The official start of the 2018 football season is set for next Thursday and we look at the top matchups for week one across the Class 3A, 4A and 5A divisions.


#1 Palmer Ridge at #1 Pine Creek (4A)
Easily the most attractive matchup in week one, the defending 3A state champion Palmer Ridge make the short drive to visit the 4A state runners-up.  Palmer Ridge is coming off a 14-0 season in their first ever state title season.  Pine Creek has won 62 games since 2013 and won three titles over that span (2013, 2014, 2016).
The game also features two of the best offensive players in Colorado.  Ty Evans threw for 3,627 yards and 42 TD’s in leading Palmer Ridge to the title last year.  David Moore rushed for 1,946 yards and 23 TD’s last season and gained at least 100 yards in 11 of 14 games a year ago.
Talent can be found elsewhere.  Palmer Ridge returns Anthony Roberson who caught 62 passes for 12 TD’s a year ago.  Aidan Cullen also returns to anchor a physical offensive line.  Defensively, the Bears get back Jaden Sparks (121 tackles), Charles Deeds (108) and Colton Dill (96).
Pine Creek returns their top two tacklers in Sam Miller (105) and Rece Rowan (84) while Dan Bone and Max Lofy combined for nine interceptions.  Gavin Herberg steps in for JC Coulter at QB.  Coulter threw for 1,946 yards year while Herberg attempted just 11 passes all season.  Eight of those came in the state final loss to Pueblo South.
#3 Pueblo East vs #6 Roosevelt
Somewhat identical teams meet as both the Eagles and Roughriders feature multi-talented quarterbacks who will face rugged schedules throughout the season.  Pueblo East is led by Luc Andrada who threw for 1,587 yards and 16 TD’s last year.  He’s also the leading returning rusher with 464 yards and 10 scores.  Roosevelt gets a good share of their offense from Trent Beall.  He combined for 2,300 yards of offense and 18 TD’s while leading the team in passing (1,475) and rushing (860).
Schedule wise, East also faces Longmont, Palmer Ridge, Pueblo West and Discovery Canyon in non-conference play and then has four in-city rivalry games inside their conference.  Roosevelt takes on Discovery Canyon, Mead, Holy Family and Glenwood Springs before taking on high level conference opponents Fort Morgan and Erie.
#4 Pueblo South at Holy Family
Pueblo South is the defending state champion in Class 4A but the Colts won’t make another run at that crown since they’re now in the 3A ranks.  The new division doesn’t feature many softies on their schedule however as Coach Ryan Goddard’s club also meets Erie, Discovery Canyon and Palmer Ridge in non-league play.  Pueblo East and a long trip to a good Durango club also awaits them in league action.
The Colts were known for offense during the state championship but they lost to graduation their quarterback (3,442 yards passing), running back (1,822 yards rushing) and top five receivers.  As a result, the defense may carry them early on.  Leading that group will be linebackers Ryan Montoya and Braden Christie along with CB Coby Graham.
Holy Family battled key injuries and stumbled to a 4-6 record last year.  Standout QB Stone Samaras was limited to just five games but still managed 1,106 yards and 12 TD’s.  Kyle Helbig replaced Samaras at QB but before the move, caught 27 passes for nine scores.  The top three rushers also return including Hayden Strange (535) and five of the top six tacklers are also back on defense.  The leading returnee is Matt Delgado (45 tackles).


#3 Broomfield vs Legacy
The city rivals again get together to open the season with Broomfield trying to avenge last year’s 35-21 loss.  Despite that loss and a couple of other regular season stumbles, the Eagles still made the 4A playoffs and then upset Windsor and Loveland before ending the run against Pueblo South.  Legacy could not build on last year’s win as they missed the playoffs with a 6-4 record.
The Lightning are now led by Corey Heinz as he succeeds Wayne Voorhees who took over the new program at Riverdale Ridge.  Dakota Key is the top offensive threat and is coming off a team leading 818-yard rushing season.
Broomfield has Steven Croell who is back for his third year as starting quarterback.  He threw for over 1,800 yards as a sophomore but finished his junior year with 1,069 yards and six touchdowns.  Matt Foster joins him in the backfield after gaining 316 yards rushing and 249 yards receiving a year ago.
#6 Fruita Monument at #9 Pueblo West
Both programs have plenty of tradition and both begin new eras as first-year coaches are now in charge.  Clint Buderus succeeds Monte Pinkerton at West and he comes to Pueblo after leading La Junta to the 2016 2A state championship and an appearance in the finals last year.  Cameron Ross takes over from Todd Casebier who led the Wildcats to back-to-back playoffs appearances and a perfect 10-0 regular season in 2017.
Fruita returns more offensive talent.  QB Zack Rush is back for after throwing for 780 yards in a run-dominated offense.  Treyton Queen was one of two 1,000-yard rushers a year ago (1,118) and also scored 14 touchdowns.  Jacob Burns picked up 426 yards and six scores.  Cason Gisner was second on the team with 19 receptions.
West conversely lost their top two quarterbacks, top three rushers and top receiver.  Matt Rudd is the top threat returning.  He ran for 545 yards and nine touchdowns.


#1 Cherry Creek at Doherty
The top ranked Bruins should have little trouble scoring this year as they return main threats at almost every skill position.  QB Alex Padilla tossed 40 touchdown passes as a junior and finished the season with 2,678 yards.  His top target and big play threat Dmitri Stanley (81 receptions) graduated but Marcus Miller, with 48 catches and 13 scores, could help pick up the slack.  Running backs Jayce Stacks (620) and Alec Pell (617) were 1-2 in yards gained and combined for 14 TD’s.
Doherty ran for 241 yards in an exciting 33-21 loss to Creek a year ago but 236 of that total graduated.  Gage Vanaman was third in rushing last year (460 yards) picked up 460 yards and is back to lead the rushing attack.  QB Logan Siffert may also throw the ball more after chalking up 791 yards and 13 TD’s as a sophomore.
#2 Columbine vs Denver East
The Rebels pulled off the rare double-double of winning both the 7×7 and hog team championships at the annual Denver Broncos summer competition.  That’s a good indication coach Andy Lowry’s club will get to the end zone on a regular basis this Fall.
Logan DeArment threw for 1,299 yards and 26 TD’s a junior QB.  He also ran for 924 yards and 21 more scores.  Overall, the Rebels amassed a whopping 5,294 yards on the ground as a team including two 1,000-yard rushers.  Tanner Hollens (1,390) was one of them and he returns after scoring nine touchdowns.
Up front, the Rebels have a strong unit led by Andrew Gentry, Evan Durbin and Ben Earnest.  FB Corbin Curry also plays a role in blocking for the running game and was third with 47 tackles on defense.
East won just two games last year but played well in a 48-28 loss to Columbine.  Myles Patterson may become the full-time QB.  He split time there last year and threw for 1,041 yards and seven TD’s.  Elijah Ewing caught 33 passes a year ago.
#5 Fairview at Boulder
Fairview has won the last 10 games in this series and most of them have been lopsided.  The Knights gained a 10-7 win in 2010 and also scored a 35-17 win in 2015 but all others have been decided by at least 35 points.  Last year, the Knights flew to a 57-20 decision.  Boulder’s last win came in 2007 (29-7).
Aidan Atkinson is back to lead the Knights wide-open attack.  He threw for 3,405 yards and 23 TD’s last year.  Bryce Desjardins caught 54 passes for 744 yards and returns to be the main target.  Boulder won three games a year ago but the program is headed in the right direction.  Drew Maier threw for 700 yards and should again be the starting QB.
#6 Grandview vs Chaparral
Each set of Wolverines earned playoff bids last year with Grandview reaching the state semifinals before a loss to Pomona and Chaparral being eliminated by Valor Christian in the first round.
Grandview will lean heavily on running back Jordan Billingsley.  He was held to just 27 yards and 13 carries in a 21-7 win over Chaparral in the season opener last year, but still totaled 1,905 yards and 21 TD’s for the season.  Chaparral QB Konnor Ruth threw for 136 yards against Grandview a year ago which turned out to be the second-best total of his sophomore season (818 yards).  Dylan Smithwick, with 623 yards, is the top returning running back.
#7 Eaglecrest vs #10 Highlands Ranch
The only way for Eaglecrest to top the 2017 season is to win the state title this year.  The Raptors rolled to 13-straight wins a year ago before falling short to Pomona in the wild 56-49 state championship contest.
The Raptors though have many holes to fill on the offensive side.  Lost to graduation was QB Jalen Mergerson who led the team in passing (2,544) and rushing (1,071) while scoring a combined 33 touchdowns.  Another key loss was Victor Garnes who was a threat to score whether running, receiving or returning a year ago.
Replacing Mergerson is new QB Dylan James who transfers into the program to play for new Head Coach Dustin Delaney.  They both will benefit by playing with arguably the best offensive line in Colorado headed up by Jake Wiley, Barrett Miller and Reece Atteberry.
Highlands Ranch opened 3-0 last season but settled at 6-5 following a first-round loss to Columbine (45-14).  Dominic Bettini picked up 1,604 yards rushing with 16 TD’s as a junior.  Tyler Dobbs (78 tackles), Jacob Krzeminski (73) and Drake Nugent (71) all return on defense.
#9 Ralston Valley vs Mountain Vista
Both teams seek improvement over basically 500 seasons a year ago.  Mountain Vista (5-5) missed the playoffs while Ralston Valley (6-5) was beaten by Cherry Creek 34-21 in their playoff opener.
The Golden Eagles return QB Campbell Lancaster who compiled 1,031 yards passing in just five games.  Noah Hicks led the running game with 496 yards and he also returns.  Cameron Williams is back after ending up third on the team with 25 catches and five touchdowns in 2017.
Ralston Valley has a similar list of returnees.  AJ Jergensen threw for 1,503 yards and 12 TD’s while Brad Roberts (626) and Chase Wilson (477) paced the running game.  On defense, top tackler Isaac Townsend (65) also returns.  He recorded 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Out of state competition
Three teams inside the pre-season top 10 begin the 2018 season outside the state borders.  #3 Valor Christian meets Faith Christian NV; #4 and defending state champion Pomona meets Oak Ridge FL and #8 Regis is at Barron Collier FL.  All three clubs have quick turnarounds with games next week.  Class 5A teams have just 10 weeks to get in 10 games as the playoffs have been expanded from 16 to 24 teams.