After an initial glitch in the system caused a bracket without one of the top seeds led to an extra hour of angst, the final release had a field that many had expected following the results of last weekend’s games. Fleming, the defending state champions, are the top overall seed, with plenty of firepower trying to dethrone the Wildcats. PHOTO BY THE PRAIRIE POST
The following preview is in bracket order. Three of the four games will be played on Saturday at 1:00pm with the exception of Prairie and Cheyenne Wells which has been bumped to Friday at 1:00pm.
#1 FLEMING WILDCATS (5-0) VS #8 KIT CARSON WILDCATS (3-1)
As mentioned above, Fleming enters the bracket as the defending champions. If they can win the title this year, they would become the first team to repeat since they did it in 2011 and 2012. They would also become the fifth program to do it since 2000. Idalia owns the other three occurrences. The Wildcats had allowed a total of 39 points in their first four games, but had to win a shootout with Granada, 49-44, last week. They scored the winning touchdown inside the final minute.
With the graduation of 2019 Player of the Year, Brandon Williams, it was expected that more of the offense would be placed upon the right arm of four-year starting quarterback Kade Comstock. However, because of the development of Charles Hobbs and Nolan Japp in the running game, Comstock has only attempted 35 passes all season. Japp leads the team with 318 yards on the ground, followed by Hobbs with 273, and Chris Goss with 211. The trio has scored 17 touchdowns between them.
Goss is the top defender for coach John King, posting 59 tackles. Brady Kuntz has a team-leading six sacks, and Joel Muller has registered four takeaways, three on fumble recoveries. Kuntz also has three kick returns for touchdowns on the season, giving him 11 in his career. That is tops all-time in state history.
Beginning the season with a roster short on numbers, Kit Carson was bitten by the injury bug midway through the shortened schedule and had to miss two games. That left the Wildcats needing to get on the field last week against Hi-Plains to even be eligible for the postseason. They did so, and behind four total touchdowns from Sullivan Farmer, they took care of the portion of their fate that they could control by winning 40-20. They then had to get some help to get into the bracket. That help would come in the form of upsets by Branson/Kim and Sierra Grande over Cheraw and Mountain Valley, respectively.
This sets up a rematch of last year’s semifinal game, won by Fleming 68-52. That game was much closer than the final score would indicate, but neither team looks much like they did a year ago. Because of injury, Kit Carson turned to freshman Keaton Marriott to make his first start at QB last week. He responded by tossing a pair of touchdowns. Much of the offense runs through Farmer, who also handles the place kicking. Defensively, the Wildcats front line that includes sophomores Alex Mitchek, Paul Mitchek, and Alex Arroyo, funnels a lot of the action toward Farmer and Danial Arnold.
#4 GRANADA BOBCATS (5-1) VS #5 EADS EAGLES (3-2)
Granada actually benefited from the loss to Fleming, as that game improved their standing in all three computer driven metrics. It also earned more support for the Bobcats in the coaches poll. All of that resulted in the Bobcats being at home in the first round, rather than having to travel. Sophomore running back John Hainer had a career day in that defeat, rushing for 219 yards and four scores, and adding 62 yards and another TD as a receiver. The 255-pounder showed off more than just size and power, but also more agility than one might expect.
While he was somewhat held in check during last week’s game, junior QB Dominic Coleman is a key reason whey the Bobcats won the Southeast Division this season. He enters the postseason with 1137 yards through the air and 518 on the ground. He’s thrown 25 touchdowns against one interception, and rushed for nine more scores. Hainer is one of his top targets, along with Ivan Yanez and Lupe Martinez. Bailey Hernandez (42), Martinez (41), Hainer (40), and Coleman (37) are within five tackles of each other on the season. Coleman has recorded five takeaways, while freshman Jonus Guevara has four.
In a normal year, Eads and Granada would have hooked up in league play, but with a shuffling of leagues this season, Eads ended up in the stacked East Division. COVID concerns kept the Eagles off the field last week, giving them an extra week to rehash their loss to Cheyenne Wells two weeks ago. Damien Barnes, the classifications leading rusher, went down on the second offensive series of that game with a hamstring injury.
Despite basically only playing four games, Barnes has 801 yards on his season tally, with a classification topping 16 touchdowns. He’s also thrown for 237 yards, and caught five passes for another 94. Freshman Porter Spady ran for 407 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season, while leading the defense with 42 tackles, and was 21 for 28 on PAT kicks. Half of Cade McDowell’s eight completions went for touchdowns.
Granada won a wild 54-46 contest against the Eagles last season. Coleman threw for 88 yards and two TDs, and ran for 186 yards and one more touchdown, and Hainer reached the end zone four times for the Bobcats. Barnes tallied 154 yards and two touchdowns rushing, 48 yards and one TD receiving, and 20 yards passing with two TDs.
#2 STRATTON/LIBERTY KNIGHTED EAGLES (4-0) VS #7 BRIGGSDALE FALCONS (3-1)
Many of the anxious moments on Sunday centered around the Knighted Eagles, as they had not been included in the first bracket release. This was due to a forfeit victory over Hi-Plains not being counted in their game total, leaving them with just three. A quick recalculation put the Knighted Eagles in as the #2 seed, as they seek to reach the finals four a fourth consecutive year. Stratton/Liberty finished second in 2017 and 2019, and won the crown in 2018.
They have been without the services of preseason Player of the Year candidate Jaret Lichty since early in week two. Lichty suffered a broken elbow midway through the first quarter of a win over Eads, and has been out following a surgery to fix that injury. In his stead, Alex Cruz and Charlie Clapper have really upped their efforts in the running game. In three games, Cruz recorded 357 yards and five touchdowns, and Clapper added 255 yards and four scores. Freshman Cyler Notter carried the ball eight times for 132 yards and four scores. Fellow freshman Charlie Tagtmeyer assumed the QB duties this season and completed 64.3% of his passes, with four TDs.
Like many teams, Briggsdale went into the final week having to get on the field in order to be postseason eligible. The Falcons had two games lost to the COVID issues that caused a lot of games to be canceled across the state. They would have to play in a blizzard at North Park last Saturday to get that required game, and the Falcons came away with a 46-12 win.
Malik Carlson is one of the most talented athletes in the classification and the junior has done a bit of everything for the Falcons this season. He has a team-high 464 yards rushing, while adding 187 receiving and 118 passing. He’s had a hand in 16 touchdowns. Classmate Braden Krise has thrown for 618 yards and 11 touchdowns, with only one interception, and is second on the team with 138 rushing yards. Tanner Fiscus has added 132 on the ground. Fiscus also leads the defense with 40 tackles, while Isaih Nava has three of the team’s four interceptions.
This is just the second meeting between the two programs, with the first coming in the opening round of the 2017 postseason. Stratton/Liberty won that contest 52-6.
#3 CHEYENNE WELLS TIGERS (5-0) VS #6 PRAIRIE MUSTANGS (5-1)
For a few brief moments on Sunday, it looked as if Cheyenne Wells might be seeded one spot higher than their official placing of third. However, the Tigers will be at home for their contest with Prairie, the second place team out of the north. Cheyenne Wells was slated to host Stratton/Liberty last weekend, giving the East Division a true champion, and fans one of the most anticipated games of the year. Instead, that game was scrubbed because of COVID concerns around Stratton, and Cheyenne Wells was unable to find another opponent.
On the field, the Tigers have been one of the more impressive teams this season. That has been a bit shocking after losing Quade Pelton to graduation and not having Cade Mitchek available this season due to offseason shoulder surgery. In stepped Evan Worley, who’s rushed for 667 yards and 12 touchdowns, and has led the defense with 49 tackles. His six sacks are second to Dillon Ball’s eight. Ball is the leading receiver with 12 catches for 259 yards and four touchdowns. Most of his production has come off throws from Preston Hernandez (335 yards, seven TDs) and Ty Scheler (132 yards, two TDs). Taking some of the load off the shoulders of Worley in the running game has been Rogelio Rangel, who posted 198 yards and six scores in three games.
Despite a very impressive 67-14 win over Peetz in the regular season finale, Prairie slid from what was originally a home game as the #4 seed, to a road contest as the #6, because of Granada’s close loss to Fleming. Prairie’s lone blemish is a 32-8 loss to Fleming, that saw all of the scoring coming after the intermission. The Mustangs have dealt with a slew of injuries throughout the season, including to top running back Arek Wulf, along with key contributors Maverik Mertens and Levi Troudt. Those were three of the team’s top four running backs to start the season. Coach Justin Kerns is hoping to have at least two, if not all three, healthy this week.
With those three missing a great deal of time, Claytin Hove has been asked to pick up the slack in the ground attack. His 477 yards are second to Wulf (504) and his nine touchdowns lead the team. Wulf has seven. Coming into the season, one of the main questions surrounding the aspirations of the Mustangs was at quarterback, where junior Andy Long was set to step into the role. All he has done is complete 60% of his passes for just under 1100 yards, with 19 touchdowns. David Speicher is his chief target, with the junior hauling in 16 balls for 526 yards and 12 TDs. Sophomore Parker Jaeger leads the defense with 57 tackles.
This will be the first meeting between the two programs.