The question is not if an Aurora football team will be among the final eight left in the Class 5A state playoffs, but rather which one.
That’s because the lone two remaining area qualifiers for the 24-team playoffs — No. 6 Regis Jesuit and No. 11 Grandview — sit squarely in opposition to each other in the second round, with the winner moving into the quarterfinals.
The Raiders and Wolves will meet in the postseason for the only the second time and first since a much-anticipated clash in the 2013 second round (won by Grandview) when they take the field at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at Lou Kellogg Stadium.
It will be the second playoff contest for coach Tom Doherty’s Grandview team, which defeated 22nd-seeded Douglas County 28-21 Nov. 3 at Legacy Stadium in the opening round. It was a needed victory in many ways for the Wolves, who ended the regular season with a last-second loss to rival Cherokee Trail and then saw a brief second-half lead slip away in a defeat to Cherry Creek.
Grandview got back on the winning track against Douglas County — program it hadn’t seen since the two played for the 2007 5A state championship — by scoring 28 points in the opening half, ceding 21 in the second half and then holding on to put the program into at least the second round for the 18th time in the past 19 seasons.
The Wolves rushed for two touchdowns in the opening quarter — a short burst to cap the opening drive of the game by junior Donavon Vernon and then a 20-yard read-option score from senior quarterback Liam Szarka — and got two more scores on the second quarter on connections from Szarka to electric junior Xay Neto, scored on passes of 66 and 43 yards. Neto finished with nine catches for a whopping 257 yards.
But that was it for Grandview’s offense, which has found points tough to come by after halftime for much of the season. The Wolves haven’t scored a fourth-quarter point in five straight contests —dating back to a Week 6 win over Eaglecrest — and been outscored 91-26 in the second half by Arapahoe, Smoky Hill, Cherokee Trail, Cherry Creek and Douglas County.
Szarka has been the engine that has driven things all year, as the Air Force commit has racked up more than 2,500 yards of total offense (2,135 yards passing, 480 yards rushing) and 22 total touchdowns. He was missing three of his top four receivers in the game against Douglas County due to injury, but leaned heavily on Neto, who is second on the team in receiving yards (547) and receiving touchdowns).
The Wolves defense got a big sack on Douglas County’s final possession from senior Nkongolo Wa-Kalonji (who had a game-high 11 tackles) and junior Marcus Nesbitt that eventually led to a turnover on downs.
Regis Jesuit, which faced easily one of the hardest schedules of any team in Colorado, sat 3-4 at one point, but won its last three games over Chaparral, Legend and Fountain-Fort Carson by a combined score of 123-17.
Coach Danny Filleman’s Raiders (6-4) lost games to top-five seeds Arapahoe and Ralston Valley by a touchdown, dropped a four-point contest to Pine Creek on a late score and also was within a touchdown of top seed and undefeated Cherry Creek at halftime in non-league play.
Regis Jesuit has made and lost in the quarterfinals in four straight seasons, including 2020, when only eight teams made the postseason due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Raiders also have a major all-around threat in senior Anthony Medina, the team’s leading rusher with 579 yards as well as its leading receiver with 432 yards with 16 total touchdowns. Even against a difficult set of opponents, Regis Jesuit has averaged 31 points per game, while it allowed just over 20 per contest, which includes 47 scored by Cherry Creek, the classification’s leader in points scored.
The Grandview-Regis Jesuit winner moves into the Nov. 17-18 quarterfinals, where it will play the winner of the second round contest between No. 3 Arapahoe and No. 14 Chatfield.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter/X: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports