AURORA | A four-touchdown lead got dangerously close to disappearing on the Grandview football team Friday night at Legacy Stadium, but the Wolves held on for a victory to open the Class 5A state playoffs.
Coach Tom Doherty’s 11th-seeded Grandview team put itself in prime position with a 28-point opening half that was punctuated by two rushing touchdowns and two long scoring passes from senior Liam Szarka to junior Xay Neto, only to watch 22nd-seeded Douglas County score three times in the second half to make it a contest.
The Wolves held on, however, and advanced to at least the second round for the 18th time in the past 19 seasons — missing the playoffs only in 2020 when only eight teams qualified — with a 28-21 victory over the Huskies. The programs met in the postseason for the first time since Grandview won a 20-14 overtime contest against Douglas County in the 2007 5A state championship game.
Full Class 5A state football playoff scoreboard and schedule, here
Grandview (7-4) set up an all-Aurora second round matchup, as it will now play a Nov. 10 visit to Lou Kellogg Stadium to face sixth-seeded Regis Jesuit (6-4), which had a first round bye. Kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m.
The Wolves — coming off consecutive losses to Cherokee Trail and Cherry Creek to end the regular season — couldn’t have started the postseason better, as they took their first possession all the way down and got on the scoreboard with 2-yard touchdown run by junior Donavon Vernon.
Just over two minutes later, Szarka took a read-option play into the end zone from 20 yards out to put the lead at 13-0 after Kyle Chavez’s extra point attempt was blocked.
Grandview went to the air to expand the lead in the second quarter.
Just past the midway point of the period, Szarka kept a play alive as he avoided pressure, rolled out to the left and lofted it to Neto, who got a block and took the pass 66 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion run by Szarka made it 21-0.
Neto got loose again with just 15 seconds remaining in the opening half, as he shook free of some would-be tacklers and scored from 43 yards out to make it 28-0 at the break.
Things did not go as smoothly in the second half, however, as Douglas County went 80 yards on the first possession of the half and cashed in with a 1-yard touchdown run by Jake Stonebraker. The Huskies intercepted Szarka on the subsequent series and scored again two plays later on Reed McConnell’s tackle-breaking run.
In the later stages of the final quarter, the lead was shaved to seven points when McConnell scored again on a pass from Davis Lish.
Neto had a big pickup on third down on Grandview’s next possession that helped it take precious time off the clock, though the drive ended in a turnover on downs when Szarka came up short on a fourth-and-1 play.
A sack by the tandem of junior Marcus Nesbitt and senior Nkongolo Wa-Kalonji on third down was a difference maker for the Wolves defense, which also forced a turnover on downs that essentially sealed the result as Grandview’s offense ran out the clock.
Aurora’s other two teams in action in the 5A opening round went down to defeat as No. 16 Eaglecrest fell to No. 17 Legacy 28-14 at Stutler Bowl and No. 19 Cherokee Trail dropped a 42-7 contest to No. 14 Chatfield at Jefferson County Stadium.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at email@example.com. Twitter/X: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
2023 CLASS 5A STATE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS (1ST ROUND)
Nov. 3 at Legacy Stadium
(11) GRANDVIEW 28, (22) DOUGLAS COUNTY 21
Score by quarters:
Douglas Co. 0 0 14 7 — 21
Grandview 13 15 0 0 — 28
Grandview — Donavon Vernon 2 yard run (Kyle Chavez kick), 9:23
Grandview — Liam Szarka 20 yard run (kick blocked), 7:04
Grandview — Xay Neto 66 yard pass from Szarka (Szarka run), 5:02
Grandview — Neto 43 yard pass from Szarka (Chavez kick), 0:15
Douglas County — Jake Stonebraker 1 yard run (kick failed), 7:36
Douglas County — Reed McConnell 15 yard run (Tate Peterson pass from Davis Lish), 6:00
Douglas County — McConnell 18 yard pass from Lish (Lucas Mabry kick), 4:31
Douglas County: Jake Stonebraker 17-46, Reed McConnell 3-20, Davis Lish 9-8, Jordan Wilhelm 1-0
Grandview: Liam Szarka 16-53, Donavon Vernon 23-48
Douglas County: Lish 13-23, 141 yards, 1 touchdown; Stonebraker 1-1, 48 yards
Grandview: Szarka 18-29, 342 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
Douglas County: Jordan Wilhelm 7-87, Alex Abramowitz 3-57, McConnell 2-36, Tate Peterson 1-7, Stonebraker 1-1
Grandview: Xay Neto 9-257, Julian Savaloja 4-37, Vernon 3-27, Dominic Penn 2-21