AURORA | A capsule look at the 2018 Class 5A state football first round playoff matchup between No. 17 Smoky Hill and No. 16 Regis Jesuit:
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Sentinel Prep Sports
NO. 17 SMOKY HILL (10-0) VS. NO. 16 REGIS JESUIT (6-4)
7 p.m., Nov. 2 at Lou Kellogg Stadium
BREAKDOWN: Smoky Hill and Regis Jesuit square off in a battle of Aurora programs that have likely never met in the playoffs — at least not in the past three decades — and have not played each other even in the regular season in at least 15 seasons. The matchup is a contrast of postseason experience as the Buffaloes appear in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, while the Raiders have made the postseason in 12 consecutive seasons and have won at least one playoff game in six straight seasons.
SMOKY HILL (10-0): The Buffaloes come into the 5A playoffs as one of just three unbeaten teams in the entire classification, as they joined No. 1 Valor Christian and No. 2 Columbine with perfect regular season marks. In the first season under coach Tom Thenell, Smoky Hill finished its first undefeated regular season since 1980 and captured the first league title for the program since that same season. The Buffaloes are one of just two teams from the newly-formed Metro 10 conference to qualify for the expanded 24-team playoffs (No. 24 Denver East is the other)…Defense has been a big reason for Smoky Hill’s resurgence, as the Buffaloes have yielded just 88 points — second-fewest allowed in 5A behind Valor Christian’s 58 — or 8.8 per contest after giving up 33 points per game in the 1-9 2017 season. Senior LB David Hoage is a game-changer on the defensive side of the football as he leads the team with 75 tackles and has been credited with 22 tackles for loss, including five sacks. Junior LB Chase Lyons has racked up 55 tackles and is one of four players with four sacks on the season, while junior DE Khari Upshaw leads a sack-happy unit with eight on the season. Smoky Hill has been particularly good at taking away the football and has a whopping 16 interceptions, including six from diminutive sophomore DB Micah Williams, plus multiple picks from junior DB Xavier Gulick and junior LB Vincent King, who each have touchdown returns for scores…Offensively, Smoky Hill has achieved great balance since transfer QB Leslie Richardson III took over under center after sitting out half the season. Richardson III has throw for 987 yards and 13 touchdowns against just one interception in five games under center and tossed 10 of those touchdowns in the last two weeks in wins over Mountain Range and a league title-clinching victory over Westminster. Sophomore WR Alec Pinkowski has 479 yards receiving and nine touchdowns, junior WR Kaleb Starling has 317 yards receiving and five scores and five other players have hauled in at least one TD pass. Operating behind an effective offensive line keyed by juniors OLs Jesse Gomez and Jaedon Warner among others, the Buffaloes have eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing, with junior RB Obie Sanni owning 1,839 of those with 17 touchdowns. Sanni has amassed more than 200 yards in a game four times and only failed to rush for 100 yards twice, while he only went one game without reaching the end zone…On special teams, sophomore PK Elisha Brown has made six of his eight field goal attempts (including a long of 40 yards) and has missed just three extra points in 46 tries.
REGIS JESUIT (6-4): The Raiders’ postseason chances were far away midway through the season, when a four-point home loss to Horizon put them at 1-4 going into South League play. Coach Danny Filleman’s team proceeded to run the table to win the league championship and defeated the South’s three other 5A state qualifiers (No. 18 Doherty, No. 19 Fountain-Fort Carson and No. 23 Legend) by an average margin of nearly 30 points…Regis Jesuit has been better on both sides of the football during its five-game winning streak, but the offense has reached a particularly high level. After failing to score more than 23 points in any of its first five games, the Raiders haven’t put up fewer than 35 in the second half of the season and come into the postseason off a season-high 49 points in a win over Douglas County Oct. 26. Senior RB Kiahn Martinez has been a Swiss Army Knife-type of player for Regis Jesuit, gashing defenses out of the backfield or as a receiver as he has amassed 1,407 yards of total offense and 24 touchdowns, even as he missed some time due to injury. Martinez has been key for an offense that is almost completely retooled from last season and is under the direction of a freshman in QB Nicco Marchiol, who has thrown for 1,379 yards and 12 touchdowns against five interceptions. Martinez is Regis Jesuit’s leader in receptions (32), receiving yards (401) and receiving touchdowns (6), while junior WR Bryce Sloan (25-342-3) and junior WR Jackson Connelly (21-332-2) have been regular targets and junior RB Ty McGuire and junior QB/RB Gordon McKeehan also have hauled in double-digit receptions…Defensively, Regis Jesuit has not allowed more than 14 points per game in its past five and the most it yielded all season (29) came in the season opener on the road in Florida. Senior LB Geno Macias is the heart and soul of the defense and has racked up 109 tackles (61 solo), collected five sacks and come up with two turnovers as well. Senior LB Charlie Quinn, sophomore LB Bryan Mottram and junior LB Colby Jaramillo all have made more than 80 tackles on the season for the Raiders. Regis Jesuit hasbeen able to get after the passer for many season and despite the graduation of 5A sacks leader Jake Heimlicher has recorded 41 sacks, with senior DE/DT Luke Keefe leading the way with 10, sophomore DE Clay Nanke next with 7.5 and senior LB Logan Caskey at 7.0. The Raiders have generated 25 turnovers (15 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries), with junior DB Bryce Parsons providing a lot of those with his eight interceptions. Freshman DB Pyreese Miller has four interceptions as well…On special teams, junior PK Mario Adame has attempted just four field goals on the season and made two, while he is 24-of-25 in extra points.
WINNER GETS: The Smoky Hill-Regis Jesuit winner moves on to the Nov. 9-10 second round against top-seeded Valor Christian (10-0), one of eight teams that received first-round byes. Full 5A bracket and schedule, here