No. 28 Heritage (4-5) vs. No. 5 Arapahoe (8-1) @ Littleton Public Schools Stadium, 1 p.m. Nov. 3
Game Plan: It’s a Week 1 rematch as cross-town rivals Heritage and Arapahoe prepare to square off in the opening round of the Class 5A state tournament. The Warriors defeated the Eagles 38-23 in the regular season, and would go on to win the 5A Super 6 League championship.
Quarterback Taven Sparks has emerged in the second half of the season; the senior finished the regular season completing 78-of-134 passes for 976 yards with nine touchdowns and just three interceptions. Running back Jose Cancanon gained 920 yards and scored nine touchdowns, while Ethan Brunhofer (29-387-5) and Michael Babb (23-328-1) were the big receiving targets. Defensively, Thomas Trotman, Blake Nelson and Will Albyn lead the way.
For Heritage, the key is going to be getting senior running back/quarterback Bryan Carlson heavily involved in the gameplan. Carlson finished with 962 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, also threw for 380 yards. Bravion Haynes, another running back, had 507 yards on the season. Jon Wilson anchors the Heritage defensive line.
The senior finished with 100 tackles, second on the team to Nate Novotny, who had 103.
Extra point: All the momentum appers to be on Arapahoe’s side. The Warriors won their first league title since 2004 with a come-from-behind win over Chatfield.
No. 20 Regis Jesuit (4-5) vs. No. 13 Gateway (7-2); 6 p.m. Nov. 1 at Aurora Public Schools Stadium
Game plan: It’s all about defense for the Raiders; they allowed fewer than 30 points in every game this season, with the exception of a 35-7 defeat to Mullen. Three of Regis Jesuit’s five losses were by seven points or fewer. The running back tandem of Jalen and Trevor Williams (combined for 882 yards and nine touchdowns) will need to be a factor for the Raiders against a Gateway defense that allowed just 66 points on the season.
Extra point: Playing on the road is never easy but the Raiders have proven to be a team that can play with any team in the state, so expect a close game.
No. 29 Legacy (4-5) @ No. 4 Valor Christian (7-2), 7 p.m. Nov. 1
Game plan: Don’t mess with success. Valor Christian enters the playoffs with a seven-game winning streak, fueled by explosive plays on offense and a stout defensive attack. Quarterback Luke Del Rio has put up big numbers, completing 68% of his passes (108-of-158 for 1,398 yards) and throwing 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions. The Eagles have a plethora of skill players, but look for junior tailback Christian McCaffrey to make at least one big play. McCaffrey finished the year with 636 rushing yards (8.6 yards per carry) and also caught 34 passes for 434 yards and scored a total of 21 touchdowns. Justin Falls led the defense with 57 tackles.
Extra point: While they may be the No. 4 seed in the 32-team field, the state title is Valor’s to lose at this point. If they execute the way they have the past two months, they’ll win their fourth-straight state championship, and first in Class 5A.
No. 17 Cherry Creek (5-4) @ No. 16 Brighton (8-1), Time TBD.
Game plan: Cherry Creek ended the regular season the same it started, losing two straight games. Sandwiched between the losses was a five-game winning streak. The Bruins will need a big game out of quarterback Luke Papilion 102-of-186 for 1,171 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions, as well as senior running back Tahj Willingham, who gained 1,199 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.
Extra point: Cherry Creek has the talent to win this game; it’s just a matter of execution. The Bruins were rolling up until the second half of the Grandview game, then the wheels came off and not did they lost that game (and a share of the Centennial League title), but they lost 29-28 to Eaglecrest in the regular season finale. Getting off to a fast start will be paramount.
No. 16 Strasburg (5-4) @ No. 1 Kent Denver (9-0), 1 p.m. Nov. 3
Game plan: Run, run, run and run some more. If you’re Kent Denver, and you are, that’s what got you to 9-0 and it’s what will get you through the state playoffs.
Fullback Brannon Jones is a Division I-talent; he’s gained 493 yards on just 78 carries and scored four touchdowns for the Sun Devils.
Sophomore Jaden Franklin is the playmaker for the team, and he had quite a season, amassing 1,416 yards on 123 carries (11.5 yards per carry) and scored 19 touchdowns. Quarterback Joey Matarazzo has shown he can throw the ball downfield, and he’s also a threat to run the ball out of the team’s option attack. Defensively, Chantz Tanner is a constant force to be dealt with; he finished the season with 95 tackles (64 solo).
Matt Pettyjohn led the team with three interceptions.
Extra point: All signs point to a Kent Denver-Eaton matchup for the 2A state championship. The Sun Devils have dominated every opponent they’ve played this season, and are looking to advance further than 2011, when they reached the 2A semifinals.