It’s postseason time in eight-man, as the field now stands at 16. Sedgwick County is the top overall seed for the third straight year. The Cougars, who won the title in 2015 and 2016, are one of four Plains Division teams in the field, the most of any division. The following preview is in bracket order.
#1 SEDGWICK COUNTY (8-0) VS #16 MCCLAVE (6-3) SATURDAY 1PM
Sedgwick County won its third consecutive Plains Division title, outscoring the league 233-58. All three of their wins over playoff teams came against league opponents (Haxtun, Merino, Caliche). Outside of a 33-28 victory over Perkins County, NE (#10 in Nebraska), the Cougars’ closest game was a 48-24 decision over Akron. They posted two shutouts during the regular season.
The Cougars have not reported any stats, but they have been led during the year by Brennan Ehmke, Layne Green, Tyce Marquez, Beau Parker, Cade McKinley, Eric Alcala, and Chandon Dunker.
McClave had a chance to grab a share of the Southeast Division title last week, but fell to Springfield in the finale, 60-22. The Cards dropped their last two regular season games and went 0-3 against playoff teams (Merino, Holly, Springfield). Heading into that closing skid, the Cardinals had scored at least 52 points in three straight games, but they were held to a total of 28 in those two losses. Their defense posted three shutouts during the season.
Like Sedgwick County, McClave has not reported any stats. However, some of their key players are Ian Beckett, Ken Cox, Dawson Roesch, Dakota Canfield, and Jaime Ibarra.
#8 SPRINGFIELD (6-3) VS #9 FOWLER (8-1) SATURDAY 1PM
After going 1-3 in non-conference play, Springfield got hot and went unbeaten in the Southeast Division to claim the crown. The Longhorns went 2-1 against playoff teams, with wins over Holly and McClave and a 42-26 loss at Hoehne. In that loss, they allowed 466 rushing yards.
The Longhorns are led by the versatile Beau Dukes, who has rushed for 970 yards and 17 touchdowns and passed for 758 yards and eight TDs. The junior also leads the team with five interceptions and is second with 98 tackles. Conner Leonard, the team’s leading tackler (116 tackles), is second on the squad with 545 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Enrique Gutierrez tops the Longhorns with 25 receptions, 419 yards, and four scores.
Fowler was an overtime loss against Hoehne away from being crowned champion of the Southern Division. The Grizzlies led 20-8 at halftime against the Farmers, but could not hold on, falling 34-28 in the extra session. In their other eight games, the Grizzlies held every opponent to 14 points or fewer, with two shutouts. They owned one win over a playoff qualifier, beating Sargent 26-13.
Quinton Flanscha has done a bit of everything for Fowler this season, leading the team with 918 yards and 13 touchdowns in the rushing game, but also scoring three times as a receiver and throwing three more touchdowns. Brand Sharp added 751 yards and a dozen TDs on the ground, despite missing a game. Sophomore quarterback Luke Bitter threw for 764 yards and 11 scores, with Zane Denton being his top target. Denton has caught 20 passes for 444 yards and six TDs, and the junior has also scored twice on punt returns. Dan Palomino enters the postseason with a team-high 99 tackles.
The winning team would host Sedgwick County in a potential quarterfinal contest. Either team would have to travel to McClave.
#4 HOEHNE (8-1) VS #13 CALICHE (4-5) SATURDAY 1PM
The fourth seeded Farmers faced three playoff qualifiers to open the season. They defeated Sargent 30-7 in the opener and then picked up the victory over Springfield the following week. Their lone loss of the season came on Homecoming night when Holly picked up a 33-14 victory. Facing a second straight defeat the next week at Dayspring Christian, the Farmers scored a late touchdown to earn a 44-37 win and they rolled after that. The Farmers gave up 68 points in Southern league play, 28 in the win over Fowler.
For Hoehne, it all starts with a rushing attack that averages 411 yards a game. Tristian Moltrer leads the squad with 1011 yards, followed by Jacob Yates with 937, Riley Hudson with 741, and Kyle Rowe with 503. Those four have combined to score 39 of the Farmers’ 47 touchdowns on the ground. Yates has added 710 yards passing, with a good chunk (343) going to Moltrer. Defensively, Yates paces the squad with 80 tackles, just ahead of Rion Gladden (75) and Dalton Hudson (73). Moltrer has a team-leading six interceptions and Rowe is tops with four sacks.
Caliche was the fourth and final Plains Division team to qualify for the field, finishing the regular season 16th in the RPI. The Buffs are the only team in the field with a losing record, but all five losses were to playoff teams. Caliche pushed Soroco and Gilpin County in non-conference losses, and suffered defeats by the top three Plains teams (Sedgwick County, Merino, Haxtun).
Adam Zink’s 2113 rushing yards are second in the entire state, regardless of classification. His 22 touchdowns are fourth in the class. The Buffs don’t pass much, with Zink also leading that category (343 yards). Josh Kokes is second in rushing with 462 yards, and Correy Derr is the leading receiver, posting 13 catches for 234 yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Zink has tallied 121 tackles, the fourth most in the classification. Dylan Huss has added 80 stops. Traevonn Walton tops the Buffs with six sacks, and Tyler Torres has three interceptions.
#5 HOLLY (7-1) VS #12 HAXTUN (6-3) SATURDAY 1PM
Holly came out of the gates 4-0, including the win at Hoehne, but the Wildcats suffered some key injuries during that stretch. They went into the game with Springfield without the services of Erick Chapparo, who had been the leading rusher up to that point. He would return after missing two games and the Wildcats would finish the regular season with three straight wins. Holly won those final three games by a combined tally of 112-14. They went 2-1 against playoff qualifiers.
Kobe Davis led the team with 1209 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air and he also scored four rushing TDs. Gus Dominguez was the top receiver during the regular season, hauling in 29 passes for 607 yards and six scores, but the Wildcats also had two other big threats in the passing game. William Kennedy finished with 18 catches, 281 yards and five TDs, while Robert Gutierrez added 11 receptions and 124 yards. Gutierrez led the team with 427 rushing yards and Andy Ramos added 291. Despite missing several weeks, Chapparo finished third with 231 yards and led the team with five scores.
While Holly finished the season red-hot, the last month was quite the opposite for Haxtun. The Fightin’ Bulldogs dropped their last two games of the regular season and finished with losses in three of their final four contests. That stretch started with a 46-0 loss as Sedgwick County. After picking up a win against Caliche, Haxtun dropped games to Akron and Merino, being outscored 75-58 by the two sets of Rams. The Fightin’ Bulldogs still finished 2-2 against playoff teams, adding a 54-14 victory over Rocky Mountain Lutheran to the win over Caliche.
Haxtun had four players rush for over 275 yards in the regular season, led by Drew Coffin with 610. The others were Jaxon Brown (556), Wyatt Buccelli (358), and Joey Gerk (276). Coffin also led the team in passing yards with 932, while Braden Anderson added 313. Those yards were spread to five main receivers. Ryan Schaefer leads that group with 450, followed by Gerk (363), Anderson (165), Buccelli (130), and Brown (119). Buccelli is second in the class with 128 tackles.
Regardless of the outcome of the game between Hoehne and Caliche, Holly would be on the road in the next round with a win this week. With a victory, Haxtun would host either team next week.
#3 MERINO (8-1) VS #14 SOROCO (6-3) SATURDAY 1PM
After finishing second in the Plains Division and facing six postseason qualifiers during the regular season, Merino ended the campaign #2 in the RPI. The Rams went 5-1 against those foes, including non-conference wins over Gilpin County, Rocky Mountain Lutheran and McClave. The Rams walked the razor’s edge throughout the regular season, winning six games by eight points or less, two by two points.
The Rams have not posted stats for the season, but sophomore Cade Conger has been a standout on both sides of the ball. Merino has also received strong performances from Remington Canfield, Chase Legg, and Dylan Holman.
Soroco opened the season with a 48-36 win over Caliche, but that would be the only win in four tries against playoff teams for the Rams. They would fall the next week to Norwood and also lost games to league foes Gilpin County and West Grand. The Rams secured their spot in the postseason with a win last week over Hayden, snagging third place in the Northwest along the way.
After rushing for 1858 yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago as a sophomore, Jace Logan has far surpassed those numbers already this year. His 2295 yards and 30 TDs lead all of Colorado. He began the year with a 337 yard, seven touchdown game against Caliche and later in the year he tallied a career-high 446 yards against Plateau Valley. No one else has rushed for more than 279 yards on the season. Kendall Hood is the top threat in the passing game, hauling in 15 balls for 277 yards and six scores. Logan also leads the Rams on defense with 109 tackles, while Hood and Nick Estes each have five interceptions.
#6 ROCKY MOUNTAIN LUTHERAN (7-2) VS #11 MANCOS (7-2)
Back to back losses to Haxtun and Merino had Rocky Mountain Lutheran sitting at 1-2 early in the season. The Eagles would go on to win their final six games, claiming the crown in the Central Division as their prize. They outscored their divisional opponents 237-38, and held seven of nine opponents to 18 points or fewer, with two shutouts.
Charlie Hahm leads the Eagles with 1205 rushing yards and his 23 touchdowns are tied for second in 8-man. The senior had six games with at least 100 yards on the ground. Andrew Zemlicka completed close to 58% of his passes in the regular season for 660 yards, with 11 touchdowns and only one interception. Hahm caught 10 balls for 292 yards and five scores, while Michael Schlittenhart added 11 catches for 235 yards and five TDs. The top two tacklers for the Eagles both sport the last name Hahm. Charlie leads with 95, while Luke has recorded 56. Luke leads the squad with seven sacks. Zemlicka has picked off seven passes and also broken up 13 more.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, Mancos was unbeaten against Colorado schools. That changed when the Bluejays fell to Sargent 54-14, giving the Farmers the Southwest Division title. Mancos had only allowed a total of 40 points in its six previous games. The Bluejays posted four shutouts during the campaign. Their most impressive victory came against Norwood on Oct. 7, when they beat the Mavericks 22-14 in overtime.
While the team has not posted any stats, they have several key players, led by senior Kaleb Hargraves. Other notables for the Bluejays are Peyton Suazo, Anthony Medina, Caleb Yoder, Chance Garcia, and Casey Orange.
Mancos earns a home game in the quarterfinals with a victory, while Rocky Mountain Lutheran has the possibility of either hosting or travelling. The Eagles would host a rematch with Merino, but would make the trip to Oak Creek if Soroco wins.
#7 SARGENT (6-3) VS #10 GILPIN COUNTY (7-2) FRIDAY 6PM
With its win over Mancos last week, Sargent locked up the Southwest Division title and a guaranteed home game in the opening round. Both of those feats seemed like longshots early in the season when the Farmers were 0-3 and hosting an unbeaten Norwood squad. All three losses had been to playoff teams and the Farmers had suffered some key injuries, but they responded to beat the Mavs 34-6 and have not lost since. In that six-game winning streak, Sargent has scored at least 53 points four times, and has only allowed one opponent to score more than 15.
A lot of the offensive production for Sargent comes from the arm and legs of Ryan Davis. The junior quarterback has thrown for 865 yards and 11 touchdowns, and rushed for 759 and 10 more scores. Five other players have more than 100 yards on the ground, led by Trevor Milne with 686. His 12 touchdowns are tops on the team. Eddy Gonzalez is the main target in the aerial attack, with the junior registering 19 catches for 409 yards and seven TDs. Christian Schaller has recorded a team-high 95 tackles so far, and Milne enters the playoffs with five interceptions.
It was a season of highs and lows for Gilpin County. The Eagles experienced the tragic passing of the father of their head coach, Craig Ball, after suffering a heart attack while watching the team play Simla early in the year. They would not only go on to win that game, but each of the next six as well. That put the Eagles in position to play for the Northwest Division title last week. Gilpin County would fall to West Grand, 54-0, but the body of work was solid enough to receive an at large bid into the postseason.
Austin Boulter is third in the classification with 1877 yards rushing, and his 23 touchdowns are tied for second in the class. The 210 pound senior rushed for at least 100 yards in every contest this season and posted a career-high 347 against Rangely. He also led the team with 428 yards and six touchdowns as a passer. Jack Ball added 608 yards and six scores on the ground, while also leading the team with nine receptions for 238 yards and five more touchdowns. The Eagles have two defenders with over 100 tackles so far, as Josh Trujillo has recorded 108 and Manny Gomez comes in with 102.
#2 WEST GRAND (9-0) VS #15 NORWOOD (6-2) SATURDAY 1PM
West Grand enters the postseason with the top-ranked scoring defense in the classification, having allowed 14 points all season. Following last week’s 54-0 victory over Gilpin County that secured another division title for the Mustangs, head coach Chris Brown noted that he thought this year’s team was so deep that it might mercy rule last year’s talented squad. The Mustangs have done that to every opponent so far this year, allowing all 31 players to see action in each game. Brown routinely plays 21 in his regular depth chart. The Mustangs have pitched five straight shutouts.
Josh O’Hotto leads the defensive unit with 83 tackles in just seven games. He’s followed by Noah Schroeder, who has 67, and Jordan Knight with 64. Marcos Ramirez is tops on the squad with seven sacks, and Hugh Wheatley has five of the unit’s 13 interceptions. On offense, Wheatley leads with 820 rushing yards with a dozen touchdowns. Luis Dominguez has scored 19 times and gained 565 yards. When the Mustangs put the ball in the air, Brady Gore has thrown for 735 yards and seven scores. Luke Mogck has been on the receiving end of 10 passes, good for 353 yards and five touchdowns.
With its only losses coming against playoff teams (Sargent, Mancos), Norwood could be a scary 15 seed. The Mavericks own a victory over one team in the field (Soroco), and have only allowed 112 points this season. Thanks to a forfeit victory over Dove Creek last week, the Mavs will be plenty rested heading into Saturday’s game in Kremmling.
Will Gabriel has had an interesting season. The junior quarterback leads the team with 591 yards passing and 591 yards rushing. The symmetry continues, as he’s thrown for nine touchdowns and run for nine more. Hunter Brier has added 526 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, while also serving as the leading receiver for the Mavs. The senior has recorded 17 catches for 291 yards. Defensive honors go to Jace Sinks and Cord Colson, who enter the playoffs with 71 and 54 tackles, respectively.
If Norwood can pull off the upset, the Mavericks would be guaranteed a home game in the quarterfinals. West Grand would host Sargent if both win, but would travel to Gilpin County if the Mustangs and Eagles both secure victories this weekend.