As the regular season hits its final month, the slate of important games grows. While two of the top teams in the classification are off this week, there are still key games to be found throughout the state.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY LANCE WENDT
Top-ranked Mancos (4-0, 1st RPI) and #5 Sanford (4-1, 2nd RPI) are both off this week, ahead of next Friday’s clash that will likely determine the champion of the Southwest division. For Sanford, it’s their second straight week without a game, as last week’s contest with Norwood was not played due to the Mavericks not having enough healthy players to field a squad. That works well for an Indians squad that is nursing injuries to key players on its roster.
Mancos earned a hard-fought 22-14 victory over #8 Dove Creek (3-2, 14th RPI) last week. Chase Moore racked up 181 yards on 33 carries, and Ayden Matthews had a hand in all three Bluejay touchdowns in the contest. Matthews ran for one score and tossed two more, one apiece to Moore and Kail Wayman. Matthews and Moore led the defensive unit, recording 16 and 15 tackles, respectively.
Dove Creek hosts Soroco (1-4, 34th RPI) on Friday in non-league play, and the Bulldogs are just inside the projected cut line for the postseason. With the top 16 in the RPI qualifying, assuming all league champions are in that group, Dove Creek cannot afford to lose this week. They will rely on a power-running attack, that had three players with more than 200 yards on the season going into last week’s contest, led by Gage Buffington and Chorbin Cressler.
The Rams are coming off a 48-0 loss to Hayden in Northwest division play last week, and they are 0-3 in the league standings. Those three losses have come in consecutive weeks, and all three saw the Soroco defense allow at least 48 points. The Rams are looking to avoid consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 2006 and 2007. They were 0-4 last year. This will be their first meeting with Dove Creek since 2009.
One of this week’s biggest games happens in the Northwest, where the aforementioned Hayden Tigers (4-1, 17th RPI) host #6 Vail Christian (5-0, 3rd RPI) on Friday. The Tigers are just outside the top 16 in the RPI this week and the remainder of their schedule won’t likely help them out there. That makes winning the division their best shot at reaching the postseason. They stand 3-0 in the league, thanks to an offense that has outscored league opponents 140-30. Going into last week’s game, Brayden Dale had thrown for 379 yards and five scores, and rushed for 348 yards and five touchdowns.
Vail Christian stayed unbeaten on the season with last week’s 40-14 win over Plateau Valley (2-3, 29th RPI). The Saints struck twice in the first quarter and built a 34-0 halftime lead over the Cowboys and never looked back. It was their tenth league victory in 11 games, dating back to the 2019 season, and their ninth straight over Plateau Valley. They’ve won four straight over Hayden, including a 28-6 decision last year. Vincent Nowicki had 136 yards of total offense, and recorded 20 tackles for the Saints in that victory.
It’s another big weekend in the Plains division, where five teams are in the top nine in the RPI this week. Friday night will see #3 Sedgwick County (4-1, 4th RPI) hosting #2 Haxtun (6-0, 5th RPI) in a showdown that could very well determine the division champion. Also, #7 Akron (3-2, 7th RPI) visits #9 Merino (2-3, 6th RPI).
Sedgwick County was scheduled to face Denver Christian (0-4, 30th RPI) in league play last weekend, but that did not happen as the Thunder was dealing with too many injuries. That went down as a forfeit victory for the Cougars, keeping them tied atop the division standings. In actual on field action, the Cougars have had two straight narrow escapes, as they beat Merino 18-12 and Akron 36-34.
Haxtun got five touchdowns from Owen Knode, two passing and three rushing, in a 64-20 win over Merino last week. Knode ran for 184 yards on just five carries, and both of his TD passes went to Kyle Fryrear. Michael Gerk added 111 yards on the ground, while Grant Staatz (82) and Isaac Andersen (76) combined for 158 more. As a team, the Fightin’ Bulldogs piled up 460 yards on 30 carries. Ozzy Coss and Maclin Tempel sparked the defense with two sacks apiece, and that unit came up with three takeaways, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Kailin Kelley.
Sedgwick County has won eight straight match-ups with Haxtun and is 12-5 since 2004. Last season, the Cougars picked up a 60-14 win over the Fightin’ Bulldogs, with Brody Parker running for 177 yards and two scores. Knode threw for 248 and two scores, but Haxtun was held to 35 rushing yards on 30 carries.
Normally, a game between the fourth and fifth place teams wouldn’t garner much attention, but with Akron and Merino so highly ranked in the RPI, final standing in the league doesn’t matter as much as getting the valuable RPI points for the win. Merino’s run defense was shredded by Haxtun last week and now the Rams face an Akron squad that has amassed 1100 yards this season. Anderson Filla (374), Ivan Losa (291), and Ryan McCaffrey (205) have all rushed for more than 200 yards this season, and McCaffrey has added 701 yards through the air for Akron, who is coming off a bye, following consecutive losses to Dayspring Christian and Sedgwick County.
This Ram rivalry has been evenly matched, with Akron owning a slight 5-4 lead in the series since dropping to eight-man in 2012. Merino enters with a two-game winning streak in the series, including a 48-16 win last year. Deacon Trenkle ran for 183 yards and three touchdowns, and he threw for another score in last year’s win for Merino.
Three Southern division teams currently own postseason berths, with Pikes Peak Christian (9), Calhan (10), and Simla (11) all holding positions in the RPI that would have them in the playoffs. Pikes Peak Christian owns the lead in the league standings as the only team without a league loss. The Eagles are off this week.
Simla (4-2) is a game back, thanks to a 16-14 loss to PPC three weeks ago. The Cubs will visit Dolores Huerta (2-3, 31st RPI) on Friday, coming off a 76-8 victory over Custer County (1-3, 36th RPI) last week. Caston Cox tossed three touchdowns, two to Brent Bowker, and Brayden Glover ran for 92 yards and two scores, as the Cubs rolled to their season-high point total.
The Scorpions put up a good fight last week against Pikes Peak Christian, but could not stop the run in a 36-20 defeat. The Eagles ran for 328 yards and four touchdowns in handing Dolores Huerta its second league loss. The Scorpions will be looking to celebrate homecoming with their first win over Simla, as the Cubs have won all three prior meetings. Last season, Simla ran for 419 yards in a 40-0 shutout victory.
Calhan (4-1) stayed in the mix for the division title by defeating Swink (2-2, 19th RPI) 12-6 last week. All of the scoring happened in the first half, with both defenses rising to the challenge throughout the contest. Logan Jack led the Bulldogs with 93 yards rushing, while Aiden Jack and Ryan Campbell each scored a TD on the ground. Aiden Jack led the defense with 18 tackles, and Logan Jack added 13.
The Bulldogs are scheduled to host John Mall (0-1, 27th RPI) in what will be John Mall’s first action since week one. The Panthers fell 44-12 to Hoehne (4-1, 13th RPI) in their opener and have been shutdown since. Dominick Gonzales threw for a touchdown in that loss, and Eddie Bowman added one on the ground.
There’s still one more week before the leaders in the Ark Valley start facing off, leaving the top match-up in that division this week seeing Hoehne visiting McClave (2-3, 25th RPI). Hoehne has won three straight since dropping a week two game to Sedgwick County. Last week, the Farmers escaped with a 40-36 win at home over Wiley (1-2, 20th RPI). Dario Vezzani ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns, while Michael Armijo added 132 yards and three scores.
McClave dropped its third straight game, all in league play, 41-14 to #10 Holly (4-1, 12th RPI) last week. The Cardinals gave up 748 yards to the Wildcats, 420 of them passing. They have been outscored 149-28 during their losing streak. McClave has lost seven straight games to Hoehne, including a 54-14 decision two years ago. They did not play last year.
Fowler (4-1, 15th RPI) has to be on upset alert, as the Grizzlies visit Wiley on Friday. The Grizzlies take a three-game winning streak into that contest, as they downed Springfield 52-24 last week. They’ve won four straight against Wiley and seven of the last nine. Last year, Fowler took a 46-6 win.
After last week’s wild 60-58 quadruple overtime victory over Front Range Christian (4-2, 23rd RPI), Byers (3-3, 16th RPI) hosts Lyons (3-2, 22nd RPI) on Friday with the winner having the inside track to the Central division crown. Dean Kerns threw for one TD and ran for six more in last week’s shootout, and the senior also scored the winning two-point conversion to give the Bulldogs their third straight win. They’ve scored at least 52 points in each game during that streak.
Lyons ran past Justice (1-3, 39th RPI) 50-14, with 36 points over the second and third quarters. Wyatt Bashor caught a pair of TD passes, and Finn Oetting scored twice in special teams, once on a 99-yard punt return and the other on an 80-yard kick return. The Lions had their four-game winning streak in the series with Byers snapped last year, as the Bulldogs scored a 42-20 victory. Byers had two pick-sixes in that contest.