As the first hints of winter grip the state of Colorado, high school football season is down to its final three weekends. With eight teams left in each of the state’s three largest classifications, here’s a preview of what to look for:
No. 9 ThunderRidge (11-1) at No. 1 Cherry Creek (9-2), 1 p.m.*: The matchup between precocious freshman QBs DJ Bordeaux (T-Ridge) and Brady Vodicka (Creek) is rightfully the headliner. But it’s the teams’ ferocious pass rushers who will likely decide this one. Creek may have the two best edge rushers in the state in senior FBS talents Blake Purchase (Oregon commit) and Chase Brackney (Iowa). But T-Ridge’s defensive front, led by senior DE Kaden Shouse, has no shortage of playmakers itself and is averaging nearly three sacks per game.
No. 5 Pine Creek (9-2) at No. 4 Grandview (9-2), 1 p.m.: Pine Creek got all it could handle from Legacy last week in a back-and-forth 30-24 win that turned on a pair of fourth-quarter takeaways. The Eagles will need a similar effort against a Grandview squad led by junior dual threat QB Liam Szarka (2,315 total yards, 30 TDs passing/rushing) and a stout defense that’s shut out two of its last three opponents and held Cherry Creek to 21 points in a surprise Week 10 upset.
No. 7 Regis Jesuit (7-4) at No. 2 Valor Christian (9-2), 7 p.m. Friday: Valor isn’t just playing for a fifth straight trip to the 5A semifinals. The Eagles are also out for revenge against a Regis team that beat them in a Week 1 overtime thriller. The biggest difference between then and now: Junior QB Asher Weiner has taken the reins of a Valor offense that’s hitting its stride under first-year coach Bret McGatlin. Regis has won five of six itself, including a 63-28 rout of Fossil Ridge last week.
No. 6 Columbine (10-1) at No. 3 Ralston Valley (9-2), 1 p.m.: For the second time in four seasons, these Jeffco League rivals meet in the playoffs weeks after RV handed Columbine its lone loss of the regular season. In 2019, the Rebels won the rematch to reach the 5A final. If they are to do the same again, they must finish drives against an RV defense that held them to a season-low 13 points in Week 7. Columbine’s RB tandem of Marquane Taylor (1,405 yards, 26 TDs) and Josh Snyder (1,288, 12) is a handful. So, too, are RV QB Logan Madden (1,910 yards passing) and RB Diano Benallo (1,123 yards).
No. 8 Vista Ridge (8-3) at No. 1 Palmer Ridge (11-0), 7 p.m. Friday: Four-star QB Brayden Dorman (3,658 yards, 49 TDs passing) and senior targets Brandon Hills (75 receptions, 1,519 yards) and Keyshawn Dooley (69-1,216) get one last shot at Palmer Ridge. The Wolves nearly upset their league rivals in their regular-season finale, but the Bears defense shut out Vista Ridge over the final quarter and got two TDs from senior Nathaniel Robinson to escape with a win. After losing twice to the Bears the past two seasons, could the third time be the charm?
No. 5 Montrose (9-2) at No. 4 Loveland (10-1), 7 p.m. Friday: Loveland allowed an opponent to score for the first time in a month in last week’s 35-21 win over Dakota Ridge. Still, the Red Wolves controlled that game from start to finish. Montrose, meanwhile, was pushed to the brink by Golden in a 47-43 thriller. Facing Loveland’s fire-breathing defense, can the Red Hawks summon the same offense that’s averaged 46.7 points over the last nine games (all wins)?
No. 7 Heritage (8-3) at No. 2 Broomfield (11-0), 1 p.m.*: In yet another rematch of league rivals, Broomfield gets a Heritage team it beat 17-13 in Week 10. Both defenses have been lights out all fall. OLBs Nick Long (16.0 tackles for loss) and Cade Kunz (14.0) lead a Heritage unit that’s allowed just 7.2 points/game since Week 3, while senior DE Garrett Keeler (17.0 TFLs) and sophomore CB Mikhail Benner (7 interceptions) head a Broomfield defense that has three shutouts and 34 takeaways.
No. 11 Erie (8-4) at No. 3 Ponderosa (9-2), 1 p.m.: After taking down No. 6 Denver South 35-10 in the Round of 16, all-everything QB Blake Barnett and the Tigers get a rematch with a Ponderosa team that gave them the business, 39-27, in Week 1. That Ponderosa win came with a healthy Zach Stryker taking snaps, however, and the senior QB has played sparingly since a mid-October injury. While sophomore Max Mervin has produced in his absence the past two weeks (347 total yards, 7 TDs passing/rushing), Stryker’s return would be a welcome counterbalance to Erie’s high-powered attack.
No. 9 Evergreen (9-2) at No. 1 Roosevelt (11-0), 1 p.m.*: The Roosevelt buzzsaw has ripped through every 3A team it’s faced this fall, with only 5A Highlands Ranch able to stay within single digits. Now, after a 41-0 rout of Discovery Canyon, the Roughriders get an Evergreen team that knocked off eighth-seeded Thompson Valley behind a dominant defensive effort that even included a safety. More of the same will be needed against Roosevelt, which is averaging 40.9 points/game.
No. 13 Palisade (5-6) vs. No. 5 Green Mountain (11-0), 1 p.m.: Those who paid close attention knew Palisade was a potential giant killer despite its sub-.500 record — something the Bulldogs proved with a dramatic 14-7 win over fourth-seeded Northridge in last week’s opening round. Pulling off another stunner will be no easy task against the Rams, whose defense is among the stingiest in 3A with six shutouts, including last week’s 58-0 demolition of Resurrection Christian.
No. 11 Frederick (8-3) at No. 3 Lutheran (9-2), 1 p.m.: A week after a late-game collapse at George Washington possibly cost Frederick a home playoff game, the Golden Eagles responded by rolling up 346 yards and six touchdowns in an upset of No. 6 Summit. The task only gets tougher this week with a visit to Lutheran, which hasn’t lost to a 3A team this fall and is averaging 41.9 points/game. The Lions have a quarterback who’s thrown for over 2,000 yards (Ryken Daugaard), a running back who’s topped 1,000 yards rushing (Ryan Kenny) and a receiver with more than 1,000 yards receiving (Joe Ciccio).
No. 10 George Washington (10-1) at No. 2 Durango (10-1), 1 p.m.: Armed with two 1,000-yard runners in Marcellus Honeycutt and Marquevios Lee, and an explosive CSU-bound receiver in Silas Evans (32 receptions, 605 yards), GW has created an offensive juggernaut in East Denver. Now comes a trip to the Western Slope, where a Durango defense with 25 takeaways, 38 tackles for loss and 87 points allowed in 10 contested games awaits.
* All games Saturday unless otherwise listed.