EIGHT-MAN FOOTBALL PREVIEW – CHAMPIONSHIP
BY: KERRY SHERMAN
Not counting the Spring 2021 season, this is just the fourth time this century that a member of the Plains division will not be playing for the eight-man state title, and it will only be the fifth time in that span that someone from outside of the division will have laid claim to the hardware. Hoehne, who won the title in that COVID Spring season also won the championship in 2012, the last time both teams in the finals were from other leagues. The Farmers won in 2010 as well.
Simla entered the postseason this year as the #4 seed after rolling to a 9-0 mark during the regular season, which the Cubs capped with a championship in League 3.They were dominant in league play, allowing a total of 32 points in their four games that were contested on the field. They also earned a forfeit from Pikes Peak Christian.
Defense has definitely been key for the Cubs, who racked up three shutouts during the regular season and added another in the opening round against Hayden. Of the 111 points allowed entering Friday’s title game against #2 Dove Creek, 42 have come in the last two weeks. Holly put up 22 in a nine-point loss in the quarterfinals, which was the second-most points allowed by Simla this season, one behind Sedgwick County. Last week, the Cubs held defending champion Haxtun to 20 and took a seven-point win.
While the offense is dominated by underclassmen, two seniors rank in the top four tacklers for Simla, with Brayden Glover’s 136 stops leading the way. TJ Eurich (100) and Jared Hodgson (99), a sophomore and junior, respectively, are separated by just one tackle, while Willie Swennes has 84 during his final high school campaign. Three more defenders bring in between 58 and 67 stops, with Brent Bowker topping that trio with 67. Wyatt Stanko (64) and Jonathan Zimmerman (58) round out the leaders for coach David Guy.
Bowker has gotten to the opposing QB eight times this season, twice more than Treven Kochera. Glover has five sacks of his own to rank third on the unit. The defense has accounted for 23 takeaways, with Eurich (five interceptions, 1 fumble recovery) having six. Hodgson (2 int, 3 FR) and Bowker (3 int, 2 FR) each have five to their credit. Glover owns two of the team’s three blocked punts, with the other one being on the ledger of Kochera.
Special teams touchdowns have long been a staple of the Simla program, with the career record for kick-off returns for scores belonging to two former Cubs over the years. Ronnie Hoefler established the mark at seven in 1993, and after seeing that broken the following year, it would go back into the program’s possession when Tad Eurich, TJ’s father, finished his career in 1997 with 10. That record would stand for close to 25 years, until it was broken again by Fleming’s Brady Kuntz, who ran back his 11th in 2020. The Cubs have four returns on kicks this year, three on punt returns by Eurich. Overall, they have scored 11 non-offensive touchdowns on the year.
Eurich powers the running attack with 1098 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s had five games this season with at least 100 yards. Glover has a team-high 17 touchdowns on the ground and he enters the game needing 48 yards for a grand this year. Caston Cox, the sophomore QB, has just short of 300 yards on the ground and has completed 94 of 149 passes for 1616 yards. He’s tossed 19 touchdowns against three interceptions.
The leading receiver, in terms of catches, is Eurich out of the backfield. His 41 grabs are nine more than Bowker, but Bowker leads in yardage (699) and touchdowns (8). Eurich has 391 and four. Glover brings in 15 grabs for 204 yards and a pair of TD, while Kochera has added nine catches for 227 yards, with four reaching paydirt.
Dove Creek has been steadily building to this moment, as the Bulldogs won a combined three games in 2016 and 2017. Since, they have won at least five games in every season, and they enter the title game at 12-0. While defense has been the star for their opponent in the championship game, its been the offense that has put a ton of pressure on the opposition for the Bulldogs. They’ve scored 50 or more points eight times. They’ve only been held under 35 points twice, once by Mancos in the regular season and by Merino in the quarterfinals.
The Bulldogs have outscored their opponents by more than 400 points on the year, and they only allowed 46 in league play, 26 to Mancos, en route to the title in what has historically been the Mountain division. During their postseason run, the Bulldogs have outscored West Grand, Merino, and Mancos by a combined tally of 122-52.
Dove Creek enters its first championship contest with two runners already over 1000-yards on the season. Kade Hankins, the dual-threat QB, leads with 1582 and 20 touchdowns, to go with 1121 yards and 16 TDs through the air. Gage Buffington comes in with 1047 yards and 15 scores on the ground. Those two are separated by just one carry on the year. Kendall Gardner has been a strong third option on the ground, as the senior brings 652 yards and 13 touchdowns into his final high school contest.
Buffington and Gardner are two of the top four receivers for Hankins, with Buffington leading the way with 18 catches for 288 yards and four touchdowns, and Gardner adding 14 grabs for 133 yards and one score. Sandwiched between them are Cole Taber (17/241/6) and Taber Dejane (15/278/4).
Quaden Huffaker not only leads the Bulldogs with his 151 tackles this season, but he’s tops in the eight-man classification with that total. Only Glover has a chance to unseat him, but would need to record 16 more stops than the Dove Creek senior to do so. Ironically, it’s another Glover who is second to Huffaker on the team, as fellow senior, Dustin, comes in with 100 tackles. Tyson Beanland and Dejane each have 81. That quartet has accumulated 63 tackles for loss. Hankins (72), Gardner (66), Taber (48), and Audric Chadd (46) round out the leaders for Shane Baughman’s defense.
Gardner brings in a classification-best 17 sacks, while Beanland (nine), Huffaker (seven) and Chadd (six) have combined for 22 more. Gardner is also tied for the team lead with six takeaways, a total matched by Hankins. Five of Gardner’s tally are on fumble recoveries, while all of Hankins’ have been on interceptions. He’s tied for third in the class in that stat. Taber and Dejane each have three picks. Five of the team’s 10 non-offensive touchdowns have been on pick-sixes.
While Simla’s special teams history has been deep in kick-off returns, it’s been punt returns where Dove Creek has made a name. Two members of the record book for career punt returns have worn their uniform, with Colten Huskey finishing his career in 2008 with six, while Matt Stasny shares the record of 11 with Matt Engelking of Longmont. Engelking set the mark in 1991, and Stasny tied it in 2006. However, the Bulldogs do not have a punt return for TD this year. Buffington and Dejane each have a kick return for a score, though.
Simla is in its first title game since finishing runner-up to Stratton in 1995. The elder Eurich was part of that team for the Cubs. The program played for every eight-man title from 1980-85, winning three straight before falling to Swink in 1983, and then winning two more to close out the run. They also own second place finishes in 1967 and 1977.
For Dove Creek, this is the first championship game appearance in program history. It is only the second meeting between the two clubs during the MaxPreps era, with Simla claiming a 48-6 victory in the 2013 regular season.
Dove Creek is coached by Shane Baughman, and assisted by Jason Fury, Jesse Poole, and Adam Warren. David Guy is the Simla head coach, and he’s assisted by Donnie George, Doug Cox, and Kyle Kochera. Game time is 6pm on Friday at the Thunderbowl on the campus of CSU-Pueblo.