EIGHT-MAN FOOTBALL PREVIEW – SEMIFINALS
BY: KERRY SHERMAN
Three of the final four teams in the eight-man bracket head into the semifinals without a blemish. Two will meet in the top half of the bracket, while the bottom half features a regular season rematch. Haxtun is one win away from a chance to defend its 2021 title. Mancos gets another shot at league rival Dove Creek, with a trip to Pueblo on the line. Both semifinal contests are slated for 1pm kicks on Saturday.
#1 HAXTUN (11-0) VS #4 SIMLA (11-0) SATURDAY 1PM
A spate of big plays got Haxtun off to a fast start in its quarterfinal win over Sanford, with Ryland Wolff setting the tone early. The sophomore QB raced 67 yards for a score on the opening possession, and Michael Gerk added to the momentum with an 88-yard punt return for a score. A bomb from Wolff to Kyle Fryrear gave the Fightin’ Bulldogs a quick three-score advantage. By the end of the opening quarter, Haxtun led 34-0 and they were up 46-8 at the half. Wolff started the running clock with a rushing TD less than midway through the third, and Haxtun rolled to the 62-14 victory.
Wolff finished the day with 205 yards and three scores on nine of 10 passing, and he added 113 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Fryrear made his impact with two touchdowns on three catches, totaling 96 yards. Maclin Tempel also snagged a TD pass. Gerk ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns, and also caught three passes for 89 yards. Kailin Kelley added a rushing score.
Gerk, Wolff, and Keegan Colglazier all had 10 tackles to pace the defense, with Tempel, Fryrear, Kelley, and Josh Wright each adding seven. Colglazier and Tempel each recorded a sack, and Colglazier also added a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Fryrear had a fumble recovery, while Kelley, Wolff, and Kaiden Schelling all had an interception.
Simla’s fans had to hold their collective breath during the quarterfinals, as their Cubs trailed Holly 14-12 at the half, but two big plays by TJ Eurich gave them a bit of separation in the second half. First, the sophomore hit paydirt on a scoop-and-score late in the third to give Simla the lead. Then, he made the cushion double figures with a long TD run. However, Holly quickly cut it to two points, 24-22, but Brayden Glover capped a drive with his lone touchdown of the day and Jared Hodgson put the win in the books with the kick, 31-22.
Glover ran for 155 yards and the clinching TD on 20 carries, while Eurich (60 yards, two TD) and Caston Cox (43 yards, TD) combined for just over 100 yards and three scores. Cox struggled throwing the ball, only completing six of 17 attempts for 54 yards. Eurich caught four of those for 20 yards. Treven Kochera’s 28 receiving yards led the team.
Glover (18), Hodgson (13), Eurich (12), Jonathan Zimmerman (11), and Willie Swennes (10) all recorded double digit tackles in the victory. Glover, Swennes, Hodgson, and Kochera each had a sack, and Brent Bowker had two. Bowker also had a hand in both takeaways by the Cubs. He recorded an interception and set up Eurich’s recovery by forcing the Holly fumble.
Simla and Haxtun have played five times during the MaxPreps era, with Haxtun winning four of the five meetings. Their most recent contest was back in 2017, which the Fightin’ Bulldogs won 46-0. None of the five contests were in the postseason. Not only is Haxtun looking to make a second straight title game appearance, the Fightin’ Bulldogs are shooting for their fifth in the 2000s. Simla has not played in a championship game since 1995. The Cubs made six straight appearances between 1980 and 1985, winning five titles.
#2 DOVE CREEK (11-0) VS #3 MANCOS (9-2) SATURDAY 1PM
Dove Creek had to overcome an early deficit in its quarterfinal game against Merino, and then the Bulldogs had to hold on late to grab the 26-20 victory. After giving up a first quarter touchdown, Dove Creek didn’t get on the board until late in the half. The defense came up with a stop with around a minute to go, and the offense capitalized with a 28-yard TD pass from Kade Hankins to Gage Buffington. Merino tied things up in the third, but two more touchdowns from Dove Creek had the Bulldogs leading 26-14. The Rams punched one in in the closing minutes and after recovering an onside kick, they had a chance to tie or steal the win, but the Bulldogs got one final stop to secure the victory.
On top of the passing TD, Hankins also ran for two scores, while gaining 152 yards. Buffington added a rushing score to his tally through the air. Kendall Gardner recorded two receptions for 22 yards, while Buffington led with his 28 yards.
Quaden Huffaker topped all tacklers in the contest with 22 stops, to go with a forced fumble. Taber Dejane added 17, and Dustin Glover tallied 13 and a forced fumble. Gardner registered a pair of sacks and two recoveries.
This will be the second straight week in which Mancos will try to hand a team its first loss of the year. The Bluejays bounced previously unbeaten Lyons last week, 32-18, using four first half touchdowns to overcome a 6-0 deficit. The Lions got back to within one score, trailing 24-18 midway through the fourth, but a Levi Martin rushing touchdown helped provide the necessary breathing room late in the contest.
Martin had the big effort on the ground, rushing for a game-high 152 yards, and scoring the late TD to help secure a semifinal berth. Kail Wayman added 69 yards and two touchdowns, while Ayden Matthews tallied 51 yards and one touchdown. Matthews also threw a TD, connecting with Andrew Jamie for a 31-yard strike. Overall, Matthews completed 10 of 15 passes for 136 yards. Broc Imel led with five receptions, while Wayman had three for a team-best 81 yards.
Matthews was the lone Bluejay defender with double digit tackles, as the senior tallied a dozen. Cole Dainty-Guilfoyle racked up six sacks in his seven stops. Wayman and Imel each had an interception, while Brandon Vannest and Kaiden Wyatt each recovered a fumble. Wyatt forced both.
Dove Creek has won 11 of the last 17 meetings with its league rival, including a 34-26 decision in early October. Hankins ran for 164 yards and three scores, while also throwing for 160 and another in the victory. Martin (102) and Wayman (86) combined for 188 yards on the ground, and each had a rushing touchdown for Mancos. Both teams have won twice in the last four contests, and none of those four were decided by more than eight points. A win this week gives Mancos its second title game appearance, following last year’s runner-up finish. Dove Creek has never played for an eight-man title.