Colorado high school football playoffs primer


An autumn chill has descended upon the Front Range and dozens of Colorado high school football teams have turned in their helmets and pads. It’s state playoff time — for everyone but Class 3A — and the brackets are set. Here’s what to watch for with the big schools in Class 5A and 4A:

Class 5A

The Favorite

Cherry Creek: Yes, the Bruins closed out the regular season with a loss to Grandview (24-21). Yes, they are starting a freshman at quarterback (Brady Vodicka). And, yes, there’s a sense 5A is as up for grabs as it’s been in years. All that said, that freshman is pretty darn good, the defense is loaded with FBS talent, and Dave Logan’s squad has won three consecutive 5A titles. Until someone beats the Bruins (8-2) in November or December, they are the favorites.

The Challengers

Valor Christian: Much like Creek, Valor (8-2) was tested in Week 10. Unlike Creek, the No. 2 seed escaped with a 49-35 win after its defense held Mountain Vista to one TD in the second half. A sign of vulnerability? Or indicative of a squad that’s learned how to finish? At least one other piece of evidence — Valor’s 20-7 fourth quarter in a 27-23 come-from-behind victory over Ralston Valley in Week 5 — points to the latter.

Ralston Valley: There is no more accomplished giant killer in 5A than RV. While the Mustangs (8-2) have narrow losses to Creek and Valor, they also have wins over three of the bracket’s top eight seeds in No. 4 Grandview (33-21), No. 6 Columbine (16-13) and No. 7 Regis Jesuit (29-28). To put it another way, the Mustangs are battle tested. Throw in efficient junior QB Logan Madden (1,776 yards, 17 TDs) and reliable targets Josh Rillos (35 receptions, 663 yards) and Jackson Hansen (43-539), and there’s a lot to like.

The Dark Horse

Grandview: A Week 10 stunner over Cherry Creek proved the Wolves (8-2) can beat anyone. But a Week 7 loss to Arapahoe showed what can happen when they aren’t sharp, as Grandview trailed 28-0 at halftime before eventually falling 28-21. Junior QB Liam Szarka (2,232 total yards, 28 TDs passing/rushing) and sophomore RB Donavon Vernon (157 carries, 1,038 yards) form a talented backfield, while DE Mulumba Wa-Kalonji leads a stingy senior-laden defense. When it’s all clicking, the Wolves are dangerous. Honorable mention: No. 6 Columbine, which is 9-1 with a dominant defense (10.4 points allowed/game), but also split its only two games against top 10 competition.

Three questions

Which first-round team will be the toughest out?

It’s tempting to go with 16th-seeded Fountain Fort-Carson, which just knocked off No. 7 Regis Jesuit. Except the Trojans would draw Cherry Creek in the Round of 16, and that’s a tall order. No. 12 Legacy, which has won eight straight under former Pomona coach Jay Madden, is similarly attractive. But the Lightning also lost its lone meeting with one of the top 10 seeds (10-3 at Arapahoe). That leaves us with the obvious choice — No. 9 ThunderRidge, which has just one loss on its resume (19-7 vs. Valor) and has shown an uncanny knack for producing second-half comebacks. Just ask Arvada West, Mountain Vista, Chatfield and Rock Canyon — all of whom lost to the Grizzlies (9-1) after going into halftime with a lead.

Can a team outside of Denver metro make a run?

As is often the case, all but one of the top eight seeds in the 5A bracket are taken up by teams from the Denver metro. The lone outsider? Fifth-seeded Pine Creek (8-2), which is competing at the 5A level for the first time and must get past Grandview to reach the semifinals. Outside of the Eagles, the two best hopes reside up north with No. 10 Fossil Ridge (8-2) and No. 14 Fairview (9-1). While Fossil Ridge boasts a strong aerial attack that’s produced an average of 33.7 points/game, Fairview is 3-1 against 5A playoff teams, including a 42-26 win over the SaberCats. As always, Tom McCartney’s Knights are lurking.

Will someone other than Valor or Creek reach the final?


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