As the regular season enters its final weekend, so much is still to be determined. Two leagues will see champions crowned this weekend, and a number of other squads are jockeying to better their postseason positioning.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY HENRY ASHIDA
One of the two leagues without a champion to date, the Ark Valley will come down to Friday night’s game between #6 Holly (7-1, 4th RPI) and Crowley County (6-2, 14th RPI). For the Chargers, who will have the home field advantage, winning the league title might be their only way into the final bracket. They have won five straight since dropping their league opener to Wiley (3-3, 21st RPI). Last week, the Chargers got 230 yards and two rushing touchdowns from Dillon Buford, who finished with 378 all-purpose yards in a 40-0 win over Hoehne (4-4, 25th RPI). Buford added a 69-yard pick-six in the victory.
Holly picked up its sixth consecutive win, but the Wildcats needed a big fourth quarter to do so. Leading 14-12 heading into the final frame, Holly outscored Fowler 28-0 to seize the 42-14 victory. Dakota Eaton threw for 279 yards and two scores, and also added two more touchdowns on the ground. Colby Swopes hauled in six receptions for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Swopes also had two sacks and a forced fumble.
This is the first meeting between Holly and Crowley County in eight-man.
Despite the loss last week, Fowler still harbors faint playoff aspirations. The Grizzlies (5-3, 17th RPI) must win at Hoehne on Friday, and then get some help, as a league champion sits outside of the top-16 in the RPI. Gage Gottbehuet showed good chemistry with Bradley Roe in last week’s loss, as the duo connected six times for 147 yards and a TD. Gottbehuet also tossed a TD to Boyd Rogers.
Hoehne, who won the spring eight-man title, is relegated to the role of spoiler this week. The loss against Crowley County last week was the third straight for the Farmers, who need a win to avoid their first losing season since 2009. They do own a 13-2 record over Fowler in the recent history of the series, but the Grizzlies won the last meeting 50-8 in 2019.
If enough things go their way, the McClave Cardinals (5-3, 19th RPI) could possibly sneak into the postseason. First, they need to pick up a win over rival Wiley on Friday. Then, they would need a lot of help, with at least three teams between them and the final playoff spot needing to lose. Ayden Gomez has been very good this year, and the junior QB threw for 230 yards and two scores in last week’s 44-0 win over Springfield. Brayden Marks added 163 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The Cards will be facing a Wiley squad that is coming off a 72-22 win over Las Animas (1-7, 30th RPI) last week. Sophomore Evan Larrick ran for nine touchdowns and threw for two more in that victory. The eleven total touchdowns is tied for second all-time in state history. A win would give the Panthers their first winning season since 2006.
After taking last week off, Byers (5-3, 18th RPI) returns to action this week, looking to wrap up a perfect run through the division. The Bulldogs are the league champs and only representative from the Central in the postseason. They will visit Justice (2-5, 39th RPI) on Saturday. Dean Kerns leads the Bulldogs with 614 yards and nine touchdowns through the air, and the senior QB is one of four players with at least 440 yards on the ground. His 486 yards are second to Ceasar Meza’s 544, and his 13 touchdowns are tops. Corey Russell (464) and Zach Cary (444) round out the quartet.
Justice ended a four-game skid with last week’s 44-8 win at South Park (0-8, 40th RPI). Qimar’Ray Smith ran for 223 yards and three touchdowns and also threw for 154 yards and another score in helping the Phoenix get back in the win column. Smith added another touchdown on defense, as he returned a fumble for a score.
Mancos (6-0, 1st RPI) thought it had found an opponent to fill an opening last week, but late in the week, Dolores Huerta Prep (3-5, 27th RPI) had to surrender a forfeit. The second-ranked Bluejays are in line for the top overall seed in the postseason and the division champs are slated to close out the regular season on Friday at Sargent (3-4, 31st RPI). If Chase Moore goes for his season average on the ground (252 yards), the senior would top the 1500-yard mark on the year. He enters the contest with 1260 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Sargent had troubles stopping the run in last week’s 46-0 loss at #8 Dove Creek (2-2, 13th RPI), as the Bulldogs ran for 200 yards on just 14 carries, an average of better than 14 yards per attempt. The Farmers were also victimized by a blocked punt, three lost fumbles, and three sacks in the loss.
Sargent is 7-5 against Mancos in recent history, but the Farmers have not won since 2017. The Bluejays won last year’s meeting 52-6, with Moore running for 222 yards and five touchdowns. In the last two match-ups, he has rushed for 620 yards and nine scores.
Dove Creek could be playing for its playoff life when the Bulldogs host Sanford (5-3, 5th RPI) on Friday. Late in the week, an adjustment was made to the RPI, with Dove Creek’s earlier game against Melrose (NM) officially being dropped off. It had been listed as a forfeit victory for the Bulldogs, but with it being removed entirely, they tumbled a number of spots and now might need a win this week to make the field. They will bring in a rushing attack that has tallied just short of 1700 yards on the season, with Gage Buffington (587) and Chorbin Cressler (401) combining for close to 1000.
Sanford goes into the game on a two-game skid, after the Indians dropped last week’s non-conference game with #4 Sedgwick County (5-3, 7th RPI) 42-0. Kelton Gartrell made his return from injury in that contest, and the Indians should be close to 100% for Friday’s game. A win likely has the Indians hosting a first round game. They have won the last two meetings with Dove Creek, and four of the last five. Gartrell ran for 174 yards and three scores in last season’s 36-12 victory, and the Indian defense picked off four Cressler passes.
Vail Christian (8-0, 3rd RPI) has already locked up the league title and the third-ranked Saints are all but guaranteed a first round home game. They can complete a perfect regular season with a win at West Grand (4-4, 25th RPI) on Friday. The Saints got three Taylor Shull TD passes in a 34-12 victory over Rangely (4-4, 21st RPI) last week, and Shull also added 140 yards on the ground. Vincent Nowicki ran for one score and caught two more.
West Grand pushed its winning streak to three games with a 42-0 victory over Gilpin County (0-8, 37th RPI) last week. It was the Wyatt Show for the Mustangs, as Wyatt Shearer ran for two scores and tossed two more to Wyatt Howell, who also rushed for two. The duo were the top two tacklers for West Grand in the contest, combining for 22 stops.
The Mustangs hold a 5-3 edge in head-to-head match-ups with Vail Christian, but the Saints have won three of the last five. That includes a 12-6 victory in 2019, the last time the two teams played.
Hayden (5-2, 15th RPI) enters the final weekend of the season sitting in a postseason spot, but the Tigers will need to beat Rangely on Friday to keep that position. The Tigers have not played since defeating Plateau Valley (3-5, 28th RPI) two weeks ago. Brayden Dale has been the standout on offense this season, rushing for a team-leading 827 yards and 14 touchdowns, and also throwing for 442 yards and six more scores. Defensively, Sabyn Hager leads the way with 78 tackles.
Rangely can record its fourth consecutive winning season with a victory at home on Friday. Last week’s loss broke a four-game winning streak for the Panthers, as they had bounced back from an 0-4 start. The Panthers were held to 146 total yards of offense in that loss to Vail Christian. Keihlin Myers did throw for two touchdowns, including a 41-yarder to Braxton Moore.
The Panthers are just 6-11 against Hayden dating back to 2004, but they have won the last three match-ups. Zane Varner ran for 179 yards and four scores in last year’s 44-6 victory by the Panthers.
Haxtun (8-0, 2nd RPI) wrapped up the division title before ever stepping on the field last Saturday. The Fightin’ Bulldogs got help from #9 Merino (4-4, 9th RPI), who handed #7 Dayspring Christian (6-3, 11th RPI) a 30-22 defeat on Friday. That put the Fightin’ Bulldogs two games clear of everyone else in the league. They took care of their own business on Saturday, blasting Denver Christian (0-8, 32nd RPI) 69-12. Haxtun led 48-0 after one quarter. Michael Gerk ran for three scores, while Isaac Andersen and Kailin Kelley each ran for two.
Haxtun visits #5 Akron (6-2, 6th RPI) on Friday to close out the regular season. A victory could move the Fightin’ Bulldogs into the top overall seed. Akron had few troubles in beating Caliche (2-6, 23rd RPI) 46-8 last Saturday. Akron led 46-0 at the half. Ryan McCaffrey ran for 117 yards and two scores, and also tossed a 42-yard TD to Evan Vogt, while Ivan Losa and Anderson Filla each added a rushing touchdown. Losa struck in special teams, housing a 65-yard punt return.
Akron had won the first eight meetings between the two programs in eight-man, but Haxtun has won the last two. That includes a 26-6 win last season. Gerk ran for two scores and caught another one on a very blustery day in Haxtun.
Sedgwick County snapped its rare two-game skid with the 42-0 win over Sanford last week at a neutral site. The Cougars will try to make it two straight wins, and seven straight against Caliche, when visit the Buffs on Friday. Sedgwick County has not lost in the series since 2014. Caliche had won seven consecutive match-ups prior to its current losing streak.
Merino takes a two-game winning streak onto the road for Friday’s finale at Denver Christian. Last week’s win pushed the Rams ahead of Dayspring Christian in the standings and into the top-10 of the RPI. Dayspring Christian has finished its regular season schedule and will await Sunday’s bracket announcement, as the Eagles will be one of five teams from the Plains in the field.
While there are a number of possible scenarios in the Southern division, Calhan (7-1, 8th RPI) can make most of them moot by beating Dolores Huerta Prep on Saturday. A victory by the tenth-ranked Bulldogs would give them the division title. They have won four straight games and sit tied atop the league standings with Swink (5-2, 10th RPI), but they own the tie-breaker over the Lions. Last week, Calhan recorded a season-high for points in a 71-6 win over Custer County. The Bulldog defense registered five interceptions (three by Ryan Campbell), three fumble recoveries (two by Tayten Blasingame), and six sacks. Campbell and Trevor Hendrix each returned an interception for a TD.
Dolores Huerta Prep, who had to give up a forfeit to Mancos last week, has lost four of five meetings with Calhan. The Scorpions lone win in the series came back in 2014. Last season, the Bulldogs were held to just 159 yards of offense, but Campbell’s 91-yards scoop-and-score helped Calhan to a 16-6 victory.
Swink could still claim the league title, but the Lions first must win at home on Saturday against John Mall (0-4, 35th RPI), and then have Dolores Huerta upset Calhan. The Lions kept their hopes alive by beating Pikes Peak Christian (3-3, 12th RPI) 8-6 in a defensive struggle last week. Swink got the lead on a TD run by Garlon Guerin in the second quarter, and Guerin’s two-point PAT reception would later prove to be the difference. The Eagles got a score from Adam Glaze in the fourth quarter, but their conversion attempt failed. John Mall fell to Simla 50-7 last Friday, and after finishing second in the spring season, the Panthers need a win over Swink to avoid a winless fall campaign.
Pikes Peak Christian gets the weekend started with a Thursday contest at Custer County. The Eagles need a win to prevent a long, stressful weekend as they await the bracket release on Sunday. They have lost two straight, while the Bobcats enter the contest on a five-game slide. Pikes Peak Christian won the two prior meetings with the Bobcats, 57-14 in 2018 and 58-0 in 2019.
Simla has finished its regular season and know all the Cubs can do is sit back and wait. The Cubs were 16th in the RPI on Thursday, which would not have them in the field since Byers is guaranteed a spot as a league champion. Simla could still factor into the league title, but they would need both Swink and Calhan to lose on Saturday. That would create a three-way tie for the title.