns, with Jordan Hale being his top target. Hale has 15 catches for 199 yards. Toby Cockerham leads the defense with 88 tackles, and Vincent Bauer has seven of that unitâ€™s 11 interceptions.
#8 GENOA-HUGO (6-2) VS #9 OTIS (7-1) 2PM SATURDAY
Genoa-Hugo enters the playoffs winner of five straight and champion of the Central Division. The Pirates went 3-2 against playoff teams, with two of the wins against fellow Central foes Hanover and Edison. The other came against Eads, while the losses were to Stratton/Liberty and Kit Carson. The Pirates were outscored 103-48 in those two losses. In their six wins, they scored 64, 59, 65, 73, 58 and 66 points.
Caid Smith leads the team in passing, rushing, tackles, interceptions and all-purpose yards. The senior has 900 yards and 14 TDs on the ground, 862 yards and 13 touchdowns passing, 114 tackles, four interceptions, and 1623 all-purpose yards. Nicholas Knutson has added 536 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing, 26 catches for 615 yards and nine TDs and 81 tackles.
Otis started the season 6-0, but lost to Stratton/Liberty in week seven. The Bulldogs bounced back to down Arickaree/Woodlin last week, 55-23. They faced three playoff teams during the regular season, going 2-1. The wins were against Eads (54-14) and Edison (55-0). The Bulldogs finished second in the East Central.
Bryce Miracle has rushed for 1181 yards and 25 scores on 60 carries, averaging almost 20 yards per attempt, and heâ€™s the leading receiver with nine catches for 212 yards. Tate Goble has been a solid second option on the ground, gaining 469 yards with 12 touchdowns on 36 carries. Ty Hunt is the top passer with 565 yards and eight touchdowns. Six Bulldogs have recorded at least 67 tackles, led by Tyler Thorn with 92. Goble (87) and Miracle (82) are second and third on the squad.
#4 CHEYENNE WELLS (7-1) VS #13 HANOVER (5-3) 1PM SATURDAY
After finishing second in the state last year, Cheyenne Wells shot out of the gates with wins in its first five games this season. The Tigers saw that streak snapped by Stratton/Liberty (53-6), but they went on to win the Southeast Division title. They won their other two games against playoff teams, taking a 14-6 victory over Kit Carson and a 51-12 win against Eads.
Wyatt Fishler leads the rushing attack with 777 yards and nine touchdowns, and heâ€™s a perfect 10 for 10 passing for another 100 yards. His 14 receptions and 185 yards are second on the team behind Beau Rothâ€™s 22 catches and 387 yards. Roth also leads the team with seven receiving touchdowns. Noah Scheimer has 13 receptions for 175 yards and five scores. Quade Pelton is the teamâ€™s leading passer with 709 yards and a dozen TDs, and heâ€™s rushed for 260 yards with seven scores. Jade Cozart has added 300 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Most of those same names show up atop the defensive stats, with Pelton posting a team-high 83 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Cozart has six sacks and four fumble recoveries, while Fishler leads with four interceptions.
Hanover is in the postseason for the fifth time in the past six seasons under Luke Decker. Some of those were the crossover round that CHSAA did not officially classify as playoffs, but they served as the opening round of postseason play. The Hornets finished second in the East Central behind Genoa-Hugo, as they lost to the Pirates 59-27 in mid-September. That was one of three losses to playoff teams. The other two were to Cotopaxi (57-6) and North Park (49-12). The Hornets did earn a win over Edison (41-36) who is also in the playoffs.
The Hornets have not reported all stats, but in the games accounted for, Dorian Pillsbury has been the leading rusher with 493 yards in six contests. With seven games under his belt, Cody White was leading the team with 598 passing yards. A large portion of those were to Isaia Jarvis, who had 25 catches, 314 yards, and seven touchdowns. Andrew Morris led the team with 56 tackles through six games, and White had 53 tackles in seven contests.
#5 NORTH PARK (5-2) VS #12 SIERRA GRANDE (6-2) 1PM SATURDAY
North Park made waves all the way back in zero week when the Wildcats knocked off Fleming, 31-25, scoring in the closing seconds for the upset. That win propelled them to a third place finish in the North Division, as their only losses of the season came to Peetz (63-13) and Prairie (52-12) who finished ahead of them in the division. Overall, six of their seven opponents made the postseason. The Wildcats picked up wins over La Veta (41-36), Briggsdale (47-42) and Hanover (49-12), as well as the victory over Fleming. This is the third time in four seasons under Chad Carlstrom that North Park has reached the postseason.
Blayden Fletcher is the workhorse back for the Wildcats. His 124 carries are 75 more than anyone else, and the rest of the squad has only combined for 79 attempts. Fletcher has gained 882 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. Nic Martin is second with 454 yards and five TDs. The bulk of the aerial attack is covered by a set of cousins. Austin Bertron has completed 28 passes for 591 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Bryce Carlstrom has caught 25 passes for 559 yards and 11 scores. Those same four players lead the defense. Martin is tops with 62 tackles, followed by Fletcher (50), Carlstrom (48) and Bertron (47).
Bringing back a fairly inexperienced squad, Sierra Grande was not on many radars at the beginning of the season. Five weeks in, the Panthers were 5-0 and facing La Veta for a shot at the Southwest Division crown. They would lose that game and the regular season finale to Cotopaxi to finish third in the division, but they had done enough work early in the campaign to reach the postseason. They did not win a game against a playoff team, but scored at least 60 points in five of their six wins this season.
Dakota Aragon and Caleb Scharsch proved to be a solid 1-2 punch in the running game, as the duo combined for over 1600 yards and 27 touchdowns. The senior, Aragon, tallied 826 yards and 11 scores, while the freshman, Scharsch, added 776 yards and 16 TDs. Arthur Rodriguez, a standout basketball player for the Panthers, threw for 675 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also led the defense with 74 tackles, one more than freshman Christian Decamelano. Raulito Minchaca recorded a team-high seven sacks during the regular season.
#3 PEETZ (6-1) VS #14 EADS (5-3) 1PM SATURDAY
For the fourth time in the last five seasons, Peetz and Eads will meet in the playoffs. Eads won the first two meetings, but the Bulldogs knocked the Eagles out in the first round last season. Peetz nearly had a perfect regular season, but a score by Prairie in the final seconds of their game on Oct. 6 resulted in a 44-41 loss for the Bulldogs. That gave them a second place finish in the North Division. Their body of work includes wins over three playoff teams. Those wins came against North Park, Briggsdale and Fleming, all in divisional play. The Bulldogs failed to score 40 points one time this year, and they won that game 39-26 at Fleming. Last week, they scored a season-high 74 against Weldon Valley.
Bryson Long leads a multifaceted attack with 703 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, and four of his six receptions this season have gone for scores. Jake Curlee and Hunter White each have five rushing touchdowns on a combined 36 attempts. Tre Fehringer leads the passing game with 658 yards and 17 touchdowns against zero interceptions. Logan Sircy is the main receiving threat, hauling in 19 passes for 584 yards and nine scores. Alex Curlee has only caught five passes, but four have been for touchdowns. White (58), Sircy (51) and Long (50) lead the team in tackles, but one player to watch on that unit is Helmuth Wenneker, who has recorded 38 tackles in the last three weeks.
Eads opened the season with a pair of losses against playoff qualifiers Otis and Eads before running off four straight wins to get into postseason contention. The Eagles faced two more qualifiers in the final two weeks of the season and dropped those games against Kit Carson and Cheyenne Wells, scoring a total of 19 points.
Damian Hernandez led the Eagles in rushing during the regular season with 575 yards and 10 TDs, and he averaged 27.5 yards on six receptions. Trevor Randel added 440 yards on the ground. Trey McDowell led the squad with 305 passing yards, just ahead of freshman Brigden Parker, who threw for 292. Parker also caught eight passes for 175 yards and three scores. McDowell and Randel were the leading tacklers with 59 and 50, respectively. Angel Medina snagged three interceptions and recovered three fumbles.
#6 LA VETA (7-1) VS #11 FLEMING (3-5) 1PM SATURDAY
Only a 41-36 loss at North Park midway through the season kept La Veta from posting an unbeaten regular season. The Redskins trailed 41-20 heading into the fourth quarter of that contest and made a fierce rally that came up just short. This marks the programâ€™s third straight year in the postseason and its resume was bolstered by the wins over Cotopaxi and Sierra Grande. That gave the Redskins a 2-1 record against playoff teams.
The Redskins are led by one of the more unheralded players in the classification, Eric Morgan. After throwing for 745 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior, Morgan has already added 1381 yards and 27 TDs to his career totals this season. His 562 yards rushing also lead the team in that category. Ty Warren is the top target, catching 36 passes for 580 yards and 10 scores, but Truckee White has been a very good secondary option. White enters this week with 18 catches, 333 yards and a team-leading 12 touchdowns. Warren is the leading tackler with 66, 15 for loss. Of those, seven are sacks. Morgan is second with 56 tackles and five sacks.
Fleming came into the season trying to fill several large holes left by graduation. After opening the year with the loss at North Park, coach John King made the decision to go with a freshman at quarterback and lean a bit more heavily on a power running game. Those decisions led to three wins over the next five weeks, with the two losses coming against highly ranked Nebraska teams. Right back in the mix for the North Division crown, the Wildcats pushed both Peetz and Prairie to the limit before falling in both contests.
Kolton Dickinson shouldered most of the heavy lifting for the Wildcats. Through the first six games of the season, the senior had one fewer carry than the rest of the team, combined. His 1179 yards at that point were 850 more than anyone else on the squad. Kade Comstock was completing over 63% of his passes for 373 yards and nine scores, with Matthew Tanner catching 13 balls for 191 yards and four touchdowns. Kobryn Mann was leading the team with 73 tackles, with sophomore Brandon Williams second at 61.
#7 KIT CARSON (7-1) VS #10 COTOPAXI (6-1)
After dropping its only game to Cheyenne Wells 14-6 in a game where both offenses struggled to find a rhythm, Kit Carson closed out the season with four straight wins. In the last three weeks, the Wildcats outscored their opponents 198-13. During the regular season, they would face three playoff qualifiers and post a 2-1 record in those games.
Five Wildcats recorded at least 26 carries this season and none had more than 60 attempts. Jayden McCombs-Farmer led the team with 496 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Chris Bryan added 319 yards and six scores. Cordell Farmer was one of two players with over 300 passing yards, racking up 442. TJ Conaway added 311 yards, and both threw for six TDs. Eight different Wildcats had a receiving touchdown during the regular season. Conaway (70) and Farmer (67) are the leading tacklers heading into the postseason.
Cotopaxi last missed the postseason in 2009 and the Pirates have posted a record of 50-18 since without having a losing season. The Pirates entered this season as one of the favorites in the Southwest and they lived up to the billing. Their lone loss came at La Veta (71-38) in late September, a game in which they allowed 575 yards of total offense. They responded by winning their last two games by a combined tally of 140-53.
The Pirates feature three main threats on the ground, led by Owen Voll (618 yards, 14 TD). Arlo Garner (578, 11 TD) and Kurt Voll (367, 4 TD) round out the backfield. Kurt Voll completes more than 57% of his passes, for 851 yards and 19 scores, to four solid targets. Owen Voll leads that group with 15 catches for 195 yards and six scores, followed by Frank Ogden with 14 catches for 320 yards and six scores. Garner and Steven Tunstall each have 10 receptions and both are over 160 yards on the season. Owen Voll leads the defense with 90 tackles, and Kurt Voll is next with 67.
#2 PRAIRIE (8-0) VS #15 EDISON (5-3) 1PM SATURDAY
No team came from as far out of the blue as did Prairie this year. Following a 1-6 season last year, one where they only had one loss by less than 38 points, the Mustangs won the North Division with an unbeaten regular season. Buoyed by four solid players from Pawnee, which dropped its program prior to the season, the returning Mustangs have held six of eight opponents to two scores or less this season. They are 4-0 against playoff teams, all are from the North. Included in that list is the 44-41 win over Peetz where the Mustangs scored with just a few ticks left to take the lead, and last weekâ€™s 32-30 victory at Fleming. In that contest, Prairie faced a decision with only three seconds left and trailing by four from the Fleming 10-yard line. Walter Jordan nailed the 27-yard field goal with no time left to preserve the perfect season.
Trenton Holzworth and Coltin Hove provide the Mustangs with a 1-2 punch in the ground game. Holzworth leads with 906 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Hove has added 606 yards and 12 scores. Holzworth is also the leading passer with 472 yards. Mitch Dollerschell has thrown for 308 yards, and the two have combined for 13 touchdowns against one interception. Hove is tops in terms of receiving yards with 231 on seven catches, but itâ€™s players from Pawnee who lead in receptions and touchdowns. Wyatt Schnug, all 6â€™4â€ and 285 pounds of him, has 12 receptions for 196 yards, and Devin Boling has snagged four TDs. The Mustangs have scored seven touchdowns on returns this season.
After co-oping with Hanover for the past four seasons, Edison was back on the field under its own name and colors this year. The Eagles were routinely in the postseason under Jeff Jordahl prior to that time where they were unable to field their own squad, and he has led them back there this season. They came out of the chute with three straight wins, outscoring those opponents 135-18, but they were brought back to Earth with three consecutive losses to playoff teams. Otis, Hanover and Genoa-Hugo outscored the Eagles by a combined tally of 155-48. Edison rallied from those losses to down Elbert and claim third place in the Central.
The Eagles have not reported any stats this season.