SIX-MAN FOOTBALL PREVIEW – OPENING ROUND
BY: KERRY SHERMAN
After ten weeks of regular season play, the six-man postseason kicks off on Friday night, with two of the eight opening round contests on tap. Stratton is the overwhelming favorite to capture the title after the Eagles steamrolled their way to a perfect 10-0 mark, but the other 15 teams in the bracket have no plans of just handing them the trophy. The games are listed in bracket order.
#1 STRATTON (10-0) VS #16 PRAIRIE (5-4) FRIDAY 7PM
As impressive as the Eagles were during the regular season overall, where they outscored their opponents 577-135, the way they dominated the East division was something to behold. In their five on field wins, they outscored opponents 341-74, with 34 of those points allowed coming after the sportsmanship clock was implemented. Overall, that sportsmanship clock was called upon in all nine of their wins on the field. They also received one forfeit. The Eagles beat seven other playoff teams by a combined score of 442-129.
Despite rarely taking a second half snap, Alex Cruz still ran for 1215 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also caught 13 passes for 296 yards and four more scores. Cyler Notter has been a nice complement in the backfield, rushing for 710 yards and 15 touchdowns, and snagging four passes for 105 yards with a pair of TDs. Stockton Fye (383 yards, 7 TD) and Avery Archuleta (251 yards, 6 TD) have also been effective running the ball in reserve roles. Charlie Tagtmeyer isn’t called upon to put the ball in the air very often, but the three-year starter is completing 61.1% of his attempts. Eight of his 22 completions have gone for touchdowns, with only one interception on his tally. Overall, he’s thrown for 550 yards, right at 25 yards per completion.
On the defense, Notter and Cruz wreak havoc with their speed from the defensive ends. Of Notter’s 60 tackles, 14 are sacks. Meanwhile, Cruz has seven sacks in 47 tackles. Brody Webb leads the unit with 67 stops, followed closely by Dawson Thompson with 63. Freshman Von Isenbart stepped in when Joe Shean was injured and finished the regular season with 56 tackles, and despite missing three games, Shean still finished with 42. Tagtmeyer (6) and Webb (4) have 10 interceptions between them, while Tagtmeyer, Cruz, and Notter each have two fumble recoveries. On special teams, Carlos Sanza has been nearly automatic, hitting 45 of 48 PAT kicks.
Prairie came into the year with a new coaching staff, that had to replace a 1900-yard passer and an 1100-yard receiver, not to mention a ton of experience on defense. Former Idalia standout Tyson Ramseier assumed the reins and guided the Mustangs to a fourth place finish in the North, that saw 2/3 of the league qualify for the postseason. All four of their losses were to playoff teams, and they also picked up a 36-34 victory over Branson/Kim, scoring the winning TD on the final play.
With all of the roster turnover, the Mustangs did bring back Claytin Hove at running back. After racking up a 1000-yard season as a junior, Hove returned to record 1574 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. He was definitely the workhorse for Coach Ramseier, as his 140 carries were 78 more than the rest of the team, combined. Brock Dollerschell and Wyatt Butler have split the passing duties this season, with Dollerschell completing 27 of 43 passes for 415 yards and eight touchdowns, with three interceptions. Butler has hit on 22 of 39 attempts for 244 yards and one score. Brennan Bringelson is the top receiver with 16 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns, while Justin Schreiner has 10 catches for 183 yards and three scores.
Carter Jaeger has followed up his impressive freshman campaign, in which he racked up 105 tackles, with a team-leading 78 stops so far this year. His three sacks and three fumble recoveries also lead the team. Hove is second with 68 tackles, twice as many as the next man on the ledger. He leads with four forced fumbles, is tied for the lead with three interceptions, and is second with two recoveries. Schreiner also has three picks, to go with four blocked kicks. Bringelson has been solid on PATs, connecting on 28 of 38 attempts.
Stratton won last year’s regular season meeting, 60-29, with Cruz rushing for 162 yards and three touchdowns. Hove was held to seven yards on five carries. The last meeting between the two programs in the postseason came almost a decade ago, when Stratton was in the early stages of its co-op with Liberty. They won 84-38.
#8 NORTH PARK (7-2) VS #9 EADS (7-3) SATURDAY 1PM
North Park enters the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the state, having won its last seven contests. That’s after beginning the season with losses to Fleming and Arickaree. Overall, the Wildcats, who finished second in the North, went 3-2 against postseason qualifiers. A win in the opening round would give them their first eight-win season in the MaxPreps era, dating back to 2004. They won seven in 2004 as an eight-man program, and also three seasons ago.
While featuring a 1200-yard runner in Makeon Crum (1212, 16 TD), the Wildcats also have a 1000-yard passer in Hunter Sessions, who enters the contest 66-102 for 1005 yards and 18 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He distributes the ball to three main receivers, with Montgomery Ramsey (22/429/5), Troy Gonzales (20/237/9), and Preston Gonzales (16/223/4) having accounted for all but 11 of the team’s 69 receptions.
Sessions and Crum aren’t just one-way players, as they’re also the top two tacklers for the Wildcats and Coach Chad Carlstrom. Sessions leads with 76, two more than Crum. Levi Wofford isn’t too far behind with 63. Wofford’s 5.5 sacks trail only P. Gonzales’ 7.5 on the team. Sessions shares the team lead for interceptions (4) with Crum, and his four fumble recoveries are tops on the unit. David Rodriguez has created five fumbles. As a team, the Wildcats have struggled with their PAT kicking game, only converting 14 of 36 attempts.
Proving the depth of the South East, Eads enters the bracket as the fourth place finisher in the division. All three of their losses came against playoff teams, and they also picked up a pair of wins against teams in the field. The Eagles enter off a season-high 84-point performance last week at Idalia. It was the seventh time they topped 50 points in a game. They went 6-1 in those contests.
Porter Spady does quite a bit of everything for the Eagles, as the junior leads in rushing (1006 yards, 19 TD) and passing (43-60, 663 yards, 12 TD/1 INT), while also catching 11 passes for 162 yards and a TD. Bo Arnold has shared the passing duties, throwing for 513 yards on 28 completions, with eight touchdowns and just one pick. Stockton Mitchek is closing in on a 1000-yard season in the backfield, entering the contest with 871 yards and 15 scores. He’s also the leading receiver with 23 catches for 412 yards and 10 more touchdowns. Keenan Smith (18/377/7) and Connor Wollert (12/126/2) give the Coach Trey Eder four threats in the passing game.
Arnold leads a swarming defense with 82 tackles, while Spady (58), Smith (57), and Mitchek (49) are also around the ball quite often. Smith leads the squad with three sacks and is tied for the lead with eight fumble recoveries. Mitchek also has eight, and the unit has 39 overall. Spady is responsible for three of the group’s four picks, with the other belonging to Arnold. Throughout his career, Spady has been one of the better kickers in the classification and this year is no exception. He has converted 41 of 52 attempts.
Not only is this the first meeting between the two programs in the postseason in six-man, it is also the first time they’ve met as six-man squads.
#4 CHEYENNE WELLS (6-3) VS #13 COTOPAXI (7-3) SATURDAY 1PM
Cheyenne Wells won the first title in the program’s history last season, and despite being hit heavily by graduation and injuries, the Tigers were still one of the best teams in the regular season. They lost two starters to season ending injuries and had four more miss at least one game, but still tied Granada for the South East division lead. They finished second due to losing the head-to-head contest with the Bobcats.
Blake Gilmore was leading the team in rushing at nearly 125 yards per game when he was lost to a broken collarbone in the fourth game of the year. His 493 yards and eight touchdowns are still second on the squad to Ty Scheler’s 979 yards and 20 scores. Quarterback Perry Chadwick had completed 22 of 35 passes for 406 yards and five touchdowns, but he went down with a fractured arm in last week’s win at Branson/Kim. Scheler threw for 278 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season, but it looks like Zach Dickey (5-11, 93 yards, 1 TD/2 INT) might be the man under center in the postseason. Carson Noe will be the top target as he has 15 catches for 356 yards and six touchdowns.
The Tigers will have five players on defense who enter with 40 or more tackles, led by Scheler with 77. Bryson Hyle (48), Trey Scheler (47), Noe (42), and Ethan Garay (40) round out the group. Trey Scheler has a team-best three sacks as a freshman, and Garay has 2.5 in his sophomore season. As a unit, the defense has accumulated 24 takeaways, with Ty Scheler accounting for eight (4 FR, 4 INT). After being close to automatic on PATs his first two years, Jesse Harlow tailed off a bit this year, but still connected on 29 of 40 kicks.
The final weekend of the regular season brought some tense moments for Cotopaxi, but in the end, the third place finisher in the South West had done plenty to get into the bracket. The Pirates topped 60 points six times this season, including a season-high 84 last week against Deer Trail. They went 6-0 in those contests. In their losses, it was a different story, as they were held to 34, 18, and 49.
Ty Coleman is one of the more electric players in the classification, but may not be known east of the mountains. The senior has thrown for more than 2000 yards with 39 touchdowns and five interceptions, rushed for 521 yards and 10 scores, and caught six passes for 168 yards and three more touchdowns. Gary Jarvis leads a trio of talented receivers with 35 catches and 554 yards and 10 TD grabs. Terrance Evans has added 27 receptions, 556 yards, and 14 touchdowns, while Kaiden Zeleznikar has tallied 27 catches, 540 yards, and eight scores. He’s also the second-leading runner with 325 yards and seven touchdowns. Half of Joel Tezak’s 12 catches have gone for scores.
Proving he’s a complete player, Coleman also leads the team with 111 tackles, nine interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. His interception total leads six-man and he’s sixth in tackles. Jarvis (63) and Wes Westberg (59) round out the top three on the team in stops. Westberg stands out with five blocked kicks and a blocked punt. He’s also converted 34 of 57 PAT kicks.
This will be the first meeting between Cheyenne Wells and Cotopaxi during the MaxPreps era.
#5 OTIS (7-2) VS #12 SIERRA GRANDE (7-3) SATURDAY 1PM
Otis got out of the gates in a hurry, running up a 6-0 mark that included wins over two playoff teams in Briggsdale and Genoa-Hugo. The latter of those victories set up a huge showdown with Stratton for the lead in the East division. The Bulldogs were mercy clocked in that contest and then fell to Arickaree the following week, sending them to a fourth place finish in the division.
Sophomore Tayte Smith ran for more than 1400 yards and 28 touchdowns on the season, while also tossing four scores to lead the Bulldogs on offense. Mitchell Stivers and Charlie Kendrick both went over 300 yards on the ground and combined for 10 touchdowns. Jack Willeke only played in a handful of games due to injury, but still finished as the team’s leading receiver with 11 catches, 203 yards, and three touchdowns.
Kendrick just edged out Smith for the team lead in tackles, 61 to 56, while securing six takeaways on three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Smith also had three picks. Bohden Klinzmann was a close third with 53 stops, and Peyton Wells added 47. Kendrick converted 20 of 29 PAT attempts.
A lopsided loss to Eads in week two, followed by a 28-22 OT loss to Branson/Kim had Sierra Grande off to a 1-2 start, with playoffs seeming like a long shot. The Panthers then reeled off six consecutive wins, scoring 51 or more points in each contest, including a 102-58 win at La Veta. That got them to second place in the South West division with a postseason berth all but locked up prior to last week’s loss to Granada. Overall, they faced five teams that are in the bracket, going 2-3 in those contests.
The Panthers have both a 1200-yard passer in Aron Ojeda, and a 1000-yard runner in Angelo Lucero. Ojeda enters the postseason with 1249 yards and 24 touchdowns against six interceptions. Lucero checks in with 1044 yards and 24 TD. Lucero is also the leading receiver with 18 catches. Brian Ontiveros is tops with 347 yards (13 catches), and Tyler Kester leads with six TD grabs.
Defensively, Sierra Grande has been a four man wrecking crew, with Lucero (88), Damian Ferran (75), Kester (72), and Diego Romero (61) leading the way. For Kester, his numbers are in two fewer games. Ferran and Kester have combined for 11.5 sacks, and Ferran has a team-leading six fumble recoveries, while Kester has blocked two punts and forced three fumbles. Lucero owns four interceptions. Six different players have converted a PAT kick, led by Ayden Lopez with five.
Otis and Sierra Grande have not played during the MaxPreps era.
#3 GRANADA (6-3) VS #14 BRIGGSDALE (5-4) FRIDAY 6PM
After taking a lopsided loss to Stratton in week two, Granada’s coaching staff made the difficult decision to forfeit their game the following week to Fleming due to the number of injuries suffered in that loss. The Bobcats would come back to win their next three contests, all in South East division play, and they claimed the automatic berth from the league by winning the title thanks to their victory over Cheyenne Wells during that stretch.
Brandon Gonzales had the tough task of stepping in and replacing the graduated Dominic Coleman, who set all kinds of school records during his career in the green and white. All Gonzales has done is throw for more than 1300 yards with 26 TD and only one pick. Maddox Coleman and John Hainer have been the top targets, having 27 and 25 catches, respectively, and both being over 500 yards. They’ve also combined for 20 touchdowns. Coleman leads with 817 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, and he’s also thrown for close to 300 yards and six more scores. Despite missing time with an injury, Jonus Guevara has added just short of 500 yards on the ground, with five touchdowns. Hainer has scored nine rushing TD.
Coleman and Guevara are first and third on the defense with 62 and 52 tackles, respectively. Sandwiched between is Luis Cano with 55, who leads with three sacks. The unit hasn’t produced a lot of turnovers, but Guevara has two interceptions to go with six fumble recoveries, and Coleman has three picks and a fumble recovery. Jose Sanchez came on late last year to handle the PAT duties and he’s connected on 37 of 52 attempts this season.
Briggsdale also had to deal with its fair share of injuries, especially early in the year. That helped contribute to the Falcons dropping three of their first five games, all by at least 20 points. Their two wins in that stretch were by a total of 14 points. They won three of their final four, with the lone loss coming against Fleming.
A new coaching staff brought with it a new philosophy on offense and that led to four players finishing with at least 270 yards on the ground. Johnathan Malovich led with 391, followed by Tanner Fiscus with 294, Kaeden Gebauer with 278, and Dallas Glass with 270. That group combined for 16 touchdowns. Fiscus missed multiple games early in the season, but still led the team with 496 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. John Krise, Zach Bauer, and Malovich each had nine catches to top the team. Bauer and Malovich both had five touchdowns.
Most of the same names appear atop the leaderboards on defense, with Malovich (65), Fiscus (48), Bauer (46), and Krise (44) as the top four tacklers. Bauer has 2.5 sacks in his tally, while Gebauer is only half a sack behind him. Bauer, Malovich, and Wyatt Benson each have three of the team’s 17 takeaways, and they have a combined three blocked kicks. Krise has been the most effective kicker for the Falcons, making five of eight PATs, with Fiscus hitting six of 12.
This will be the first meeting between the two teams in the five years since Granada dropped to six-man.
#6 ARICKAREE (7-2) VS #11 BRANSON/KIM (7-3) SATURDAY 1PM
Arickaree scored at least 50 points five times this season. The Bison went 4-1 in those games, with a 58-54 loss to Genoa-Hugo serving as the lone blemish. Even with that defeat, the Bison still had a shot at winning the East division title in their final regular season game at Stratton. After allowing an early TD, Arickaree returned the ensuing kick for a TD of its own and only trailed 8-6. They were down 54-6 by the half and were the ninth victim of the Eagles.
It’s been largely the Logan Wright Show for the Bison, as the senior has rushed for 1478 yards and 29 touchdowns and thrown for 846 yards and 12 more touchdowns, with seven interceptions. The next leading rusher, Jake King, has 136 yards and three scores. King is also one of the top receivers, catching seven passes for 118 yards and three TD. Bryce Shaffer leads with 14 for 249 and three scores, followed by Dillon Noletubby with 12 for 244 and two TD, and Nic Hermes has eight for 185 and a team-high four scores.
Arickaree’s defense is spearheaded by a pair of young defensive ends in sophomore Zarron Skubal (106 tackles) and freshman Austin Wright (84). Wright has 7.5 sacks to Skubal’s 5.5, while Skubal has recorded six forced fumbles and eight recoveries. Wright has four recoveries. L. Wright has four fewer tackles than his younger brother, and Hayden Page is just two more back. King is responsible for six takeaways, two on interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
Defense kept Branson/Kim in a lot of games this season, including two early in the year. In week two, the Bearcats eked out a 21-20 win at Cheraw, and the following week, they allowed 22 in the OT win over Sierra Grande. That unit also nearly sealed a win over Prairie later in the year, but could not prevent the deciding TD on the final play.
With their focus on that side of the ball, it’s only fitting that they get top billing. Cade Smith leads the unit with 83 tackles and two forced fumbles. He also has two of the team’s 12 interceptions. Half of those picks belong to Brock Doherty, who is second with 73 tackles. He also has two forced fumbles. Kyler Cranson has a team-high eight sacks in his total of 67 tackles, and his six fumble recoveries also lead the group. Kolten Davis (5) and Peyton Cranson (4) have combined for nine sacks. Cranson is fourth in stops with 65.
Flipping to offense, P. Cranson has toted the rock 153 times for close to 1200 yards and 18 touchdowns, and his 17 receptions rank second on the team to K. Cranson’s 27. K. Cranson also leads with 330 yards and seven scores. Smith is not far behind with 16 grabs, 261 yards, and six touchdowns. Distributing the ball has been Owen Doherty’s job, and he’s done it well. He’s completed just a tick under 66% of his passes for 934 yards and 21 scores. Smith handles most of the PAT kicking duties and has made 16 of 31 tries.
These two teams are meeting for the first time in the history of their programs.
#7 GENOA-HUGO (7-2) VS #10 CHERAW (6-4) SATURDAY 1PM
Genoa-Hugo nearly saw its season derailed in a week four loss at Stratton when their Swiss Army Knife Konner Rowden-Stum went down late in the first half on a scary collision. He would return the following week and the Pirates got the wild win over Arickaree. A two-point loss the next week at Otis dropped the Pirates to third in the league, but they would climb their way back to second and secure a home game in the opening round.
The aforementioned Rowden-Stum led the Pirates with 691 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, and was second to older brother Kyler with 35 receptions and eight more scores. Kyler finished with 38 catches and 11 scores, and his 629 yards were second to Konner’s 686. Spinning the ball to those two, and the other receivers, was Trey Smith, who finished the regular season with 1851 yards and 24 TD. Jack Kissel, Smith’s third target with a line of 17/242/3, was the second-leading runner with 305 yards and seven touchdowns.
Smith finished the regular season with 112 tackles, ranking him fifth in the classification. Kissel added 86 and a team-best three fumble recoveries. Brady Simmons was next with 64 stops, one ahead of Konner Rowden-Stum, and six ahead of Kyler Rowden-Stum. Kyler has six interceptions, ranking him among the leaders in the classification. Smith is also a threat in the return game, as he’s returned a pair of punts for scores. The Pirates have scored 10 non-offensive touchdowns, five on kick-off returns (3 by Konner Rowden-Stum). Smith has made 28 of 42 PATs.
Cheraw went through a brutal three-game losing streak early in the season and looked dead in the water at 1-3. A wild 52-34 win at Eads stopped the skid, but the following week, the Wolverines lost at Granada and again looked like their season might end short of the postseason. They picked themselves up and dusted themselves off and then won the final four games of the season to finish third in the South East division. All four of their losses were to teams in the bracket, and they also own wins over two playoff teams.
Braden Harris has been the workhorse for the Wolverines, rushing for 1279 yards and 22 scores, including a performance against Walsh with 310 yards and six touchdowns. He’s also the leading receiver with 11 catches, 323 yards, and five more touchdowns. Riggin Dutton has added 104 yards and four scores on seven catches. Tim Provost has thrown all but five passes for the Wolverines this season, registering 639 yards and 13 touchdowns. Trenton Rader is a strong #2 in the running game, coming into the postseason with 640 yards and a dozen scores.
Just seven stops separate the top four tacklers for Cheraw, with Wade Goodrich having 54. Dutton is next with 53; Provost, 52; and Braden Stoker, 47. Dutton leads the classification with 15 sacks, one more than Stratton’s Notter. They’re the only two players in six-man in double figures. Turnovers haven’t been a big part of the season for the defense, as they’ve only forced 15. Harris owns four, all on fumble recoveries. Harris is also the most effective of the three kickers who have attempted PATs this season, as he’s hit 16 of 28.
These two teams met at the tail end of the regular season last year and they put on a thriller. Cheraw won 50-48, with Harris catching 10 passes for 127 yards and two scores.
#2 FLEMING (7-2) VS #15 HANOVER (7-3) SATURDAY 1PM
It was a strange regular season for Fleming, as early in the year, the Wildcats couldn’t seem to get on the field. After beating North Park in week one and Idalia the following week, they were off for three weeks, not stepping on the field for game action until week five. That was due to the Granada forfeit, their bye week, and having an out of state opponent drop out. Their only two losses during the regular season came against teams ranked #1, Haxtun in eight-man and then Stratton to close out the campaign.
Braylen Feather registered a 1000-yard passing season for the North division champs, hitting just under 60% of his attempts with 17 touchdowns and four picks. Three of those interceptions came in the loss to Haxtun. Wyatt Cochran has been the top target in the passing game, hauling in 24 balls for 444 yards and eight scores. Harry Harms and Nolan Japp have combined for 22 catches and just over 320 yards, with seven touchdowns between them. Japp powers the ground attack with a team-leading 750 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Blake Feather has added 372 yards and seven scores from his fullback spot.
Blake is also the top defender for Coach John King’s squad, having racked up 80 stops. His three forced fumbles also lead the unit. Kolten Houser is second with 69 tackles, and his two fumble recoveries are tied for the team lead with Travis Johnson and Mason Mollohan. Matix Haney has a pair of sacks in his 50 tackle total, tying him with Cochran for the lead. Both have also blocked a punt. Braylen Feather is tied for second in the classification with seven interceptions. Blake Feather handles the PAT kicking chore, having hit on 22 of 35 attempts to date.
While many teams sitting in the 13-20 range of CHSAA’s Selection and Seeding Index heading into the final weekend were fretting whether or not they would get into the final bracket, one team wasn’t. Hanover knew that even though their standing had them on the outside looking in, the Hornets could make preparations for a first round road trip as the champions of the East Central. That title gave them the automatic berth into the field.
Unlike most teams in the field, the Hornets have not relied heavily on a single player to handle the workload on offense. Instead, they have three runners with more than 400 yards but fewer than 500 on the ground. Ronquez Ackerson leads with 494 and seven touchdowns. David Byers is next with 473 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns, and Junior Diaz rounds out the trio with 439 yards and seven scores. When the Hornets put the ball in the air, it’s done by Tyler Decker, who has thrown for 668 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Most of that has gone to another Tyler, Tyler Hoffman, who has 26 grabs for 419 yards and seven touchdowns.
The public address announcer needs to be prepared to call Hoffman’s name a lot on Saturday, as he leads the state with 130 tackles, 103 of them solo. He is eighth in the entire state, regardless of classification, with four of those ahead of him playing in 5A. Hoffman stuffs the stats sheet, tying for the team lead with five sacks, leading with four forced fumbles, and also having two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Byers is second with 78 tackles, four of them sacks, three forced fumbles, and is tops with four recoveries. Decker has tallied five sacks and three recoveries; Ackerson, three interceptions and two recoveries; and JJ Aguilar, three picks.
This is the third time the teams have been on the same line in the postseason. Fleming won a quarterfinal match-up 59-24 in 2015, and they were scheduled to meet in the opening round last season, but the Hornets had to forfeit due to COVID protocols.