AURORA | A capsule look at the 2017 Class 5A state football semifinal matchup between No. 3 Columbine and No. 2 Eaglecrest:
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
NO. 3 COLUMBINE (11-1) vs. NO. 2 EAGLECREST (12-0)
Noon, Nov. 25 at Legacy Stadium
BREAKDOWN: Eaglecrest and Columbine have some history in terms of scrimmaging against each other in recent years, but the two programs haven’t played each other in the regular season or playoffs since 1999…Columbine have been a postseason fixture for many seasons and have now been to at least the Class 5A quarterfinals in five of the last seven seasons, a stretch that included a state championship and undefeated season in 2011. All-time, the Rebels have five state football championships to their credit…Eaglecrest has become to develop a postseason tradition in recent years by qualifying for the playoffs in five of the last six seasons with three quarterfinals trips in that span and now the program’s first semifinal appearance since its state championship-winning season of 1993, when Colorado had six classifications.
COLUMBINE: Coach Andy Lowry’s Rebels — the Mount Cameron League champions — suffered just one loss in the regular season, which came back on Sept. 22 with a 35-14 defeat at the hands of Chatfield. Columbine has won eight straight games since that loss, including two in the postseason, a 45-14 victory over No. 14 Highlands Ranch in the first round followed by a 28-18 win over No. 6 Regis Jesuit in the quarterfinals. All 10 of the Rebels’ playoff touchdowns have come on the ground, as they rushed for six scores against the Falcons and four more against the Raiders plus a combined 592 yards rushing. Senior RB Conner Snow, sophomore RB Tanner Hollens and junior QB Logan Dearment have rushed for three postseason touchdowns each and sophomore RB Hogan Braeden has also reached the end zone. On the other side of the ball, Columbine has forced three turnovers in two postseason contests…Offensively, the Rebels have scored 458 points in 12 games for an average of 38.2 per contest, which ranks second among the four teams left in the 5A playoffs behind No. 4 Pomona (538 points, 44.8 points per game). Columbine is now just a shade under 3,500 yards rushing for the season thanks to four runners over 400 yards: Snow with 1,020 yards and 14 touchdowns, Hollens with 880 yards and seven touchdowns, Dearment with 588 yards and 13 TDs and senior WR/RB Teddy Mullin with 416 yards and six scores. Dearment has thrown for 830 yards and 16 touchdowns against just two interceptions, with Mullin far and away from the most common target with 408 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. The Rebels’ offensive success is made possible by a massive offensive line that includes senior OG Kai Valentino (6-foot-3, 300 pounds), junior OT Evan Durbin (6-4, 290) and senior OT Kevin Singer (6-6, 268)…Defensively, Columbine has surrendered 166 points on the season (13.8 ppg), which is the third-most allowed among the four semifinal teams. The Rebels have been adept at game-changing plays as far as getting to the quarterback (24 sacks, including at least one from 11 different players) and forcing turnovers (21 on 13 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries). Sophomore Justin Lohrenz has just 28 tackles, but eight of them are sacks to lead the team, while senior LB Espen Weber paces the team with 70 tackles (including four sacks, plus four turnovers created), followed by senior LB Richard Hoffschneider with 63. Senior S Anders Arterbrun has picked off four passes on the season…Aside from his play at quarterback, Dearment is a threat as a kicker as he has successfully made five of his six field goal attempts this season with a long of 42 yards.
EAGLECREST: Coach Mike Schmitt’s Raptors — the Mount Wilson League champions — bring a 12-game winning streak into the semifinals and have won 23 of their last 24 games over the past two seasons. Eaglecrest is also the lone undefeated team remaining in 5A with top-seeded Valor Christian’s loss to No. 8 Grandview in the quarterfinals. The Raptors have been impressive the postseason so far with a 35-14 victory over No. 15 Fountain-Fort Carson in the first round followed by a 26-7 defeat of former league rival and No. 7 Cherry Creek in the quarterfinals. Senior RB Kenny Wantings has been a force for Eaglecrest with five playoff rushing touchdowns, while senior QB Jalen Mergerson has thrown three postseason TD passes, two to senior WR Victor Garnes and the other to senior WR Corey Corbin. Senior PK Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez connected on both of his field goal attempts. Eaglecrest’s defense has allowed just 21 points in two playoff games to rank only behind No. 8 Grandview (16) among the remaining four teams…Defensively, the Raptors have been one of the state’s best units all season and they rank second behind the Wolves in points allowed for the entire season with just 125 to Grandview’s 121. Eaglecrest put the clamps on a Cherry Creek offense that was the second most-prolific in 5A coming into the game, holding the Bruins to a season-low seven points (scored when the game was in hand), while it also came away with two turnovers on interceptions by Corbin and senior DB Jon Heupel. An active defense line anchored by massive NG Matt Youngblood and flanked by senior DE/LB Kyante Christian and junior DE Elijah Anderson-Taylor will be charged with stacking up against Columbine’s massive front and making it easier for senior LBs Cody Bardin and Kyle Wagner and junior LB Tyler Dufour (the team’s sack leader) to find a variety of ballcarriers. Garnes should be big in run support as well and has made more than 60 tackles on the season, while Corbin, Heupel and senior DB Thomas Dangerfield III form an outstanding defensive backfield that likely won’t be pressured more by the passing game against Columbine…Offensively, Eaglecrest has now amassed 420 points in 12 games (35 points per game), which is third among the four teams left in the playoffs. The Raptors found less success on the ground against Cherry Creek than usual, but still give plenty of touches to their 1,000-yard rusher Wantings, who now has 22 touchdowns to his credit on the season. The play of a physical offensive line that includes senior Mac Shaw, juniors Barrett “Bear” Miller and Jake Wiley and sophomore Reece Atteberry is especially important against another team that features plenty of size in the trenches, while Miller and Atteberry likely will see significant snaps on the defensive side as well. Mergerson is closing in on the 2,000-yard passing mark for the season and has tossed 16 touchdown passes, while he has also rushed for nearly 900 yards and scored 11 times with his legs. Garnes is a big play waiting to happen as a receiver, as is Sandoval-Jimenez, who has caught more than 900 yards worth of passes and six scores. Junior WR Amaris Duggan, junior TE Dawson Macomber and Corbin offer other effective targets…Garnes is a difference-making return man and Sandoval-Jimenez is a cool customer when it comes to big kicks as both a place kicker and punter.
WINNER GETS: The Columbine-Eaglecrest winner moves into the Class 5A state championship game, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at Mile High Stadium — home of the Denver Broncos — where it will play the winner of the other semifinal between No. 8 Grandview and No. 4 Pomona, scheduled for 5 p.m. Nov. 25 at Legacy Stadium.