When the regular season began in late August, 30 programs had hopes and aspirations of winning a state title. That field has been reduced to two, and by the late afternoon on Saturday, one will have realized those dreams. Unbeaten Fleming will travel to Stratton for a 1pm kickoff.
FLEMING WILDCATS (12-0) AT STRATTON/LIBERTY KNIGHTED EAGLES (11-1)
Fleming entered the postseason as the number four seed, after claiming the North Division crown during the regular season. The Wildcats only had four games decided by fewer than 40 points during that run, and their closest contest was a 36-12 victory over North Park. Since beginning the playoffs, the Wildcats have routed Deer Trail (72-27) in the opening round and Prairie (66-6) in the quarterfinals.
Things were much tougher in last week’s semifinal contest at top-seeded Kit Carson. Fleming found itself in a 33-24 hole at the half, and a mini scoring barrage by Kit Carson had Fleming down 46-32 just a couple minutes into the third quarter. Fleming scored twice to send the game into the final frame with the two sets of Wildcats tied at 46. The momentum carried over into the fourth quarter, as the green and white clad Wildcats pulled out a 68-52 victory.
Brandon Williams, who enters the final game of the season with 1375 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground, led the way with 251 yards and five TDs last week. His 14 tackles on defense were second to Brady Kuntz, who finished the contest with 3.5 sacks, a fumble recovery, a blocked punt, and two blocked PATs. Chris Goss added a career-high three rushing touchdowns, and was the third Fleming defender in double figures with 10 tackles.
Kade Comstock heads into the championship contest needing 107 yards for his second straight 1000-yard season as a passer. The junior quarterback threw for 1178 yards last year, and is just under 2800 yards for his career. Twenty-two of his 55 career passing touchdowns have come this season. Eric Resendiz has developed a good chemistry with Comstock over the last two years. The senior end has 27 catches for 401 yards and 13 scores this season, and his totals over the last two seasons are 53/776/20. Goss, Williams, and Chris McAnally all have ten or more catches on the season.
Goss (466 yards, 10 TD) and Charles Hobbs (655 yards, 9 TD) have added more than 1100 rushing yards to the attack that has been spearheaded by Williams. As a team, the Wildcats have rushed for just over 3000 yards and 60 touchdowns.
Williams (125 tackles), Kuntz (108 tackles), and Goss (90 tackles) are the top three defenders for Fleming, and the duo of Williams and Kuntz have combined for 52 tackles for loss. Kuntz is the team-leader in sacks (9.0), and has blocked a total of six kicks. Resendiz leads the unit with six interceptions, while Comstock and Williams each have five. As a squad, the Wildcats have returned seven of their 41 takeaways for touchdowns, and they have 13 total non-offensive touchdowns. Kuntz has accounted for seven of those, five on kick returns.
The season got off to a bumpy start for Stratton/Liberty, who went into their opener without Jaret Lichty. The junior missed the contest against Kit Carson with a knee injury. While the rest of the squad picked up the slack in the first half of that game, things fell apart in the second half and the Knighted Eagles fell by a 48-14 count. Back at full strength, the Knighted Eagles started an 11-game winning streak the next week. Prior to last week’s 62-32 win over Cheyenne Wells, only three of the previous 10 victories during the streak were decided by fewer than 40 points.
The bulk of that winning streak came against East Central Division foes, teams that the Knighted Eagles outscored 270-90. This marked the third straight perfect run through the division for Stratton/Liberty.
Stratton/Liberty trailed 8-6 at the end of the first quarter in last week’s win at Cheyenne Wells, and after the Tigers scored on the first play of the second period, the Knighted Eagles faced a 16-6 deficit. They would hold the Tigers scoreless for more than 22 minutes, thanks in part to a key injury to one of Cheyenne Wells’ top players, and rolled to the 30-point victory. Lichty (200 yards, 3 TD) and Trevor Frank (161 yards, 2 TD) each went for more than 150 yards on the ground, and Charlie Clapper added 48 yards and a touchdown on his three carries. Zeke Craig connected on four of six passes for 30 yards and a touchdown to Lichty.
Lichty (13 tackles), Frank (11 tackles), Craig (nine tackles), and Clapper (eight tackles) paced the defensive effort for the Knighted Eagles. Frank added his first sack of the year, while Craig recorded an interception, his second of the season. Tyler Hase also registered an important scoop-and-score, picking up a fumble at his own 10 and returning it 70 yards to paydirt.
On the season, Craig has completed 69.5% of his passes for 694 yards and 16 touchdowns. He only has one interception on the year. It came on the first series of the third quarter in the loss to Kit Carson. Frank (16/335/8) and Hase (12/148/2) are the only players with double figures in receptions. Lichty has four TDs on seven receptions.
The Knighted Eagles have amassed 4366 yards on the ground as a team, with Lichty (1633 yards, 32 TD) and Frank (1203 yards, 20 TD) leading the way. Clapper has added 664 yards and 13 touchdowns on 43 carries, and Alex Cruz is nearing 400 yards on the season, needing five to get to that mark.
Defensively, Stratton/Liberty has six players with at least 60 tackles on the season, led by Lichty (120) and Frank (109). Craig (76), Riggin Williams (69), Cruz (67), and Zach Armour (62) round out that group. Armour leads the unit with four sacks, while Cruz has added three sacks to go with a team-high five fumble recoveries. The Knighted Eagles have ten total non-offensive touchdowns, six by Lichty and two by Cruz.
Both programs are looking for their third state title. Fleming finished second in 2010, and then won consecutive titles in 2011 and 2012. Stratton/Liberty won its first crown as a co-op program in 2013 and the Knighted Eagles took home the top trophy last year, after finishing second in 2017. The Liberty portion of the co-op celebrated the 20th anniversary of their 1999 state championship on Wednesday.
Coach Toby Kechter of Stratton/Liberty was a senior for the Knights on that squad. He and Fleming head coach John King worked together, coaching the North All-Stars in the 6-man All-State game in June of 2017.