Heading into Saturday’s eight-man semifinal contests, one thing is certain… the 2020 champion will come from either the Mountain or Plains divisions. Both games will pit a team from each league. Three of the top four seeds remain, including Sedgwick County, which finds itself two wins away from tying the state record for most consecutive state championships, at six. PHOTO BY ANTHONY GARCIA
Both games are slated for 1pm kicks on Saturday. The winners will meet on Dec. 3rd at CSU-Pueblo for the state championship.
#1 SEDGWICK COUNTY COUGARS (7-0) VS #4 DOVE CREEK BULLDOGS (5-1)
The Cougars picked up their 21st consecutive postseason victory last week, as they downed #8 Crowley County 45-12 in the quarterfinals. Sedgwick County jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead, and then utilized two Charger turnovers to add 31 in the second quarter to get the mercy clock rolling before the half. It marked the third time this season that they’ve had the mercy clock before halftime.
One of the biggest blows in the contest came after an exchange of turnovers. Right after giving the ball away at their own 11-yard line on a fumble, Sedgwick County got the ball by via an interception. The Cougars then uncorked an 80-yard touchdown pass to blow the game wide open.
Sedgwick County enters the semifinal game having outscored the opposition 341-62 on the season. The Cougars have topped the 50-point plateau four times in seven games, with a season-high of 60 coming against Haxtun in week three. No one has scored more than 16 against them.
Dove Creek cranked up its ground attack in last week’s 30-12 win over #5 Rangely, as the Bulldogs amassed 390 of their 417 yards of offense in the running game. They nearly had three players over 100 yards in that phase, with Gage Bailey tallying 161, Chorbin Cressler adding 125, and Gauge Thompson tacking on 95. Each scored a TD on the ground. Cressler added a TD pass to Kade Hankins, as well.
Bailey leads the way on the season with 877 yards and eight scores, while Thompson has 589 yards and a team-best nine touchdowns. Cressler has added 538 yards and five TDs on the ground, and 256 yards and four touchdowns passing. Thompson is easily the leading receiver, hauling in 11 passes for 142 yards and two TDs. The rest of the team has nine catches.
After his 15 tackle performance last week, Hayden Gray now has 83 stops on the season, 30 more than Blane Johnson, who is second with 53. Austin Beanland added two more sacks last week, giving him 10 on the year. Kendall Gardner recorded his sixth sack of the season in the win over Rangely. Hankins has three of the team’s six interceptions, and he’s returned a fumble for a score.
Sedgwick County is 5-0 in its previous semifinal games and the Cougars have posted shutouts in each of the last two. They’ve outscored their opponents 198-24 overall in those contests. This is the first semifinal appearance for the Bulldogs. The two programs have never met in the postseason.
#2 SANFORD INDIANS (6-0) AT #6 MERINO RAMS (6-1)
It didn’t come easily, but Sanford reached the semifinal round for the first time in program history with last week’s 36-28 win over Mancos. The Indians led 22-16 at the half, and held a two score lead for much of the second half, but had to hold on to earn the victory. Their run defense was tested mightily, as the Bluejays only threw one pass all game, and piled up 418 yards on 51 attempts. Ball security will be a point of emphasis this week, as the Indians gave the ball away multiple times last week.
The game with Merino will see the Sanford run defense be tested again, as the Rams had a stretch of three straight games with more than 400 rush yards during the regular season. That attack helped them build a 22-6 lead over #3 Fowler last week, and then grind the clock away to win by that tally.
That marked the fifth time this season that the Rams held an opponent to 16 or fewer points. It was also just the third time their offense was held below 44 points. For Sanford, last week was the first time all season that someone scored more than 14 points against them. The Indians have scored at least 36 points in each game this season.
This will be the second time the two programs have met in the postseason, but the first in more than a decade. Merino claimed a 28-8 win in the second round of the 2008 playoffs, its way to a runner-up finish. The Rams have been in the semifinals 21 previous times. They are 14-7 in those games. They were last in this round in 2018, which resulted in a 32-0 loss to Sedgwick County. As noted earlier, this is Sanford’s first time in the semifinal round.