Trio of 3A WSC teams could host first-round playoff games
Each of the playoff-contending Class 3A high school football teams in Western Colorado will be doing a lot of number crunching for the next week or so.
Palisade, Delta and Rifle have numbers on their side as their regular-season schedules come to a close Nov. 6. The number that favors each of them is seven, the number of victories each has after eight games.
Palisade also is familiar with the number seven in another way: It’s where the Bulldogs were located in this week’s 3A wild-card points standings and the Associated Press Class 3A football poll.
Meanwhile, Rifle (7-1) is sixth in wild-card points, and Delta is eighth.
Still, the number that everyone in the Class 3A Western Slope Conference and all of Class 3A should be looking at is the number three.
Because that’s how many teams from the 3A WSC could wind up hosting a first-round game in the 3A state playoffs.
And yes, even for a league that’s consistently brought in strong playoff contenders, this would be a rare feat.
According to Colorado High School Activities Association and MaxPreps.com records going back to 2004, this would mark the first time in that time frame that one league has had three teams host first-round playoff games. What’s more, it would mark the first time in that 12-year stretch that ANY conference in 3A had three teams host in the first round.
Think about what that means.
First, there’s the numbers aspect. Sixteen teams annually qualify for the 3A state playoffs, with the top eight earning first-round home games. To qualify for that top eight, a team has to earn its way there in the wild-card points standings with an exceptional season.
Those numbers go up not only by winning games, but by winning games against tougher opponents. Oftentimes, playing a team that’s at the 4A or 5A level fits the criteria because more wild-card points are awarded to teams in higher classifications.
A good example this season is No. 2 Roosevelt, which, like Palisade, Delta and Rifle, is 7-1, but began its season with nonconference games against 4A schools Thompson Valley, Windsor and Loveland.
So, the end-all argument is a tougher schedule gives a team a better opportunity for postseason positioning. But for three teams from the same conference to be so close and playing at such a high level is unheard of.
So, how did they get to this point?
Palisade and Delta did their part preemptively with their respective preseason schedules. The Bulldogs played and beat annual playoff qualifiers The Classical Academy and Holy Family and threw in a road victory against a mediocre Pueblo Central team. Delta’s only loss came against 4A Montrose, but the Panthers beat The Classical Academy and a 2A Pagosa Springs team that is now 1-7.
Then there’s Rifle. The Bears’ nonconference schedule, which included Grand County of Moab, Utah, Moffat County and 2A Jefferson (now 1-7) didn’t look too daunting at first. Grand County, however, is now 6-4 and in Utah’s Class 2A state playoffs, and Moffat County is 6-2 and on the verge of its second consecutive berth in Colorado’s 2A postseason.
Still, it’s safe to say the biggest benefit these teams have is the ability to play each other every year.
Delta, for example, convincingly beat Rifle at Bears Stadium earlier this month before the Bears rebounded to beat Palisade at Stocker Stadium two weeks later. And victories by Rifle, Delta and Palisade this week would set up the possibility of another rarity: a three-way tie for first place in the WSC standings.
There are two teams, however, trying to make the WSC’s magic number five instead of three. That’s because Central (5-3), now No. 19 in the wild-card standings, would vault itself back into the 16-team postseason picture with a win tonight against Delta. Eagle Valley, sitting at No. 12, plays at Palisade on Friday.
So, for the second consecutive year, five WSC teams could qualify for the postseason. Before last year, the records say, that didn’t happen in any other 3A football conference, either.
It reaffirms what many already know around these parts: The 3A Western Slope Conference is, without a doubt, the best small-school league in Colorado.
The numbers speak for themselves, after all.