A total of 31 six-man teams began the season and that has been whittled down to two. A new champion will be crowned, as the two-time defending titlist, Fleming, was bounced in the quarterfinals. The top two seeds, Cheyenne Wells and Stratton, advanced through the 16 team bracket and they will square off on Friday at the Thunderbowl on the campus of CSU-Pueblo, with kick-off slated for 1pm.
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY JOHN SCHECTER & JENNIFER TAGTMEYER
Cheyenne Wells (12-0) quickly ascended to the top spot in the weekly coaches poll after the Tigers dominated previous #1 Granada 77-20 in week four. They never relinquished that spot and entered the postseason field as the top overall seed.
In the playoffs, Cheyenne Wells has mowed down Mountain Valley (73-14), Prairie (76-32), and Idalia (64-24). Heading into the championship contest, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 741-181, and have scored more than 60 points eight times. They held four opponents to single digits and three more to fewer than 20.
Offensively, the Tigers boast a 1000-yard passer in Blake Gilmore (49-73, 1028 yards, 16 TD, 0 INT), 1500-yard rusher in Cade Mitchek (120 carries, 1527 yards, 34 TD), and 500-yard receiver in Rogelio Rangel (24 receptions, 571 yards, eight TD). Evan Worley has added 528 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, and the Tigers have accumulated 2837 rushing yards and 71 touchdowns as a team.
Mitchek averages close to 225 all-purpose yards a game, adding 194 receiving, 226 on kick returns, 433 on punt returns, and 93 on interception returns to his impressive rushing tally. He has 43 total touchdowns on the season: 34 rushing, three receiving, three on punt returns, two on kick returns, and one on a pick-six. Rangel (18) and Worley (15) have combined for 33 total scores.
Worley leads the defense with 92 tackles and 18 sacks. That sack total is tops in six-man and fourth in the entire state, regardless of classification. Ty Scheler and Rangel are second and third in tackles on the team, with 74 and 70, respectively. Dillon Ball has nine sacks in his 51 total tackles, and Mitchek is one of four others on the team with two sacks.
The Tigers have recorded 35 takeaways on the year, with 17 coming on interceptions. Mitchek has seven of those picks, while Gilmore has four. Gilmore has also added two fumble recoveries, which is tied with Jesse Harlow for fourth on the team. Scheler has four, and Worley and Ball each have three. The unit has scored five times on returns.
Harlow has converted 57 of 76 PAT kicks on the year, and Scheler has been good on seven of 12 attempts. Eight different players have made at least one PAT kick. Cheyenne Wells has scored seven times on special teams, four on kick returns.
Stratton (11-1) suffered its lone loss of the season to Cheyenne Wells in week two, 52-37, but then went on an impressive run. Over the next nine games, the Eagles only allowed a total of 48 points, with five shutouts in that stretch, including four consecutive late in the regular season.
Their run through the postseason has included wins over Eads (73-8), Cheraw (62-0), and Granada (78-26). Overall, the Eagles have outscored the opposition 729-155. On top of the five shutouts, Stratton’s defense has held two opponents to single digits and two more to fewer than 20.
As has long been the case, the offense leans quite heavily on the run. The Eagles have collected 3449 rushing yards, compared to just 583 through the air. When they do decide to air it out, Charlie Tagtmeyer has completed 30 of 57 attempts for 566 yards, with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Cyler Notter is the big play receiver, recording 266 yards and five touchdowns on just eight receptions. Alex Cruz has added 187 yards and two scores on a team-leading 12 catches.
Charlie Clapper has been the workhorse in the backfield, racking up 1589 yards and 33 touchdowns on 118 carries. Cruz missed three games and still registered 516 yards and 12 scores. Two reserves are next on the list, with Stockton Fye (402 yards, nine TD) and Riley Shean (305 yards, seven TD) combining for more than 700 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Clapper has 34 total touchdowns on the year, with one coming on a reception. Notter has 17, eight coming on runs. He also has five receiving, and three on returns. Cruz is right on his heels with 15 total touchdowns. Fye and Shean have a total of 17, as Shean has a pick-six to his credit.
Stratton doesn’t have that one player with a huge tackle total, but eight have recorded at least 33, with Riggin Williams (66) leading the way. Notter (59) and Tagtmeyer (54) are the next two, and Joe Shean has 49. Clapper is just one back, rounding out the top five on the unit. Notter (11) and Cruz (8) have combined for 19 of the team’s 34 sacks. Joe Shean and Sigi Simental each have three.
The Eagles have recorded 32 takeaways, 22 on fumbles. Notter has four of those recoveries, to go with a pair of interceptions. His six total takeaways are tied with Tagtmeyer, who has three picks and three fumble recoveries. Stratton has scored six times on defense, three on interceptions and three on fumble returns. The Eagles also have four blocked punts, three by Notter.
With the dangerous return game of the Tigers, Braden Wedel becomes an even bigger weapon than normal. He’s recorded touchbacks on 53 of 79 kickoffs, and averages 48.2 yards per kick. He’s also converted 59 of 68 PAT kicks, and has a 43-yard field goal to his credit this season. Last week, he had his second career 9-9 PAT game.
In the regular season meeting between the two teams, Cheyenne Wells scored five times on plays that covered at least 53 yards. Four of those were by Mitchek, who racked up 330 all-purpose yards, including 191 on the ground. He scored six times in the game. Gilmore threw for a career-high 276 yards and three touchdowns, with Rangel hauling in five passes for 177 yards and a TD.
Tagtmeyer also went for a career-high in that contest, as the sophomore threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those were to Notter, covering 65 and 54 yards. The game was still in doubt, until Cheyenne Wells punched in a TD with less than a minute to go to secure the two score victory.
The Tigers are only playing in their second six-man title game, and just their fourth championship game in program history. They are 0-3 in previous appearances. The other six-man visit ended with a 66-44 loss to Flagler/Hi-Plains in 2016.
That was the last year without Stratton involved in the championship picture. As part of the co-op with Liberty, the program finished second to Peetz in 2017 (38-28), and Fleming in 2019 (28-27) and 2020 (60-28). They won it all in 2018, beating Kit Carson (57-18). The co-op also won the 2013 title, beating Hi-Plains 44-40. On their own, the Eagles have six titles in 10 appearances.