With college football rivalries going by the wayside weekly due to conference realignment, prep sports offer a nice oasis from the insanity.
The high school athletics realm is one where decades-long traditions and rivalries — not to mention common-sense concepts like geography — still mean something.
That’s why the Class 1A state quarterfinal football game between No. 4 Lyons and No. 5 Akron at LHS on Saturday has a bittersweet feel to it.
Sweet because the two foes have staged high-stakes battles on the gridiron for years, and this one figures to be more of the same. Bitter because this is likely their last meeting for the foreseeable future.
Don’t worry. Neither team is starting its own television network (though both school districts would probably welcome the extra cash).
Akron, a school on the Eastern Plains that has been fighting enrollment declines, is moving down to 8-man next season. The Rams could have done so in the current two-year cycle. But with juggernaut status comes a certain amount of pride that you can still compete with the big boys (relatively speaking) regardless of circumstances. And so the school gave it one more shot in 1A.
For Lyons and Akron, their rivalry appeared to end in 2008 when LHS left the North Central Conference for the Metro North. The CHSAA-sanctioned realignment was driven not by money but by the noble notions of geography — thanks to a few more 1A schools popping up on the Front Range — and balancing out the strength of the various leagues.
But after missing each other in 2008, the two teams have met in the playoffs each year since.
Although their history as foes goes back further, the 2000s alone have provided enough fuel that could have kept the rivalry burning for years to come.
Akron, the team of the new millenium in 1A with five state titles, was nemesis No. 1 for the Lions.
In 11 meetings since 2001, Lyons has won just twice. But there was always plenty on the line. Three times (2001, 2002, 2006) Akron defeated LHS in state title games. Lyons won in the regular season in 2005 before finally breaking through against the Rams in the postseason last year.
“The kids have felt like they’re the team to beat, and we’ve modeled ourselves after them in a lot of ways,” LHS coach John Nichols said Wednesday.
Lyons players’ eyes lit up last weekend at the prospect of facing Akron after their first-round win over Peyton. They grew up watching the two teams square off, and they also got a little boost of confidence with last year’s victory after so many postseason disappointments.
Nichols holds nothing but respect for Akron coach Brian Christensen and his program. And he’ll miss plenty about the series despite the two-hour bus ride to Akron, where opposing teams’ accommodations had no restrooms, thus forcing players to wait in line with the public at halftime.
But he’s also trying just as hard as ever to get his players geared up for the clash one last time. There is no better way, after all, to honor the rivalry and send it into the history books than by giving the other team all it can handle.
“I’m trying to get it in our kids’ minds that we still have a lot of payback left to get in there,” Nichols said. “They’ve ended a lot of seasons for us and given us a lot of heartache. So it would be nice to have those eternal bragging rights, assuming they never come up to 1A again.”
No. 1 Columbine (10-0)
at No. 17 Fairview (6-4)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Recht Field.
First round: Fairview 28, Regis 24; Columbine 28, Fort Collins 10.
Quick hits: This is the fourth postseason meeting between the two in 12 years, with Columbine winning in the finals in 2002 and the quarters in 1999 and Fairview winning in the quarters in 2009. The 5A No. 1 Rebels have allowed more than 14 points just twice all season but also didn’t exactly cruise in the first round last week. An upset will be tough, but the senior-laden Knights could make this more of a game than most expect.
Lindenstein’s line: Columbine by 9.
No. 15 Durango (4-6)
at No. 2 Monarch (10-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Warrior Stadium.
Last playoff appearance: Monarch — 2010, lost in first round to Longmont. Durango — 2010, lost in first round to Broomfield.
Quick hits: Durango squeaked into the 4A playoffs but brings a talented QB-WR tandem into the game in Joe Keresey and Easton Garcia. They’ll have to contend with a Monarch defense allowing just seven points per game. The Coyotes, who boast a pair of 900-yard rushers, are hungry to atone for last year’s early playoff exit.
Lindenstein’s line: Monarch by 24.
No. 10 Cheyenne Mtn. (8-2)
at No. 7 Broomfield (8-2)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Elizabeth Kennedy Stadium.
Last playoff appearance: Broomfield — 2010, lost to Valor Christian in semifinals. Cheyenne Mountain — 2002, lost to Monarch in first round.
Quick hits: Broomfield might be the sleeper of the 4A bracket. The Eagles’ only two losses of the season came to No. 2 Monarch and No. 5 Longmont, and they own three wins over 5A competition this season. Balanced Cheyenne Mountain comes in having lost two of its last three.
Lindenstein’s line: Broomfield by 11.
No. 14 Palmer Ridge (7-3)
at No. 3 Silver Creek (9-1)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Everly-Montgomery Field.
Last playoff appearance: Silver Creek — 2010, lost to Vista Ridge in quarterfinals. Palmer Ridge — 2010, lost in first round to Elizabeth.
Quick hits: Last year marked 3A Silver Creek’s first-ever trip to the quarterfinals. Win this one, and the Raptors could get a shot at revenge against No. 6 Vista Ridge in the quarters this season. Palmer Ridge will be no pushover after playing No. 1 Canon City tough two weeks ago. But the Bears will have to find a way to keep up with Silver Creek’s high-scoring ways.
Lindenstein’s line: Silver Creek by 19.
No. 12 Falcon (7-3)
at No. 5 Longmont (10-0)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Saturday, Everly-Montgomery Field.
Last playoff appearance: Longmont — 2010, lost to Dakota Ridge in quarterfinals. Falcon — 2010, lost to Loveland in first round.
Quick hits: With a Week 10 bye, Longmont has had a week to rest up for the 4A postseason. Barring a letdown, the Trojans’ versatile and balanced offense should be too much to handle for a Falcon group that has twice given up more than 50 points this season. A quarterfinal trip would mark Longmont’s fourth in a row.
Lindenstein’s line: Longmont by 22.
No. 16 Frederick (7-3)
at No. 1 Canon City (10-0)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Saturday, Citizens Stadium.
Last playoff appearance: Frederick — 2010, lost to Elizabeth in quarterfinals. Canon City — 2010, lost to Glenwood Springs in semifinals.
Quick hits: Class 3A Frederick won its first playoff game ever a year ago and this year is aiming for its first eight-win season. But the Warriors will have to find a way to overcome last week’s humbling loss to Windsor for the league title. Canon has had a tough run to No. 1, winning three of its last four games by eight points or fewer.
Lindenstein’s line: Canon City by 12.
No. 12 Holy Family (8-2)
at No. 5 Windsor (9-1)
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Dudley Field.
Last playoff appearance: Holy Family — 2009, lost in 2A quarterfinals to Platte Canyon. Windsor — 2010, lost to Canon City in quarterfinals.
Quick hits: Since a Week 5 loss to Silver Creek, Windsor has pounded foes by a combined 221-26 behind a big, physical offensive line and power running attack. A power in 2A, Holy Family gets its first chance to prove itself in the 3A postseason. The Tigers have allowed more than 20 points just twice all season.
Lindenstein’s line: Windsor by 10.
No. 5 Akron (8-2)
at No. 4 Lyons (9-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Saturday, Jet Johnson Field.
First round: Lyons 31, Peyton 14; Akron 34, Byers 14.
Quick hits: This 1A quarterfinal game could be over in 90 minutes as both teams like to pound the football. Both are led in the ground game by their quarterbacks, Jordan Melani for Lyons and Jourdan Hottinger for the Rams. Lyons won 17-15 last year when the two met in the first round, but Akron has had the upper hand overall, leading the series 9-2 since 2001.
Lindenstein’s line: Lyons by 3.