EIGHT-MAN FOOTBALL PREVIEW – OPENING ROUND
BY: KERRY SHERMAN
Haxtun dominated the field in winning its eighth state title in program history last season and the Fightin’ Bulldogs have seen no drop off in 2022. They are the top overall seed as they look to go back-to-back, but the challengers are lining up to knock them off their perch. All of the opening round games will take place on Saturday, with the eight winners advancing to the quarterfinals. Games are listed in bracket order.
#1 HAXTUN (9-0) VS #16 MCCLAVE (6-3) SATURDAY 1PM
Haxtun won its second consecutive division title, outscoring the rest of the league 270-62 in the five game schedule. Overall, the Fightin’ Bulldogs held a 470-108 scoring edge over the opposition. Seven of their nine games were against teams that qualified for the postseason, including 1A Holyoke and 6-man Fleming. Even their other two opponents were still in the mix for a spot in the bracket on the final weekend of the season.
As with most teams, everything starts up front for Haxtun and the Fightin’ Bulldogs have plenty of beef on the line, with more than 800 pounds in the three starters. They’ve paved the way for two backs to go over 1000 yards on the ground, with Michael Gerk gaining 1239 and 16 touchdowns and Ryland Wolff going for 1123 and 17 scores. Kailin Kelley has added 769 yards and 11 more touchdowns. Wolff has also proven to be an effective passer, as the sophomore has thrown for 1003 yards and seven touchdowns. Kyle Fryrear is the big play threat, averaging more than 32 yards on his team-leading 11 catches. Four have gone for scores. Kelley, Gerk, Keegan Colglazier, and Kaiden Schelling all average more than 20 yards per receptions.
Kelley’s 120 tackles put him fifth in the classification, and Gerk is ninth with his 96. Colglazier (84), Wolff (79), and Maclin Tempel (66) round out the top five on the team. Tempel leads the classification with 13 sacks, while Gerk (5) and Schelling (4) are both in the top 10 in interceptions. The team has converted 38 two-point PATs on the year, nine apiece by Gerk and Wolff.
McClave struggled out of the gate, dropping its first two games, both to playoff teams, but then won four straight. The Cardinals scored 50 or more in three of those contests, and the remaining game was a 30-28 victory over Swink. Their streak was snapped in a tough loss to Holly that served as the league championship clash, but the Cards rebounded with two wins to close out the season and secured their spot in the bracket.
The Cards are one of the few teams in the ranks that gets more production from its passing game than on the ground, with Aydin Gomez leading the classification at 1753 yards. His 26 touchdowns are five more than anyone else in eight-man. Fourteen of those have gone to Aiden Martinez, who is on the verge of a 1000-yard season, needing 66 to hit that milestone. Braden Marks and Ray Mungaray have combined for 29 grabs, eight for touchdowns. Marks is the top runner, entering the postseason with 626 yards. Gomez and Gavin Tempel each have five scores on the ground.
Marks and Martinez stand atop the defensive chart with 72 tackles apiece. Martinez is right behind Haxtun’s Tempel with a dozen sacks, while freshman Jr Mungaray has seven and sophomore Will Pacino has five. The unit has only created 11 turnovers, with Martinez owning three, all on fumble recoveries. Martinez also has 10 of the team’s 29 two-point conversions.
Haxtun owns a pair of regular season wins over the Cards in the MaxPreps era, winning in 2014 and 2015. This is the first postseason meeting dating back to 2004.
#8 SANFORD (6-3) VS #9 VAIL CHRISTIAN (7-1) SATURDAY 1PM
Two years removed from a runner-up finish, Sanford is looking to make another deep run. The Mustangs won four of their first five games, with the lone loss coming against Simla in a competitive clash. Down the stretch, they dropped two of their last four, both in league play. The latter of those was a 22-20 decision at home against Mancos. Those losses put the Mustangs third in the division. Overall, their three losses came to teams seeded second, third, and fourth.
The Mustangs do not report stats until the end of the season.
Vail Christian suffered a setback early in the year, as the Saints dropped a tough non-league match-up against Lyons, but then rallied to win their final six games. Only two of those last six wins were decided by fewer than 20 points, with the closest coming against Hayden 36-32. That win, and one over West Grand helped the Saints win their division and secure the automatic berth into the field.
Offensively, Vail Christian is all about the ground game, with 80% of their yardage coming in that facet. Taylor Shull is second in the classification with 1961 yards. That’s also second in the entire state, regardless of classification. His 24 touchdowns are also second in eight-man, and tied for seventh in the state. Shull has also thrown for 787 yards and 10 scores, with Theo Moritz and Will Neumann leading in yardage at 153 and 145, respectively. Alec Bruno’s nine catches are tops.
The Saints have not reported any defensive stats.
The teams met twice last season, with Vail Christian claiming a 36-22 victory in the regular season and Sanford taking a 62-38 win in the quarterfinals. That was an 11 over 3 upset in the bracket.
#4 SIMLA (9-0) VS #13 HAYDEN (6-3) SATURDAY 1PM
No team allowed fewer points during the regular season than Simla, who outscored the opposition 383-69. The Cubs posted three shutouts and did not allow more than 23 to any opponent. They also had a forfeit victory in their tally. They were hurt by their strength of schedule, which only had one playoff qualifier on it.
It’s a youth movement on offense, as most of the leaders are underclassmen. Sophomore QB Caston Cox has thrown for just over 1200 yards and 16 touchdowns, with only two interceptions, and he’s added just short of 200 and three scores on the ground. His top three receivers are all underclassmen, headed up by junior Brent Bowker (24/472/6), sophomore TJ Eurich (28/313/4), and sophomore Treven Kochera (7/184/4). Senior Brayden Glover has snagged 12 passes for 143 yards and is the second-leading rusher (654 yards, 12 TD) to Eurich (816 yards, 9 TD).
Glover leads the defense with 94 tackles, and fellow senior Willie Swennes is third with 67. Jared Hodgson sits between the two with 68, and Eurich is not far back with 65. Bowker (6) and Kochera (4) have combined for 10 of the Cubs’ 19 sacks. Hodgson owns five of the team’s 16 takeaways with two picks and three fumble recoveries. He’s one of four players with two interceptions. Hodgson has also contributed with his feet, as he’s hit on 18 of 21 PAT kicks and is 3-3 on field goals.
Hayden brings the fifth highest scoring attack into the postseason, as the Tigers scored 436 points during their nine regular season contests. They scored at least 52 points in every win, including a season-high 74 against Wiley. All three teams that beat Hayden during the season made the postseason, and they did have one victory over a team in the bracket (West Grand). They come in on a three-game winning streak.
Where their opponent relies heavily on younger players at the skill positions, the Tigers are more senior-laden. Brayden Dale, a senior QB, leads the team in passing with 825 yards and 11 touchdowns, and rushing, with another 836 yards and 13 TD. Kodi Ingols (367 yards, 6 TD) and Sabyn Hager (346 yards, 5 TD) combine for close to 80 yards a night on the ground. Ingols is also the only player with more than nine receptions, as the senior has caught 18 balls for 507 yards and eight scores.
Defensively, Ingols ranks seventh in the classification with 103 tackles. That includes 5.5 sacks, which is second to Wes Gioia’s 8.5. Gioia is third on the unit with 70 tackles, right behind Cody Hawn, who has 83. The Tigers only averaged about a takeaway and a half per game, with 13 on the year. Gioia had three fumble recoveries and Hager collected three interceptions. Like most teams in the classification, Hayden opts to go for two following most scores, and the Tigers have converted 16 times, 15 on the ground.
The last time these two programs met in the postseason was in 2012, when Hayden won a cross-divisional contest. The last regular season meeting was in 2019, a game won by Simla, 20-16.
#5 AKRON (7-2) VS #12 HOLLY (7-2) SATURDAY 2PM
Akron jumped out of the gates with three straight wins by a combined tally of 146-34, and the Rams had an 8-7 lead over Holly at halftime of their week four contest. Things went south in the second half and Akron lost that game 27-14 and then following their bye, the Rams lost their league opener to Haxtun 48-14. That’s the last time Akron tasted defeat during the regular season, as they won their final four games.
Ryan McCaffrey accounted for more than 1700 yards of offense during the regular season, throwing for 1048 (13 TD) and running for 611 with three scores. Anderson Filla led the Rams in rushing with 1157 yards and 14 touchdowns, and Ivan Losa added 528 with 11 TD. Losa was the team-leader in receiving yardage with 406 and his 10 catches were one fewer than Jackson Filla, who gained 379 yards. Both scored five touchdowns.
A. Filla ranked third in the class during the regular season with 125 stops, and he was only two back of second. His three interceptions led the defense. McCaffrey finished second in both categories, racking up 85 tackles and two picks. Losa added 68 tackles, while Brock Swedlund tallied 52, and a team-high five fumble recoveries. The Rams converted 25 times on two-point tries, 11 of them by A. Filla.
The win over Akron started a nice run for Holly, as the Wildcats reeled off six straight wins and were withing minutes of securing the league title before Swink scored twice in the final five minutes to claim a 30-28 victory.
Holly had one of the more potent offensive attacks, racking up more than 4400 yards. Of that, more than 2600 came on the ground. Andre Salgado led with 806 and eight touchdowns, to go with 1636 and 16 scores through the air. Daunte Maldonado (678 yards, 7 TD) and Dom Maldonado (643 yards, 8 TD) combined for more than 1300 yards and 15 touchdowns. Daunte was also the top receiver, hauling in 38 passes for 722 yards and six touchdowns, with Colby Swopes adding 22 for 413 and six scores of his own.
Just five tackles separated the top two tacklers for the Wildcats, with Dylan Tamayo registering 80 and Dom Maldonado picking up 75. Daunte is third with 62. A year after racking up 18.5 sacks, Swopes shared the team lead during the regular season with Dakota Eaton, with both recording 8.5. Tamayo has made opponents pay for throwing in his direction, as he’s recorded eight interceptions. Arnol Bobadilla has been as close to automatic on PATs as possible, hitting 37 of 38 tries.
This will be the second time the teams have played in the postseason, with Akron winning an opening round game in 2016. The teams have split the four regular season meetings in the years since that contest.
#3 MANCOS (7-2) VS #14 SWINK (7-2) SATURDAY 1PM
Mancos is looking to get back to the title game after falling to Haxtun last season. The Bluejays began the year with three dominant performances before running into Haxtun in week four. After a lopsided loss, they went back to work and won their next two games by a combined tally of 126-12. They could not keep up that pace the following week, as Dove Creek won 34-26 in what served as the league title game. Showing their resiliency, the Bluejays bounced back and won their final two games to enter the postseason on a positive note.
Senior QB Ayden Matthews has been a steady leader, throwing for more than 1000 yards and 18 scores, while also giving the team more than 400 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Kail Wayman was asked to step into the RB1 role and he responded with more than 800 yards and 12 scores. Levi Martin has added better than 450 yards and three TD. Wayman has also been the top receiving threat, catching 21 passes out of the backfield, resulting in 553 yards and 11 touchdowns. Broc Imel has brought in 15 balls for 319 yards, with four scores.
Matthews and Wayman have also been leaders on the defensive side of the ball, recording 89 and 77 tackles, respectively. The Bluejays have three players who have gotten after the opposing quarterbacks on a regular basis, with Cole Dainty-Guilfoyle registering five, followed by Kaiden Wyatt with 4.5 and Lane Greenlee with four. Chris Medina was responsible for three of the unit’s 13 takeaways, two on fumble recoveries. Wayman has rushed for 10 two-point conversions, almost a third of the team’s successful tries.
Swink rolls into the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the field, having won four straight. The Lions scored more than 50 points in the first three of those victories, with the last being the narrow win over Holly in the finale. They went 2-2 when allowing 28 or more this season. Three of those four opponents are also in the bracket.
Hank Bauserman, who tossed the game-winning TD against Holly, has thrown for 1473 yards and 19 touchdowns, to four primary receivers. Ben Miner leads with 23 receptions and six touchdowns and his 315 yards are third. Hunter Reynolds has 22 catches for 365 yards and three TD; Garlon Guerin, 20 catches for 414 yards and three TD; and Jackson Tomky, 12 receptions for 309 yards and five scores. Guerin powers the ground attack with 1300 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has topped 100 yards in all but one game to date.
Miner and Guerin stand atop the tackle list for the Lions, with 65 and 47, respectively. Miner has three sacks in his total and he has two of the unit’s nine takeaways. He and Guerin both have a pick-six on the season. Cody Lockhart leads the team with four sacks, despite only playing in five contests. Swink’s successful two-point tries have been split almost evenly, with 15 coming through the air.
This will be the first meeting between the two teams in the MaxPreps era.
#6 LYONS (9-0) VS #11 DAYSPRING CHRISTIAN (5-4) SATURDAY 1PM
When Lyons defeated Belleview Christian last Thursday to complete an unbeaten regular season, it pushed the Lions past the combined win total of the previous four seasons. This marks the first time the program has won more than five games in a year since 2013, and a victory in the opening round would give them their first 10-win campaign since 2011. The 18 points scored by the Bruins last week was the most the Lions have allowed this season, as they enter having outscored their opponents 438-92.
Dequlyn Keller leads the defense with 84 tackles, 21 more than anyone else on the unit. Lochlan Osborne (63) and Keenan Young (59) are the next two on the list, and they’ve combined for five sacks on the year. Young’s 3.5 lead the team. Finn Oetting has been a ballhawk, registering five interceptions. The rest of the team has six.
Offensively, Oetting helps the rushing attack that averages close to 290 yards a game, with 369 on the season. Malik Sigg-Brown is the leader with 884 yards, followed by Miles Dumbauld with 463, and then Oetting. Maregu Sullivan and Keller are both over 250 as well. Sigg-Brown has 16 rushing scores on the season. The Lions only throw about eight passes a game, with Dumbauld throwing for 648 yards and nine TD. Sullivan is the top target, catching nine for 273 and five scores. The Lions have been successful on 41 two-point tries, with Oetting scoring 14 of them.
The strength of what is commonly known as the Plains League (prior to this season’s numbering of leagues by CHSAA) is what helped carry Dayspring Christian into the bracket. The Eagles, who had both a three-game winning streak and a three-game losing streak, finished fourth in the division, and needed a 20-12 overtime win over Sedgwick County to secure their bid. An early season victory over Hayden didn’t hurt their cause, either.
A familiar last name leads the rushing attack for the Eagles, with junior Elijah Fusco serving as the workhorse. His 1144 yards are nearly 200 more than the next two ball carriers, combined, and his nine touchdowns are also team-high. Isaiah Bryant (559 yards, 6 TD) and Zach Freeman (281 yards, 5 TD) lead the passing game, with Caleb Kayl (24/255/4) and Ezra Kayl (16/167/1) leading a solid group of receivers. A total of five players have at least 10 catches and more than 100 yards.
Landen Bonnell spearheads the defensive unit with 64 tackles, but C. Kayl (47) and Gatlin Gunn (44) also find the ball carrier quite often. Gunn’s three sacks lead the group. Takeaways have not been plentiful for the Eagles, as they have only recorded nine on the year. Jaxon Martin and Jackson Steward are each responsible for two.
The two teams are meeting for the first time in the MaxPreps era.
#7 CROWLEY COUNTY (9-0) VS #10 MERINO (5-4) SATURDAY 1PM
A number of interesting storylines surround this match-up, starting with Crowley County looking for the first playoff win as an eight-man program. The Chargers made the bracket last year, just their second in the classification, but they were shutout by Dove Creek. Their nine wins this season are the most since the program won 10 in 2015 while playing in Class 1A. They made it to the semifinals that year. The Chargers won their league by outscoring their opponents 304-66. Oh, and their head coach, Tuff Gibson, is a Merino alum.
Dillon Buford enters the contest 76 yards shy of 1000 on the season, and his running mate, Skeeter Baker, comes in with 704. Both have scored a dozen touchdowns. Blevyns Brown is the sophomore QB who has thrown for 657 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. Gunner Hughes is the lone receiver with double digit receptions, as he enters with a dozen catches and 280 yards. Buford and Baker are the next two, with nine and four catches, respectively. Those three have a total of nine touchdowns on receptions.
Baker’s 101 tackles have him eighth in the classification, and no one on the club is even close to him. Combine Keegan Halloran (49) and Byars Brown (44) and you’re still eight short. CJ Acord has a third of the team’s 12 sacks, and Sam Parker is just one back with three. Acord owns five takeaways, four on fumble recoveries, while D. Buford (four interceptions) and Case Buford (three picks, one fumble recovery) each have four. D. Buford (20) and Baker (18) have combined for all but seven of the team’s two-point conversions.
Merino had a tough four-game stretch early in the year, with each game coming against a team that made the postseason. The Rams sandwiched wins over McClave and Dayspring Christian around losses to Mancos and Lyons. They dealt with some key injuries during that stretch, but got healthy with wins over Sedgwick County and Caliche. That sent them into the final stretch against Akron and Haxtun with a shot at the league title. They dropped both, but still did enough to make the bracket.
The Rams do not report stats until the end of the season.
With this only being the third season in eight-man for Crowley County, this is their first meeting with the Rams.
#2 DOVE CREEK (9-0) VS #15 WEST GRAND (7-2) SATURDAY 2PM
Dove Creek came into the season with high expectations and the Bulldogs have met them so far. They have won nine games for the first time since 2008 and one more would establish a high-water mark during the MaxPreps era. They are trying to become the third different team from their league to reach the championship game in as many seasons, following Sanford in 2020 and Mancos last year. The Bulldogs got to the quarterfinals last season, but were bounced by Holly.
Kade Hankins and Gage Buffington have nearly had an identical number of carries on the season, with Buffington having 108 to 103 for Hankins. The QB, Hankins has rushed for 1141 yards and 16 touchdowns, while also throwing for 760 yards and 10 more scores. Buffington has tallied 759 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Kendall Gardner has been a strong third option, finishing the regular season just 18 yards shy of 500. Taber Dejane (12), Cole Taber (11), and Buffington (10) are the top three receivers and each has more than 150 yards.
Different names show up on top of the defensive leaderboard for the Bulldogs, with Quaden Huffaker (87), Dustin Glover (66), and Tyson Beanland (48) occupying the top three spots. Dejane (46) and Hankins (42) aren’t far behind. Gardner is among the state leaders in sacks with 10, while Beanland and Huffaker each have six. Hankins is a magnet for the ball, as he’s amassed six interceptions on the year, while Gardner has three fumble recoveries. As a team, Dove Creek has 20 takeaways and they’ve scored on seven of them. That includes a pair of pick-sixes by Dejane.
Seven weeks into the season and it looked like West Grand might run away with its division. The Mustangs were 6-0, 2-0 in the league, and had scored 130 points in those two league contests. Then, the Mustangs hit a rough patch, dropping games to Hayden and Vail Christian, allowing 50 or more in both games. That sent them into their finale against Plateau Valley needing a win to make the bracket. After a 44-8 win, they could breathe a little easier.
Offensively, it’s been the Wyatt Show for the Mustangs, with Wyatt Howell rushing for 1178 yards and 19 TD, and Wyatt Shearer adding 636 and nine TD, plus 640 and 13 scores through the air. Howell is also the leading receiver with nine catches for 304 yards and five touchdowns. Four of Jackson Steinle’s six grabs have gone for scores. Ollie Bergman (339) and Varian Villabous (223) are closing in on an additional 600 rushing yards for the Mustangs.
A pair of sophomores finished the regular season atop the tackle list for West Grand, with Evan Crandall tallying 88 and Steinle having 57. Shearer was right behind with 55, and a freshman, Blake Terryberry, was fourth with 40. Dylan Elthrop got after the QB to the tune of seven sacks, while Lawson Landrus and Shearer added 5.5 and five, respectively. Shearer recovered four fumbles and also had one of the team’s eight picks, while Bergman, Howell, and Joe Probst each had two interceptions.
This is the third time in the last decade that the two have met in the postseason. Dove Creek won opening round games in 2012 and 2015.