Colorado Prep Football Preview: Breaking down Saturday’s semifinal matchups

Noah Roper and Erie take on Longmont this Saturday in the Class 3A semifinal at Tiger Stadium.

Denver Post preps editor Kyle Newman breaks down Saturday’s semifinal matchups in Classes 5A, 4A and 3A. The season culminates with the championship games Dec. 2.

Class 5A

No. 3 Columbine (11-1) at No. 2 Eaglecrest (12-0), 12 p.m., Legacy Stadium: The rushing-oriented Rebels (3,462 yards and 44 touchdowns on the ground this year) battle an Eaglecrest team with big-play potential through the air via quarterback Jalen Mergerson and his array of weapons. This game ultimately comes down to the big dudes up front, where Columbine’s seniors Kevin Singer (6-6, 268) and Kai Valentino (6-3, 300) and sophomore Andrew Gentry (6-8, 285) will be pitted against the likes of Eaglecrest juniors Barrett Miller (6-5, 260 and Matt Youngblood (6-0, 324) and sophomore Reece Atteberry (6-5, 255).

No. 4 Pomona (10-2) at No. 8 Grandview (10-2), 5 p.m., Legacy Stadium: Both programs are operating at peak swagger, as Grandview pulled off the upset heard ’round the Rocky Mountains with a 28-16 win over top-ranked Valor Christian last week, while the Panthers — the two-time state runner up to those very Eagles — believe the path has been cleared for them to finally win their first 5A title. If senior linebacker Julius Carter Jr. and the Wolves’ defense can put a lid on the production of Panthers quarterback Ryan Marquez (easier said than done, seeing as he threw five touchdowns with ease last week), Grandview is fully capable of a second straight heavyweight toppling.

Class 4A

No. 4 Pueblo West (11-1) at No. 1 Pine Creek (11-1), 1 p.m., District 20 Stadium: The Cyclones were on the brink of elimination last week before a 17-point surge propelled them to a victory over Chatfield, a comeback that demonstrated just how quickly senior tailback Pierre Taylor and the Pueblo West offense can gouge an opponent. But coach Monte Pinkerton must have his team sharp from the opening whistle in order to defeat top-ranked Pine Creek, the defending champion that has not lost to a 4A team this year. Look at the top of the roster for the Eagles’ keys: senior wideout Wyatt Wieland, sophomore running back David Moore III and senior quarterback J.C. Coulter.

No. 15 Broomfield (8-4) at No. 6 Pueblo South (11-1), 1 p.m., Dutch Clark Stadium: Who can stop the Pueblo South offense? No one so far, not even in the Colts’ lone loss this season to Pueblo West in which they racked up 54 points. So the onus is on Broomfield to limit the effectiveness of Pueblo South’s core of four seniors in quarterback Zach Cozzolino, tailback Steve Brock, slot Thomas Pannunzio and wideout Marcell Barbee, who have combined for 63 touchdowns. But the Eagles, fresh off upsets of No. 2 Windsor and No. 7 Loveland in overtime, have the senior leadership from players such as corner Trace Jaramillo to guide them back to the title game for a second straight year.

Class 3A

No. 8 Longmont (9-3) at No. 5 Erie (10-2), 1 p.m., Erie Tiger Stadium: The Trojans’ running back-by-committee approach combined for 212 yards in their upset win over top-ranked Mead last week, with junior Drake Engelking leading with three touchdowns. But Longmont faces an Erie team battle-tested by multiple conference losses as well as a pair of one-score victories in the playoffs so far. Erie is led by Colorado’s rushing leader in junior Noah Roper (2,282 yards), who also has 32 touchdowns this year. It will be up to Longmont senior linebacker/safety Austin Hassler and the Trojans’ defensive front to slow him down, or it could be a big day for the Erie offense.

No. 6 Palisade (10-2) at No. 2 Palmer Ridge (12-0), 1 p.m., Don Breese Stadium: Bears senior quarterback Ty Evans already has his future locked up via a scholarship to play at Arkansas, but there’s still work left to do to cement his prep legacy by delivering Palmer Ridge’s first state championship. Evans has a pair of dynamic sophomores at his disposal in tailback Raef Ruel and slot Anthony Roberson II, but faces a stiff test in a Palisade defense featuring senior defensive end Danny Tate. The Bulldogs’ 1,000-yard trio of senior fullback Terrance Williams, sophomore quarterback Cameron Tucker and senior running back Austin Bernal will also be key in keeping the ball out of Evans’ hands.

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