Friday night frenzy
Three great matchups highlight prep football slate
From high-ranking showdowns to conference and cross-town rivalries, 7 p.m. Friday will provide several great high school football matchups.
Topping the list is Montrose at Monarch in a battle between Class 4A’s top two ranked teams.
Perennial state power Monarch is the defending state champ, and the Coyotes are off to a 3-0 start that earned them the No. 1 ranking from CHSAANow.com. Monarch is 46-5 in the past four seasons and 125-15 going back to 2002, another state-title season.
The Coyotes are the ultimate measuring stick for No. 2 Montrose, which is 5-0 after knocking off a couple of traditional 4A powers, including ninth-ranked Pueblo West, and dispatching Delta, the ninth-ranked team in Class 3A.
“They’re the defending state champs, and everybody this year thinks they’re going to win it again,” Montrose coach Todd Casebier said of Monarch. “It’s a perfect situation for us to play the best and see how we stack up.”
Casebier said standout fullback/defensive back Angelo Youngren, whose playing time has been limited in recent weeks by a broken hand, should see more time on offense this week. Others played well in Youngren’s place, Casebier said, but Youngren’s “an impact guy, and we’re going to need every guy we have against a team like Monarch.”
Casebier made it clear this game is just the latest big game in a litany of them for the Indians, who will have next week off, then begin Southwestern Conference play.
“This game is not our season,” he said.
Friday brings the biggest rivalry game in the Grand Valley when Grand Junction and Fruita Monument meet at Stocker Stadium in the SWC opener for both.
Starting conference play with a win will be pivotal for both team’s conference-title aspirations. That and the natural rivalry would be motivation enough, but each has something more in mind that could provide an extra edge.
The Tigers were highly ranked and heavily favored when Fruita upset them last year. Revenge will be on their mind.
The Wildcats feel there’s no room for error the rest of the way as they hope to reach the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said the loss to the Wildcats last year hurt the Tigers’ playoff seeding and derailed their bid for a third straight SWC title. His players remember it well.
From a coach’s standpoint, though, the Fruita loss was a great teaching tool, serving as a reminder that maximum effort and execution win games, which is why the Wildcats won a year ago.
“The team that gives the most effort that night and does the most things right is going to come out with the victory,” Owens said.
That goes double in a rivalry game, where there are no surprises and no fear because the players been competing against each other since elementary school.
Fruita looked at last week’s game against Highlands Ranch as a must-win game, and the Wildcats won a thriller 18-17.
It’s must-win time again, as the Wildcats determined three weeks ago they needed to win at least two of their remaining three games against 5A schools. They’re 1-1 since then. That means they need to beat Grand Junction, the last 5A school on their schedule for the power points they will need to make the playoffs. That, and they can’t afford to lose to the 4A teams in the SWC, hence the must-win approach from here on out.
Hotchkiss at Cedaredge
Class 1A Western Slope Conference play begins Friday, and the showcase game is in Cedaredge, where the defending 1A state champion hosts Hotchkiss, the team it nipped for the conference title last fall, then nipped in a state semifinal.
Hotchkiss has a longer run of success going, but Bulldogs coach Zac Lemon said Cedaredge built a program in a hurry under coach Brandon Milholland, putting the Bruins in similar standing.
“They’re kind of like us now,” Lemon said. “We don’t try to rebuild, we reload. And they definitely reloaded. They’re a championship-caliber team again, and they’re the champion until somebody knocks them off.”
This also is a rivalry game, given the two Delta County schools’ proximity.
“We always consider this to be a big game, regardless of the situation, regardless of the year,” Lemon said.
Milholland said an inherent burden of winning a state title is the target that gets placed on the champion the next year, which provides one more bit of motivation for Hotchkiss.
The Bruins didn’t play last week, so it’s been two weeks since their rout of Dolores, which capped an emotional week in the aftermath of star player Reid Gates’ death from accidental carbon-monoxide poisoning and the hospitalization of two other Cedaredge student-athletes: Tyler Cooper and Aaron Henrie.
“They played with heart and intensity against Dolores,” Milholland said of his team. “I hope they come out and play with heart and intensity again. ... I hope our kids get out there and fly around and execute like we have at times this season.”