Conference play begins in earnest across 8-man this weekend and the opening slate gives us two contests featuring a pair of ranked teams. The Plains and Mountain Divisions will each see ranked teams square off, looking for a leg up on the competition.
The Plains Division is home to three of the top-10 teams and three others are just outside the rankings this week. Top-ranked Sedgwick County begins its attempt at a fourth straight league crown by hosting #9 Akron on Friday. The Cougars have outscored their first two opponents 102-8, only allowing a touchdown and conversion to Hoehne in the opener. Akron, meanwhile, suffered its first loss last week when the Rams were outscored 14-6 in the fourth quarter at Fowler. The fourth-ranked Grizzlies won the close contest 28-20.
Last year, Sedgwick County won its fifth straight game against Akron, downing the Rams 48-24 on a damp night in Akron. Layne Green rumbled for 119 yards and three scores for the Cougars, and Beau Parker added 87 yards and another TD on the ground. Terrance Heath caught four balls for 104 yards and two scores. Derrick Poss went over 100 yards on the ground for the Rams while scoring a pair of touchdowns.
Sargent jumped two spots to #3 this week and the Farmers will open Mountain Division action on Saturday at poll newcomer, #10 Mancos. The Bluejays earned the final spot in the poll by defeating Merino last Saturday, 14-6. That loss knocked Merino out of the top-10. Breccen Morelli connected with Christian Cova for both Bluejay touchdowns. Chance Garcia added a crucial two-point run.
The Farmers churned out a hard-fought 20-6 win last Friday at Springfield, with Frank Torrez accounting for two touchdowns, one passing and one rushing. The senior completed nine of 13 passes for 216 yards in the win. Sargent will look to make it six straight wins over the Bluejays and eight of nine overall. The Farmers won a lopsided meeting last year, 54-14, as Torrez ran for 169 yards and three touchdowns.
West Grand maintained its stranglehold on the #2 spot in the rankings by blanking South Park 44-0 last week. Jordan Knight and Hugh Wheatley led the defensive effort, recording 17 and 10 tackles, respectively. Marcos Ramirez added two sacks in the shutout. Wheatley also had a big game on offense, snaring four passes for 115 yards and a TD. The Mustangs open Northwest Division play on Friday against Plateau Valley, who fell to 0-3 with a heartbreaking 36-30 loss to Dove Creek last week. West Grand has won the last two meetings by a combined score of 76-6.
Mancos isn’t the only new team in this week’s rankings, as Fowler catapulted from outside the poll to #4 in this edition. The Grizzlies did not allow Akron to complete a pass in their contest, but the Rams did roll up 340 yards on the ground, including 219 by Justin Traxler. No one had eye-popping yardage totals for Fowler, a testament to a great team effort, but Luke Bitter did cross the goal line three times in the running game.
The Grizzlies have another week of non-conference action before getting started in the stacked Arkansas Valley, but their opponent this week is far from being a stranger. Fowler will make the short trip east to face the rival Swink Lions on Friday. The Lions have been involved in two shutouts this season, one on each side. They beat Wiley 24-0 in the opener, but were downed by Sanford last week, 66-0. Fowler has had the upper hand in the rivalry, winning seven straight and 11 of 14.
Hoehne (#5) is the second of three teams from the aforementioned Ark Valley to be ranked this week. The Farmers took a wild 54-36 victory over Dayspring Christian last week, outscoring the Eagles 32-6 in the second half. Trystan Moltrer (235 yards) and Weston Hill (218 yards) spearheaded a rushing attack that amassed 471 yards. For Moltrer, it was the second time in his career he had gone over 200 yards in a game, establishing a new high water mark.
The Farmers get league play started by visiting Springfield, who saw Beau Dukes return after missing the previous game. Dukes gives the Longhorns a dual-threat in the backfield, as he has rushed for 169 yards and passed for 170 this season. He also leads the defense with 29 tackles, despite missing a good chunk of action. Springfield has dropped the last two meetings, each by 16 points. They had won the two prior contests with Hoehne.
Holly, the third Ark Valley team in the poll, held steady at #6 after beating Balko, OK last week, 35-6. Erick Chapparo and Andy Ramos each scored two rushing touchdowns, but it was the defensive play of freshman Eli Ramos that jumps off the page. He recorded a team-high 11 tackles including an incredible six sacks. The 152-pounder had six career tackles prior to that performance.
The Wildcats will try to put a second straight mark in the win column when they open league play on Friday at home against Las Animas. The Trojans are coming off a 32-26 win over Sangre de Cristo last week. Las Animas has not won consecutive games since 2012 and is 0-4 against Holly.
Seventh-ranked Caliche has had an extra week to prepare for its Plains league opener with Byers, as the Buffs have been off since a loss to West Grand in week two. Caliche will face a Bulldog squad that is in high spirits, starting their first season in 8-man at 2-0 and coming off a 72-36 win over Front Range Christian last week. The game will feature a pair of workhorse running backs in Adam Zink of Caliche and Rhett Davis from Byers. Byers also has Caden Eymann, who has thrown for almost 350 yards in the first two games.
Finally, #8 Rangely is one of three 3-0 teams in the field, joining West Grand and Soroco. All three call the Northwest Division home. After three straight 2-7 seasons, the Panthers are trying to end a long playoff drought. They open the league portion of their calendar with a home tilt against Vail Christian.
The Saints are 2-0 for the first time since 2015, when they last qualified for the postseason. They began that campaign 7-0 before dropping their last two. Both teams will have to keep their focus on the task at hand, as each faces West Grand in its next outing. For Vail Christian, it’s next week, while the Panthers will see the Mustangs in two weeks.