Football: Capsule look at Cherokee Trail vs. Ralston Valley

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CLASS 5A STATE SEMIFINAL MATCHUP

NO. 3 CHEROKEE TRAIL (11-1) vs. NO. 2 RALSTON VALLEY (11-1)

Nov. 24, 1 p.m., Legacy Stadium

BREAKDOWN: The teams meet for the first time since the 2010 season and the fourth time overall, with Cherokee Trail holding a 2-1 edge in the series, including a 17-9 win in 2008 and a 14-2 victory in the Class 5A playoffs in 2010. Ralston Valley posted a 14-10 victory in 2009. … CHEROKEE TRAIL: The Cougars have advanced to the semifinals of the state playoffs for the third time in the past six seasons under coach Monte Thelen and are still looking for their first victory in that round. Cherokee Trail lost to Monarch 6-0 in overtime in the 4A semifinals in 2007 and then fell 21-20 to Regis Jesuit in the 2010 5A final four. Thelen’s team plays at home for the first time in the semifinals. …The Cougars (11-1) advanced to the semifinals with a 17-14 victory over Centennial League rival Eaglecrest on Nov. 17, which saw them score the go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter on a 3-yard keeper by junior quarterback Aric Johnson. Johnson, who led a game-winning scoring drive in the fourth quarter of a second round win over Mullen, engineered a 93-yard march against the Raptors with his arm and his legs and finished with a team-best 102 yards rushing and 142 yards passing. Brandon Barry caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from Johnson in the first quarter and Ryan Winke converted a 35-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds of the first half for Cherokee Trail’s other points, while Cameron Smith ran for 71 yards, which pushed his season total to a team-best 810 with seven touchdowns. Defensively, Cameron Currington had a key interception in the red zone as Eaglecrest tried to add to a four-point lead which gave Cherokee Trail the ball for its go-ahead drive and Evan White essentially sealed the victory with his team-best sixth interception of the season on the Raptors’ final drive. Special teams play continued to plague the Cougars, as they saw two punts blocked, including one that was returned for a touchdown. Cherokee Trail overcame its second straight three-turnover game, as Johnson had a pass intercepted and lost two fumbles. … RALSTON VALLEY: The Mustangs (11-1) have won nine straight games, including a 22-20 overtime victory over No. 7 Pomona in the quarterfinals on Nov. 16. Ralston Valley got two touchdown runs from junior quarterback Jacob Knipp, who also had 46 of the team’s 195 yards rushing. Knipp only threw for 46 yards, but has passed for 2,505 yards on the season along with 28 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. Six Mustangs have caught 20 or more passes, led by Spencer Svejcar with 606 yards and seven TD catches. Andrew Wingard leads the team with 583 yards rushing — including 65 against Pomona — plus nine touchdowns and Carlos Gonzalez has accounted for 501 yards and eight TDs on the ground. Defensively, Ralston Valley had a string of four straight games holding opponents in single digits snapped with 20 points allowed against Pomona, which couldn’t convert a two-point conversion to send the game into a second overtime. Svejcar racked up a team-high 14 tackles and has 95 on the season, just one off the team-high total of 96 recorded by Jordan Anderson, who had 12 against Pomona. … WINNER: The winner advances to the Class 5A state championship game, which is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where they will face No. 4 Valor Christian, a 49-3 winner over No. 1 ThunderRidge in the other semifinal.

Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at [email protected] or 303-750-7555