AURORA | A capsule look at the 2017 Class 5A state football first round playoff matchup between No. 7 Cherry Creek and No. 2 Eaglecrest:
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NO. 7 CHERRY CREEK (9-2) vs. NO. 2 EAGLECREST (11-0)
1 p.m., Nov. 18 at Legacy Stadium
BREAKDOWN: Eaglecrest and Cherry Creek are no strangers in regular season play as longtime former members of the same conference, however the two Cherry Creek School District programs will meet in the playoffs for the first time since at least 2000. Before they were moved to different conferences following the 2015 season, the Raptors and Bruins played each other every season stretching back to the early 2000s. Cherry Creek — which won the last meeting 42-7 late in the 2015 season — owned a 9-3 advantage in the series dating to 2004, with Eaglecrest’s last win a 29-28 victory in 2012.
CHERRY CREEK (9-2): Coach Dave Logan’s Bruins — the Mount Elbert League champions — come into the quarterfinal contest on a six-game winning streak that’s come on the heels of a 26-14 loss to No. 1 Valor Christian on Sept. 29. Cherry Creek’s only other loss of the season came against another team still alive in the 5A postseason in No. 6 Regis Jesuit, which won a five-point decision in Week 1. The Bruins’ latest win came with a hard-fought 34-21 victory over No. 10 Ralston Valley — the runner-up to Eaglecrest in the Mount Wilson League — a game that got close in the fourth quarter before junior QB Alex Padilla hooked up with senior WR Dmitri Stanley for a second touchdown pass for some breathing room. Padilla threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns to Stanley, a University of Colorado recruit who had 82 yards receiving, while junior WR Marcus Miller added 81. Junior PK Mac Willis made both of his field goal attempts and all four extra points to contribute 10 points to the victory…Cherry Creek’s offense currently stands as the second highest-scoring unit in 5A with 434 points in 11 games — an average of 39.5 points per game — trailing only No. 4 Pomona (490 points, 44.5 ppg). The Bruins have achieved good balance, but the passing game has been functioning at a high level this season under Padilla, who has racked up 2,544 yards passing (second in 5A behind the 3,025 yards of Fairview’s Aidan Atkinson) and a classification-best 39 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Stanley leads 5A with 20 touchdown catches and ranks second in yardage with 1,100, while Miller is not far behind with 896 yards and 12 TDs and five others have caught at least one touchdown pass. Cherry Creek has gained 1,000 yards more through the air, but still rushed for 1,640 as a team with sophomore RB Jayle Stacks at the forefront with 620 yards and eight touchdowns, followed by junior FB Alec Pell with 579 yards and six scores…Defensively, the Bruins have allowed the most points of any of the remaining eight teams as they’ve yielded 227 — 20.6 per game — but have been able to put pressure on opponents with 34 sacks and double-digit takeaways, including 11 interceptions. Senior DE/LB Casey Randall and senior DE Tre Mariney III have five sacks apiece to lead a diverse pass rush that has seen 16 different Cherry Creek players take the opposing quarterback down at least once. Senior LB/SS Nicholas Wright owns the team lead in tackles with 75, one better than Mariney, while senior DB Christopher Ditzenberger is in the top five in tackles for the Bruins and leads them with four interceptions…On special teams, Stanley is a dangerous return man for both punts and kickoffs, while Willis hasn’t been used much in the kicking game, but is 4-for-6 with a long make of 37 yards.
EAGLECREST (11-0): Coach Mike Schmitt’s Raptors — the Mount Wilson League champions — bring an 11-game winning streak into the quarterfinals as one of only two undefeated teams along with No. 1 Valor Christian. Eaglecrest, which suffered its only loss in the past two seasons (23 games) in the 5A quarterfinals last season against Regis Jesuit (EAGLECREST FOOTBALL PLAYOFF HISTORY), opened the playoffs with a 35-14 first-round win over No. 15 Fountain-Fort Carson in a game they played in honor of the late Armando Rodriguez, a freshman team coach who passed away earlier in the week unexpectedly. The Raptors had a couple of turnovers that kept the game a little closer than it should have been, but they were in control from the start after driving 80 yards for a touchdown on their first possession. Senior RB Kenny Wantings had his second four-touchdown game of the season and fifth game with multiple scores, while senior QB Jalen Mergerson found senior WR Corey Corbin with a short touchdown pass for Eaglecrest’s other score…With 14 points allowed in the playoff opener, the Raptors’ defense lost its top spot in 5A in fewest points allowed as eighth-seeded Grandview jumped over them with a shutout against No. 9 Lakewood. Still, Eaglecrest has yielded just 118 points in 11 games — 10.7 per game — held five opponents to just seven points and gave up a maximum of 15 points thus far. An active defense line anchored by massive NG Matt Youngblood and flanked by senior DE/LB Kyante Christian and junior DE Elijah Anderson-Taylor among others commands a lot of attention, which often frees up a talented core that includes senior LBs Cody Bardin and Kyle Wagner and junior LB Tyler Dufour (the team’s sack leader) to make a lot of plays. Senior S Victor Garnes is the glue in the defensive backfield and though he has just one interception — which he took back 80 yards for a touchdown — he must be accounted for on every play by the opposition and has racked up more than 60 tackles to boot. The Raptors also feature an outstanding group of DBs in seniors Corey Corbin, Thomas Dangerfield III and Jon Heupel, which give them the ability to stack up against even the most dangerous aerial attacks….Offensively, Eaglecrest has averaged 35.8 points per game, which ranks seventh among the eight teams remaining in the quarterfinals. The Raptors are able to lean heavily on the run with the continued emergence of Wantings, who passed the 1,000-yard mark in the playoff opener and has reached the end zone 21 times as he runs behind a line that includes stalwarts in senior Mac Shaw, juniors Barrett “Bear” Miller and Jake Wiley and sophomore Reece Atteberry. Mergerson has made things go as well as both a passer and runner, as he has thrown for more than 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns, while he ranks second behind Wantings in rushed with nearly 800 yards and 11 scores. Senior WR Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez has made a variety of big chunk catches on the season and has more than 800 yards receiving and six TDs, Garnes has gone for around 500 yards and five scores as another dangerous weapon and Corbin and junior WR Amaris Duggan have multiple TD catches as well…Special teams play has been a big boost for Eaglecrest with Garnes changing field position with kick returns and Sandoval-Jimenez punting and kicking field goals (plus executing the occasional fake).
WINNER GETS: The Cherry Creek-Eaglecrest winner moves into a Nov. 24-25 semifinal matchup against the winner of the quarterfinal between No. 6 Regis Jesuit and No. 3 Columbine, scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 17 at Jeffco Stadium.