Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer
Andy Cross / THE DENVER POST
While several football teams have been in playoff mode for the past few weeks, the real ‘win-or-go-home’ mindset has now fully kicked in for Class 4A and 3A teams lucky enough to still be preparing and playing for action. With two Class 5A teams now entering the second round still alive, nine area squads will be playing this weekend. Here’s a quick look at each matchup.
Class 5A second round (in bracket order)
No. 9 Fairview at No. 8 ThunderRidge
Details: Friday, 7 p.m., Shea Stadium (Highlands Ranch)
What to know: A rematch of a Week 3 affair that came down to a Grizzlies third-quarter touchdown and a late Fairview fumble, the Knights travel back to Shea with a better understanding of each other and a faith in a backup quarterback that has not wavered since he took the first snap of the second half of the regular-season finale. Liam O’Brien, a sophomore, threw for 238 yards in a first-round win against Denver East, and the Knights will continue to utilize a mid-range attack where his receivers are most comfortable. ThunderRidge has had two weeks to heal up as a squad, and the Grizzlies have been dangerous with a 1,600-yard passer (Ryan Gilmore), a 1,400-yard rusher (Spencer Lambert) and a 600-yard receiver (Scott Ruckel).
Who to watch: For Fairview, it’s keeping eyes on Gilmore. The senior has 894 yards rushing to boot, and it was his 175 yards on the ground that helped T-Ridge in the earlier meeting.
No. 21 Legacy at No. 5 Grandview
Details: Saturday, 1 p.m., Legacy Stadium (Cherokee Trail HS).
What to know: The highest-seeded team still alive in 5A, Legacy won its first playoff game by beating Mullen for what appears to be the first time ever (just four meetings all-time), 33-24. The Lightning racked up 467 total yards of offense in that game, and it wasn’t all star Dakota Key (though he had 83 rushing yards and a touchdown). In fact, Jaden Wingfield totaled 115 yards and a touchdown, and Jack Smith and Jaiden Peterson each had receiving TD’s to oust the Mustangs. The challenge grows tremendously against the Wolves, whose lone loss was to Eaglecrest by a single point back in Week 6. Grandview’s numbers offensively aren’t other-worldy, but they do have a stout Jordan Billingsley (1,535 yards, 20 touchdowns) as the featured back. Brandy Okeke is a senior stud on the edges, too.
Who to watch: Peterson. His past four weeks have included a pair of 100-yard receiving games and two long touchdowns, giving quarterback Nick McCarthy another deep threat.
Class 4A first round
No. 9 Skyline at No. 8 Pueblo West
Details: Saturday, 1 p.m., Cyclone Stadium (PWHS)
What to know: The sixth-toughest schedule according to the RPI calculations has given the Falcons a tough road to the title game, with the more daunting task of a possible round two matchup against top-seeded Pine Creek looming if SHS can upend the Cyclones. The Falcons were beat up a little bit against Loveland in a battle for the Longs Peak League title last week, but they have the tools to bounce back with speed on the edges, a bulldozer in Jeremy Hollingsworth (1,351 yards, 17 TD’s) running up the gut and the return of senior quarterback Nate McGregor — the latter who may see some different roles throughout the game this week. Legendary coach Clint Buderas guided the Cyclones to the Pikes Peak League title, and the Cyclones have used a steady rushing game to excel.
Who to watch: McGregor. After a heartbreaking ankle injury cost him a lot of the season, the senior is back and determined to make a difference in the passing game. Last week he caught five passes for 62 yards and a score.
No. 13 Chatfield at No. 4 Broomfield
Details: Saturday, 1 p.m., Elizabeth Kennedy Stadium
What to know: Two years removed from their 2016 4A state championship game appearance, the Eagles enter the playoffs with high expectations while also riding an emotional jolt after beating Longmont 72-50 last week. The offensive explosion featured six Steven Croell touchdown tosses (on just 10 completed passes) to four receivers, and BHS also accumulated 213 rushing yards to boot. The Eagles may be meeting Chatfield for the first time, but the Chargers will have plenty of fresh film to see what not to do against the Eagles. Meanwhile, CHS has allowed just 14 points total in its past two contests and will be looking to eat up a lot of clock with its gang of backfield warriors that have combined for more than 2,500 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Who to watch: Ryan Capasso. The senior’s stock continues to rise as he has produced nine sacks this year, and if he can wreak havoc in front of the home crowd the Eagles will be more likely to move on.
No. 12 Longmont at No. 5 Ponderosa
Details: Saturday, 1 p.m., EchoPark Stadium (Parker)
What to know: The 2018 Longmont Trojans have been resilient, to say the least. Yes, coach Doug Johnson’s team enters the playoffs with seven wins but in looking deeper it’s been some late-game heroics that have given LHS reason to believe they can win close games. Against Ponderosa, it may be about exactly that — trying to keep it close. Longmont surrendered 29 first-quarter points to Broomfield last week and can’t afford to fall too far behind against the Mustangs.
Who to watch: Sage Yazzie has been the reliable red zone target for Oakley Dehning, and the junior leads the team in all receiving categories including 11 touchdowns.
Class 3A first round
No. 8 Evergreen at No. 9 Mead
Details: Saturday, 1 p.m., Mead HS
What to know: One can only guess why Mead just didn’t get the 8 seed, but the fact that the Mavericks won their league (Evergreen did not) while losing a tight early-season game at Evergreen head-to-head are fairly logical explanations why MHS gets to host as a 9 seed. Can they take advantage of the home field? Certainly their defensive efforts over the past five games are noteworthy (7.6 points per game allowed) and they’ll run the ball all day behind what has been a sturdy O-line.
Who to watch: Mead’s defensive front seven. Led by Tanner Liese, Jacob Bartholomew and Jay Olson, the Mavericks have racked up 20 sacks and 37 TFL’s so far this year.
No. 12 Holy Family at No. 5 Harrison
Details: Friday, 7 p.m., Harrison HS
What to know: The Tigers are back in the playoffs after missing out in 2017, and they are looking to reverse some recent history by making a deep run. Holy Family is just 2-8 in the postseason since 2008. That said, HFHS are playing a Harrison team that has never had a playoff win (0-7 all-time). The Tigers were on cruise control the past two games with an aggregate score of 97-3, but they continue to explore their offensive capabilities with Kyle Helbig thrust into the role of quarterback. Harrison did win the 3A Southern League behind a well-balanced attack that dominated to the tune of a 372-65 scoring margin.
Who to watch: The Tigers’ ball-hawking defense. Holy Family has caused 24 opponent turnovers, and any advantage in field position on the road could lend itself to big things in an upset bid.
No. 14 Durango at No. 3 Erie
Details: Saturday, 1 p.m., Erie HS
What to know: Much of the pressure of being a top-ranked team according to the polls may subside given Erie’s placement as a No. 3 seed in the bracket, and in fact could be ‘bulletin-board material’ the Tigers could use to thrive. Having a playoff opener against a team that provided a great challenge in 2017 could provide a nice springboard to a deep run, too. Durango and Erie played to a 35-28 game in the second round last year, and Erie will be dealing with many of the same Demons skill players on Saturday at EHS. Will it be a final-minute thriller again?
Who to watch: We hate to be so obvious, but Noah Roper has continued to dazzle all season with 32 touchdowns and a 10.4 average on 177 carries of the rock — that’s 3.1 yards more per tote than during last year’s breakout campaign.
No. 10 Frederick at No. 7 Discovery Canyon
Details: Saturday, 1 p.m., District 20 Stadium (Liberty HS)
What to know: It’s been five long years for Frederick to get back in the playoffs, and while some may argue they deserved a spot in 2017 having gone 6-4, the Warriors have a good chance to pull off an upset against a Thunder team that made the state title game in 2016. A team with great leadership in its senior class, Frederick’s juniors have been the group elevating the team to new heights this season and they’ve done it by distributing the football effectively among a stable of running backs. The hope is there is no hangover from last week’s performance against Mead.
Who to watch: Dylan Sindelar was held to just one catch for 12 yards last week against the Mavs, but the junior had three brilliant weeks prior to that with roughly 300 total yards and four touchdowns. Regaining that connection with QB Jake Green would be huge.
All dates, times and locations are subject to change. Please check with schools for up-to-date information.
Follow Adam Dunivan: email@example.com and on Twitter @adamdunivan24.