With the release of the playoff bracket on Sunday, the focus in eight-man has shifted to the postseason. Sedgwick County has won the last four state titles in the classification and is the top overall seed this year. The preview is listed in bracket order. All opening round games are slated for a 1pm Saturday kick-off.
#1 SEDGWICK COUNTY COUGARS (9-0) VS #16 ELBERT BULLDOGS (7-2)
In the chase for a fifth consecutive title, Sedgwick County dominated its regular season opponents 496-42. The offensive output was second in the classification, while the defense was tied for the best. The Cougars were tough on Plains Division opponents, rolling their way to a 6-0 league mark by blasting those familiar squads 346-28. They posted three of their five shutouts in league play, including two straight to conclude the regular season. Sedgwick County went 4-0 against postseason qualifiers, allowing a total of 16 points, all to #5 Dayspring Christian.
Elbert was in position to host a first round game heading into the regular season finale last weekend, as the Bulldogs entered their game with South Park ranked 10th in the RPI. That would have been good enough to be at home this weekend, but the Central Division champions stubbed their toe against the Burros, who only had one victory on the season prior to that 14-0 upset. The Bulldogs had a seven-game winning streak ended by that loss. They did not face a team that is in the bracket during the regular season. The Bulldogs went into their final game with an offense that had tallied 1326 yards on the ground and 1202 through the air. Nathan Tornone had accounted for more than 1600 of those yards, including 1192 passing.
There is no playoff history between the two programs.
# 8 MERINO RAMS (6-3) VS #9 WEST GRAND MUSTANGS (7-2)
Through the first six games of the season, Merino found itself 5-1 with three defensive shutouts, but injuries down the stretch saw the Rams finish with just one win in their last three games. They finished third in the Plains behind Sedgwick County and Dayspring Christian. This is Merino’s 18th postseason in the last 19 seasons. They’ve lost in the first round five of the last seven appearances.
West Grand is in the playoffs for a fifth straight year, representing the Northwest Division as the runner-up. The Mustangs were second in the state two years ago, but were upset by Pikes Peak Christian in the quarterfinals last year, 29-28. Both of their losses this year were to teams in the postseason (Caliche, Vail Christian), and they own a win over Rangely, who is in the field. Rene Dominguez leads the team with more than 1000 yards on the ground, and dual threat QB Jakob Buller has more than 1100 combined yards.
This will be the first postseason meeting between these two programs.
#4 VAIL CHRISTIAN SAINTS (9-0) VS #13 DOVE CREEK BULLDOGS (5-4) AT EAGLE VALLEY HS
Vail Christian picked up its first league title since winning the Central in 2014, claiming the Northwest this season. This is just the sixth playoff appearance for the Saints in program history, and they’ve gone out in the opening round three of the previous five times, including last year. Both of their wins over postseason squads came inside their division (West Grand, Rangely). Jamison Lee went into last week’s game with Byers needing 60 yards for a 1000-yard passing season. He’s also the teams third-leading rusher with more than 500 yards. Chris Cappel and Simon Nowicki were ahead of Lee in that category heading into the regular season finale, and Micah Sharpe was the team’s fourth back with more than 400 yards on the ground.
With three games left in the regular season, Dove Creek was tied for the lead in the Mountain Division. Losses in each of those games, all to postseason qualifiers, almost left the Bulldogs watching the playoffs from behind the ropes. Overall, all four losses came against teams in the bracket, as the Bulldogs lost to Rangely, Sargent, Sanford, and Mancos. Chorbin Cressler has powered the Bulldogs with 1157 rushing yards, to go with 678 yards through the air. Gauge Thompson (679) and Gage Bailey (643) give the Bulldogs three solid options in the backfield. This is the first postseason appearance for Dove Creek since 2015.
There has not been any previous meetings between these two programs, regular season nor postseason.
#5 DAYSPRING CHRISTIAN EAGLES (8-1) VS #12 RANGELY RANTHERS (6-3)
Dayspring Christian missed the postseason two years ago, the first miss for the Eagles since 2002-05. They were bumped in the opening round by Hoehne. The Eagles come into this year’s playoffs having won their final three games of the regular season. They went 3-1 against postseason qualifiers, with narrow wins over Holly and Caliche, a 44-14 win over Merino, and a lopsided loss to Sedgwick County. After missing the season-opener and seeing only limited work the next game, Christian Still leads the Eagles with just under 1200 yards passing. The junior has thrown for 4064 yards and 44 touchdowns in his career.
Prior to making the playoffs last season, Rangely had not tasted postseason play since last making the field in 2003. The Panthers are making consecutive appearances for the first time since the program reached the bracket in 1984-86. They jumped out of the gates with three straight wins this season, but losses to Vail Christian and West Grand left the Panthers just over .500 as the season crossed the midpoint. They struggled down the stretch, losing to Soroco, beating Gilpin County in triple overtime, and narrowly beating Plateau Valley last week. Anthony Lujan leads the way with 906 yards rushing and 716 passing, and he’s had a hand in 27 touchdowns on the season. Ten of those have been passing, with 16 rushing and one on a fumble return.
With all of Rangely’s playoff history prior to last year coming in various 11-man classifications, the Panthers have never faced Dayspring Christian in the postseason.
#3 FOWLER GRIZZLIES (9-0) VS #14 SIMLA CUBS (5-3)
After a two-year absence, Fowler is back in the playoffs for a third straight year. The Grizzlies won the Arkansas Valley conference, outscoring league opponents 351-48. Overall, their 507 points scored this regular season led the classification and the 87 points allowed were the fourth fewest. Fowler only faced two postseason qualifiers during the season, Sargent and Holly, and the Grizzlies allowed a total of 49 points in those two games. Luke Bitter is closing in on a 1000/500 season, needing 69 passing yards and 51 rushing yards to hit those marks. Joshua Daniels is already over 1100 rushing yards on the season, and Jackson Bates enters the contest with 848. Those two have combined for 34 TDs on the ground.
Simla missed the postseason for three straight years before making the field last year. The Cubs lost in the opening round, but have reached the semifinals twice this decade. They enter the playoffs having won two straight, including an important victory over Swink three weeks ago. That enabled the Cubs to finish second in the Southern Division. As Coletin Mazerall goes, so goes Simla. The junior has thrown for 954 yards and rushed for another 851. He has 14 of the team’s 18 rushing touchdowns. His 111 tackles are 35 more than anyone else on the squad.
Simla and Fowler have been in the same league at different times in the past, so there is some familiarity between the programs However, this is the first time the two have met in the postseason.
#6 MANCOS BLUEJAYS (8-1) VS #13 CALICHE BUFFS (6-3)
Mancos opened the season 5-0, posting three shutouts along the way. That opening stretch included wins over Merino and Sargent. The Bluejays then gave up 52 points in a loss to Sanford. They would allow just 14 more the rest of the season, and they punched their ticket to a fifth consecutive postseason. In the previous four, the Bluejays have only reached the second round once. Sophomore Chase Moore leads the entire classification with 1658 yards and 27 touchdowns in the running attack.
Dylan Huss is second to Moore with 1344 yards to lead Caliche, and he has punched in 18 touchdowns as a runner. Huss is also close to 700 yards passing. The senior had a 260 yard passing, 205 yard rushing performance early in the season against West Grand. The Buffs won that game 60-36. This is the third straight year in the postseason for the Buffs, who have not lost in the first round since 2012.
Caliche will be making a round trip of more than 1000 miles to face Mancos for the first time in their playoff history.
#7 PIKES PEAK CHRISTIAN EAGLES (8-1) VS #10 SARGENT FARMERS (6-3)
Sporting a defense that tied Sedgwick County for the fewest points allowed in the regular season, Pikes Peak Christian is back in the playoffs for a second straight year. The Eagles, who have won the Southern Division each of the last two seasons, are making just their third postseason appearance in program history. The first was in 2016. Last year, the Eagles reached the semifinals before bowing out. Due to receiving two forfeits, some of the stats for Pikes Peak Christian are a bit skewed. However, Nathan Seay has a team-high 1052 yards on the ground in just seven games.
After being hit very hard by graduation and losing two of its first three games this year, Sargent faced n uphill climb to make the playoffs. The Farmers responded by winning five of their last six games, with the lone loss coming in the finale to Sanford (51-0). Kage Pepper (716 rushing, 639 passing) leads the Farmers, who are making their ninth straight appearance in the playoffs. Blake Behil, Payton Brown, and Wyatt Cross all have at least 400 yards rushing.
As has been the case with all of the other first round match-ups, this will be the first postseason meeting between these two programs.
#2 SANFORD INDIANS (9-0) VS #15 HOLLY WILDCATS (6-3)
With an offense that tallied 425 points during the regular season, it was somewhat easy to overlook the accomplishments of Sanford’s defense this year. The Indians posted two on-field shutouts and only allowed 36 points in wins over Mancos, Dove Creek, and Sargent, all of whom made the bracket. Overall, they allowed 68 points, third best in the classification, and only Mancos scored more than twice against the Indians’ defense. This will be Sanford’s first appearance since 2013, and the sixth since dropping to eight-man in 2008.
Holly is another team that took a big hit on graduation day, but the Wildcats brought back a nice mix of experience and youth. Senior Alex Ramos has close to 2000 all-purpose yards, while fellow classmates Andy Ramos and Diego Tamayo have combined for 1100 more. Sophomore Dakota Eaton has thrown for 1580 yards and 14 scores, and added 460 yards and nine TDs on the ground, and fellow sophomore Donovan Pecina leads the team with 475 rushing yards. Put it all together and the Wildcats are in the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
It will be the first time that the Indians and Wildcats have squared off in the postseason.