Sophomore quarterback Liam Szarka, left, scored one of two touchdowns for Grandview in its loss to Ralston Valley in Week 4 of the 2021 regular season. Szarka’s fourth-seeded Wolves play host to the fifth-seeded Mustangs in a Class 5A state football quarterfinal contest on Nov. 19 at Legacy Stadium. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

AURORA | A capsule preview of the 2021 Class 5A state football quarterfinal playoff contest between Ralston Valley and Grandview scheduled for Nov. 19, 2021:

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports


No. 5 Ralston Valley (9-2) vs. No. 4 Grandview (9-2)

Nov. 19, 7 p.m. at Legacy Stadium

BREAKDOWN: Grandview and Ralston Valley have been among the most successful programs in Class 5A for quite some time, but will meet up in the postseason for only the second time. The Wolves prevailed over the Mustangs 17-14 in a quarterfinal matchup back in 2011. …Grandview’s streak of qualifying for the state playoffs got snapped at 15 seasons after they missed out on last season’s postseason, which was limited to just eight teams due to the coronavirus pandemic. Grandview lost its first game of the 2019 playoffs (to Eaglecrest after having a first round bye), so its second round victory over Mullen was the first for the program since the quarterfinal round of the 2018 playoffs. …Ralston Valley also missed out on the postseason last year in the smaller format, but made the semifinals the season prior to that before losing to Columbine and also advanced to the quarterfinals in 2018. …This is the second meeting between the teams this season with Ralston Valley holding the advantage after a 24-13 win Sept. 17 at Legacy Stadium. The Wolves’ scores came via a rushing touchdown from sophomore QB Liam Szarka as well as a punt return score by senior WR Evan Johnson, while Grandview gained just a little over 200 yards of total offense. Balanced Ralston Valley had 166 yards passing and 145 yards rushing.

RALSTON VALLEY: Coach Matt Loyd’s Mustangs went 8-2 in the regular season and finished third in the loaded Jeffco League (where five of the six teams qualified for the playoffs, four made it to the second round and two remain in the final eight) and got a bye in the first round. Ralston Valley defeated another Aurora team, 12th-seeded Cherokee Trail, in the second round with a 42-20 victory that saw the Mustangs come back from a 14-point deficit after one quarter. Sophomore QB Logan Madden finished with four touchdown passes and 229 yards passing for Ralston Valley, while senior RB Myles Wilson reached the end zone three times on a pair of receptions on touch passes near the line of scrimmage as well as a rush. …Defensively, Ralston Valley gave up twice its regular season scoring average in the game with Cherokee Trail, as it had yielded only 10.8 points per game to its previous 10 opponents and hadn’t give up more than 17 points until that game. Senior LB Steele Fredricks has racked up 92 tackles to lead the way for the Mustangs, sitting in front of junior Eli Keith, who has 82 stops and paces the team with six sacks, which has helped him rack up eight tackles for loss, same as senior Samuel Ross. Ralston Valley has forced 14 turnovers on the season and junior S Jason Thome has accounted for four of them with two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. …Offensively, the Mustangs have put up 28.7 points per game with plenty of balance and a lot of players involved, as three quarterbacks have attempted 59 or more passes (led by junior James Wochner) and combined for 2,083 yards through the air, while four players have 48 or more rushing attempts, paced by 435 yards from junior RB Diano Benallo, who has scored five touchdowns on the ground, as has Wochner and senior RB Marquel Collins. Five Mustangs have 17 or more receptions and 10 have caught at least one touchdown pass. Sophomore WR Jackson Hansen has 485 yards receiving to lead the way, while junior WR Brayden Schatz has 409 yards. …On special teams, Fredricks is 27-for-30 on PAT tries and 6-for-6 in field goal attempts with a long of 45.

GRANDVIEW: In the first season under coach Tom Doherty — who took over after coaching legend John Schultz retired after last season — the Wolves finished with an 8-2 record with losses coming to two top-five seeds in the Class 5A playoffs (No. 2 Cherry Creek and No. 5 Ralston Valley) in two games that were close in the late stages. Grandview won its last three games after a loss to Cherry Creek and grabbed a share of the Centennial League title with a 32-13 win over Arapahoe in the regular season finale. The Wolves earned a first round bye in the playoffs, then entered it with a 42-21 win over No. 13 Mullen in the second round in a game that saw sophomore QB Liam Szarka throw for 314 yards and touchdowns to senior WRs Tristan Burrus and Evan Johnson, while senior RB Moosah Alsaffar racked up 101 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Junior RB Chase Dahir and Szarka also rushed for scores. …Under Doherty, the former defensive coordinator at Cherry Creek, Grandview’s defense has been outstanding and has yielded just an average of 15.4 points per game. Senior S Malique Singleton has been a bigtime playmaker as he not only has 94 tackles to share the lead on the team, but he also has six of the Wolves’ 12 interceptions on the season (including a 95-yard pick-six against Cherry Creek) and one of its two fumble recoveries. Junior LB Max Kibbee shares the lead in tackles with Singleton with sophomore LB Preston Emken is right behind with 83, including eight tackles for loss, which ties with junior DE Mulumba Wa-Kalonji for the high on the team. Wa-Kalonji picked up his team-leading seventh sack in the first playoff game, while five other players have at least two. Senior DBs Kahden Rullo and Marcus Williams have also been staples of the defensive backfield for Grandview and have combined for 99 tackles. …The Grandview offense has averaged 31 points per game under the direction of Szarka, who has thrown for 1,579 yards (after throwing for a season-high 314 yards in his playoff debut) and 11 touchdowns on the season. Grandview’s blue-collar offensive line has pushed around opponents in the run game and helped clear the way for Alsaffar, who missed the first three games of the season but has run for 856 yards and nine touchdowns in eight games since. Szarka also has scored nine rushing touchdowns and has gained 420 yards, just in front of Dahir, who has 398 plus five scores. The receiving trio of Johnson, Burrus and senior WR Charlie Dick each have 300 or more yards receiving led by Johnson at 495 with three scores, Burrus at 471 with two scores and Dick with 300 and two touchdowns as well. …Grandview has had one of the most dangerous special teams units in the state in the return game as Johnson has three punt returns for touchdowns and Burrus has also taken one back to the end zone. Senior PK Ben Beckman has made 41 of his 45 PATs and connected on 4-of-5 field goal attempts with a long of 46 yards.

WINNER GETS: The Ralston Valley-Grandview winner advances to a semifinal matchup against the winner of the quarterfinal contest between top-seeded Valor Christian and No. 9 Columbine, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 19. The Wolves played neither team during the regular season, while the Mustangs topped the Rebels in Jeffco League play.

5A quarterfinals: Capsule preview, Regis Jesuit vs. Cherry Creek, here