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A breakdown of each of the Colorado high school football championship games in Class 3A, 4A and 5A to be played this weekend at the ThunderBowl at CSU-Pueblo.
No. 1 Cherry Creek (8-0) vs. No. 2 Valor Christian (7-0)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Last meeting: Valor Christian 24, Cherry Creek 14, on Dec. 1, 2018
Passing leaders: Creek — Julian Hammond III, Sr., 105-of-153 passing for 1,373 yards, 19 TDs and 5 INTs. Valor — Sean McNair, Sr., 57-88-790, 6 TDs, 1 INT.
Rushing leaders: Creek — James Walker II, Sr., 108 carries, 1,010 yards, 11 TDs. Valor — Gavin Sawchuk, Jr., 108-1,086, 17 TDs; Zachary Wiley, Jr., 61-413, 9 TDs.
Receiving leaders: Creek — Chase Penry, Sr., 45 catches, 648 yards, 8 TDs; Gunnar Helm, Sr., 28-367, 7 TDs. Valor — Tyler Larson, Sr., 14-381, 2 TDs.
Defensive leaders: Creek — Myles Purchase, Sr., CB, 22 tackles, 5 INTs, 6 TDs (2 pick-6s); Malik Majekodunmi, Sr., DE, 36 tackles (15.0 for loss), 7.0 sacks; Arden Walker, Sr., DE, 31 tackles (10.0 for loss), 6.0 sacks; Luis Lozano, Sr., LB, 55 tackles (6.0 for loss), 1 INT. Valor — Elijah Hamilton, Sr., MLB, 50 tackles (6.0 for loss) 1 INT; Jordan Norwood, Jr., MLB, 40 tackles (6.5 for loss), 1 sack; Andrew Hale, Jr., S, 34 tackles (2.5 for loss), 2 INTs; Zaire Jackson, Sr., CB, 24 tackles (2.0 for loss), 1 INT.
There is only one team that has consistently had Cherry Creek’s number since coach Dave Logan took over in 2012 — the Valor Christian Eagles. The two storied programs have met eight times in the past six seasons, with Valor winning the last six, most recently in the 2018 5A championship — which also happens to be the last time Creek lost.
Now comes perhaps the most anticipated meeting of them all. Both teams dominated their abbreviated schedules, with Creek outscoring opponents by an average margin of 36.0 points and Valor by 43.71. Creek hasn’t given up more than one touchdown to an opponent since Week 1, while Valor has surrendered double-digit points just twice.
As both coaches conceded earlier this week, this game will likely be won in the trenches. That may very well include a few intriguing one-on-one matchups between Valor’s junior left tackle Jake Maikkula (CU, CSU offers) and Creek defensive end Arden Walker (CU, Texas, UCLA) — the highest-rated uncommitted senior in the state by 247Sports.com.
As is always the case with these two, there will be multiple FBS-level players on both sides of the ball. Cherry Creek’s senior class, in particular, is loaded with six three-star recruits headed to Power 5 programs. That doesn’t even include running back James Walker II — a talented 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior with an offer from Northern Colorado — or CU basketball commit Julian Hammond III at QB.
On the other sideline is one of the 50 most-coveted players in the country for the Class of 2022: five-star running back Gavin Sawchuk. There isn’t a defense that has stopped him all season. The Bruins, who haven’t given up 100 yards to a running back all season, offer the toughest test yet.
No. 4 Loveland (8-0) vs. No. 2 Palmer Ridge (6-0)
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Last meeting: N/A
Passing leaders: Loveland — Garrett Harstad, So., 26-41-378, 4 TDs. Palmer Ridge — Luke McAllister, Sr., 84-123-1,646, 23 TDs, 6 INTs.
Rushing leaders: Loveland — Zack Rakowsky, Sr., 174-1,224, 16 TDs. Palmer Ridge — Nathaniel Robinson, So., 72-391, 3 TDs.
Receiving leaders: Loveland — Zack Rakowsky, Sr., 11-140, 1 TD. Palmer Ridge — Marcellus Reed, Sr., 19-596, 8 TDs; Kaden Dudley, Sr., 27-387, 1 TD; Anthony Costanzo, Jr., 17-328, 7 TDs.
Defensive leaders: Loveland — Ian Loomis, Jr., MLB, 96 tackles (10 for loss), 3.0 sacks, 3 INTs; Jadyn Tafoya, Sr., ILB, 69 tackles (8.0 for loss); Tyson Williams, Jr., CB, 4 INTs, 6 pass deflections; Austin Bierhaus, Sr., CB.LB, 41 tackles (3.0 for loss), 3 INTs. Palmer Ridge — Saxon Wright, Sr., LB, 57 tackles (4.0 for loss), 2.0 sacks; Cameron Jones, Sr., DL, 24 tackles (7.0 for loss), 5.0 sacks.
A talented Bears senior class is looking to put the finishing touches on a four-year run of state championships — except this time, they’re trying to do it at the 4A level.
Led by a talented passing game that features a CSU commit taking snaps (Luke McAllister) and college recruits across the receiving corps (seniors Kaden Dudley and Marcellus Reed, and junior Anthony Costanzo), the three-time 3A champs have no problem putting up points. But there’s more to the Bears than just an aerial fireworks display. The Bears defense limited Pine Creek and Fountain-Fort Carson to 19 points combined in a pair of playoff wins, and has given up an average of only 7.7 points per game.
Loveland’s ran a gauntlet of explosive offenses on the road to Pueblo, forcing 20 turnovers (16 interceptions) with 32.0 tackles for loss along the way. That included a one-point win over Skyline in its regular-season finale that saw Loveland limit the Falcons to their lowest point total (26) of the fall. The Indians also held previously unbeaten Dakota Ridge, which came into last weekend’s semifinals averaging 54.9 points per game, to just one offensive touchdown.
The Indians’ most effective defense: Keeping the ball away from Palmer Ridge with a ball-control ground game led by running back Zack Rakowsky (2,531 career rush yards) and sophomore quarterback Garrett Harstad.
Loveland is two years removed from its last 4A title, and is in the state championship for the third time in six years. The previous two came under since-departed coach Wayne McGinn. Now Jeff Mauck can add to the trophy case.
No. 1 Roosevelt (7-0) vs. No. 3 Durango (7-0)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Last meeting: N/A
Passing leaders: Roosevelt — Brig Hartson, Sr., 76-119-1,033, 13 TDs, 4 INTs. Durango — Jordan Woolverton, Sr., 51-85-865, 10 TDs, 1 INT.
Rushing leaders: Roosevelt — Keegan Sterkel, Sr., 84-652, 7 TDs; Cooper Walton, Jr., 35-308, 8 TDs. Durango — Nate Messier, Jr., 84-517, 7 TDs; Ben Finneseth, Sr., 42-478, 7 TDs.
Receiving leaders: Roosevelt — Tucker Peterson, So., 19-393, 8 TDs; Keaton Kaiser, Jr., 35-347, 2 TDs. Durango — Gage Mestas, Sr., 20-398, 2 TDs; Ben Finneseth, Sr., 18-227, 3 TDs.
Defensive leaders: Roosevelt — Cooper Walton, Jr., OLB, 70 tackles (15.0 for loss), 2.5 sacks, 1 INT; Clayton Robinson, Jr., OLB, 46 tackles (15.0 for loss), 5.5 sacks, 2 INTs; Anthony Munoz, So., DT, 50 tackles (13.0 for loss), 4.0 sacks. Durango — Thomas Barnes, Sr., LB, 57 tackles; Kyler Reimers, Sr., DE, 56 tackles, 5.0 sacks; Ford Pitts, Sr., DE/OLB, 50 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries; Chase Robertson, Jr., CB, 30 tackles, 3 INTs.
With Palmer Ridge no longer in the equation, the 3A title will find a new home this fall. And it’s guaranteed to go to a program that’s never won one before — at least not outright, anyway.
Durango, which tied Lamar for the Class A crown back in 1954, is back in the state championship for the first time in 32 years — a 23-13 loss to Grand Junction in 1988. Meanwhile, Roosevelt returns to the 3A title game for the second time in five years and third time since 2002. The Roughriders’ previous two visits ended in losses.
A strong, tight-knit group, the Demons have rampaged through the 3A playoffs with blowouts of Lutheran (47-6) and Holy Family (34-14). Four-year starter Jordan Woolverton (7,078 career total yards) is the pilot of an electric spread offense as a true dual threat QB, as well as the team leader in takeaways with five interceptions at free safety. The Durango defense specializes in creating takeaways (18 overall), and is allowing just 11.7 points per game.
In Roosevelt, the Demons will face offense that has been nearly as productive throwing the ball (1,203 yards) as it has running it (1,559). Senior QB Brig Hartson is efficient and dangerous, while the defense is fresh off a dominant performance against Pueblo South that saw the Riders hold the Colts to just one touchdown over the final two quarters of a 49-19 win.