Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Colorado High School Football Playoff Primer: Favorites, Challengers, Dark Horses, and Burning Questions

The leaves have turned, an autumn cold has made its way to the Front Range and dozens of high school football teams in Colorado have turned to their pads. It’s state playoff time—all except Class 3A, that is—and the brackets are set. Here’s what to watch with the big boys in Classes 5A and 4A:

class 5a

the favorite

heroic christian – An unbeaten 5A team in the regular season, top seed Velor (10-0) is the clear favourite. With future college talent, including the nation’s fifth-ranked senior in Oklahoma-bound Gavin Sachuk, the Eagles have won ten straight points. The defense allowed only 9.8 points per game, while the offense punished opponents through the air (165.4 yards/game) and on the ground (247.0 yards/game). One question that has yet to be answered is: how will eagles react if pushed into an uncomfortable position of late?


cherry creek – The two-time defending 5A champions remain formidable, even though many faces have changed from the team that reached the playoffs last time. The loss to senior running back Keegan Holles was significant, but the defense is as strong as ever. Led by junior edge rusher Blake Purchase (14.0 tackles for loss, 11.0 sacks through Week 9), the Bruins (8-2) allowed just 11.2 points per game for part of their sixth straight Centennial League title. If the offense gets another gear, beware.

legend — After reaching the semi-finals a year ago, the Titans are looking to take the next step with a run on the program’s first state title. Armed with an offense that averages 38.5 points and 373.6 yards/game, they might just have the firepower to do it. Senior running back Bryce Vaz has six 100-yard games and 21 touchdowns, while senior outside linebacker Zach Runyon (17.0 TfL) has been a threat on the other side of the ball. That said, the 25-21 loss to Mullen (3-7) in Week 2 is a head-scratcher.

the dark horse

arapaho – The regular season ended with a bang (a 32–13 loss at No. 4 Grandview), but any team defeating Cherry Creek (13–10 in Week 8) should be considered a threat. Senior linebacker Jackson Adams (10.0 TfL, 8.0 sacks) and senior defensive lineman Jereb Ramos (7.0 TfL) hold the title of a major and physical defense. If warriors can cast the same spell that won the Bruins, they can play with anyone.

three questions

Which 5A Jeffco League Team Will Run a Deeper?

Pomona, Arvada West, Columbine or Ralston Valley appear to have made it to the semi-finals. Pomona were the league champions, but were saddled with the No. 10 seed after losing to Columbine (20–6) in Week 10. Legendary coach Andy Lowry and ninth-seeded Rebels also missed a bye, but may have a break with the A-West as a possible Round of 16 opponent. The Wildcats turned in a resurgent season and broke an 11-game losing streak for Ralston Valley, but lost everything to QB Ethan Cooke due to injury in the process. And what can be made of an RV? The No. 5 Mustangs have a best seed out of four, and a win over potential quarterfinal rival No. 4 Grandview, but they’ve also lost two of their last four matches.

Which team will be the toughest in the first round?

The simple answer is columbine or pomona, number 9 and 10 seeds, respectively. But we’ll get off the board and take No. 13 Mullen. Some might question the Mustangs’ seeding, given their 3-7 overall record, but it’s as much a product of their schedule as anything else. The Mustangs played eight of the top-12 seeds in the 5A bracket, and even beat third-seeded Legend, 25-21. Senior running back Kyle Krebs (1,197 yards total) is a handful.

Will anyone other than Creek or Valor be able to access the title game?

Two of the last three 5A title games have featured Valor Christian vs Cherry Creek, and there’s a good chance we’ll get No. 3 at Empower Field on December 4. “Those are two teams that you have to play to get there,” Arapaho coach Joe Nuu said earlier this season. That said, Nuu’s Warriors got knocked out of the creek in October, and even though Valor is unbeaten, the Eagles haven’t played any of the 5A’s other top six seeds. A meeting with Grandview (led by former Cherry Creek defensive coordinator Tom Doherty) or Ralston Valley in the semi-finals could be Valor’s toughest test to date.

class 4a

the favorite

montrose – The Indians find themselves in rarefied air after being unbeaten in the 4A Southern 1 League. With wins over three of the top 11 seeds in the bracket, and a pair of 3A powers (Palisade and Durango), there’s no doubting their genuineness. But the Indians (10-0) have also not been in the state championship game since 2013, and have been 71 years removed from their lone state title (1950). With a defense that has surrendered just 13.1 points/game, and a grinding ball-control offense, Montrose can slowly suffocate quality opponents.


pine creek – It may seem strange for the third seed Eagles (8-2) to be listed ahead of two unbeaten teams in 4A. But it’s hard to go against a Pine Creek team that went up a classification in league play and hung out with a pair of 5A heavyweights in their two losses (26–23 at No. 3 Legend; 24–14 at No. 7 Regis Jesuit). The Eagles are battle-tested and full of talent, including a dangerous double threat QB (Josiah Roy, 2,091 total yards), game-breaking backs (Zion Hill, 1,043 total yards, nine TDs) and plenty of playmakers (76.0 TFL). Includes defense. , 14 takeaway).

Dakota Ridge – A case can be made that the Eagles (10–0) are the team to claim a second consecutive league title with victories at No. 9 Golden and No. 7 Chatfield after closing out the regular season to defeat. As has been the case in the previous two seasons, both ended with narrow semifinal defeats, an explosive offense at Dakota Ridge (45.1 ppg) and RB Noah Triplett (1,427 total yards, 28 TD), a slew of playmakers led by QB Adam. is a collection. Graves (1,603 pass yards) and two-way stud Dante Capolungo (1,203 all-purpose yards, 11 TDs, seven interceptions).

the dark horse

love land — Can a team really be a “dark horse” when it has won two of the last three 4A titles? In the case of Red Wolves, the answer appears to be yes. Despite the fact that Loveland (9-1) hasn’t lost a game to a 4A opponent in two years, the defending champions come into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. Still, with a physical run game led by Garrett Harstead and Drew Foley, that churned out 334.1 yards/game, and defended as much as any in 4a (7.5 points allowed/game). Well, this is a team that no one wants to play for.

three questions

Did Erie’s schedule make it to the playoff grind?

A team that leads 10-0 in the regular season while outscoring the opponents by 34.1 points/game falls out of the top of four? Schedule, schedule, schedule. As impressive as the No. 5 Tigers were in rolling in 437.5 yards and 46.5 points/game, they haven’t played a single team seeded in the top 10 of the bracket. His best win by seed: 39-21 at No. 14 Bear Creek (7-3). Needless to say, the Tigers enter the playoffs to prove something.

Nation World News Desk
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