LOUISVILLE -- When Phil Bravo institutes Monarch's game plan each week, every opponent for which he prepares has its stallion of a player, its style of attack and its own idiosyncrasies.
Safe to say, none have quite resembled Pueblo West.
As the Coyotes gear up for the Class 4A semifinal matchup (1 p.m., Saturday, Warrior Stadium), two things about the undefeated Cyclones raise the red flags.
Most notably, running back Derek Jackson is 267 yards away from breaking Colorado's single-season rushing record of 3,416 yards (set by Myles Smith of 8-man Cheyenne Wells in 2003).
Jackson has produced five straight 300-yard performances, including 384 in a 50-27 win against Windsor in the quarterfinals.
"He's a very good back, and we've faced a lot of good backs throughout the season," Monarch defensive lineman Jon Sanders said. "We just have to contain him. If he gets 500 yards rushing against us and we win, it doesn't matter."
In addition -- and this is what makes Pueblo West (12-0) the biggest wild card -- the Cyclones are known to attempt an onside kick virtually every time they kick off.
After a score. To start a half. When trailing. When leading. Always.
"It's a big game-changer," Monarch linebacker Colin Hart said. "If they get the ball, it's on the 50-yard line and a very short field to go. But also, if we get the ball, it's a short field for us. It's a very high-risk, high-reward play."
This is big-boy football, as Monarch (11-1) enters with 10 straight wins in a contest that will determine which squad will play in the championship game (Dec. 1, Sports Authority Field at Mile High) against the Mesa Ridge-Denver South winner.
Monarch's success against Jackson and defending the onside kick might be the determining factors.
"Jackson is strong, he's shifty, he's fast and he's resilient," Bravo said. "It's an incredible challenge. We've put some things together and we're going to do our best to control him."
Added Hart: "I think our whole defense is excited to face him, because that's always a fun challenge to have."
Bravo said his team has worked to defend the onside kick at practice all season, but hadn't quite prepared for a squad that does it so regularly. Much of the latter half of the week was dedicated to defending it.
"It's a big deal," running back/safety Logan Soole said. "If we don't get it, it's a very bad thing for us, obviously."
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