ARVADA - The cream has risen to the top as all four top seeds in the 5A state football tournament remain in play.
No. 2 Ralston Valley survived a dramatic 22-20 overtime victory against No. 7 Pomona Friday night setting up a semifinal meeting between the Mustangs (11-1, 5-0) and No. 3 Cherokee Trail (11-1, 4-1).
On the other side of the bracket No. 1 ThunderRidge (11-1, 5-0) will face No. 4 Valor Christian (10-2). With just four teams left and all of them being top seeds any of the four teams are capable of winning it all. And Ralston Valley coach Matt Loyd knows this team is so close to lifting a state championship trophy - but also so far.
“Every team left is a very good team. That means whoever has the best week of practices and whoever prepares the best will have the advantage,” Loyd said. “We have to work harder than we have all season if we want our season to continue.”
If Ralston Valley is able to beat Cherokee Trail, senior Spencer Svejcar will probably be a big reason whey. Svejcar is perhaps 5A football’s best two-way player and is the team’s leading receiver with 30 catches for over 600 yards and seven touchdowns.
In addition, Svejcar leads the team in tackles with 63 and has recorded five interceptions this season.
“If we want to win this whole thing than all of us from top to bottom have to be ready to play our A-game. The only ones who can beat us are ourselves,” Svejcar said.
However, Cherokee Trail will certainly be ready to play. After beating Mountain Range, Mullen and Eaglecrest in their three playoff games Cherokee Trail has put together the best resume of the remaining playoff teams.
Their one loss came on Oct. 5 to Cherry Creek 21-14 but since then Cherokee Trail has won six straight games outscoring their opponents 174-75.
NO. 2 RALSTON VALLEY (11-1) VS. NO. 3 CHEROKEE TRAIL (11-1)
When, where: 1 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 24 at Legacy Stadium
Game plan: The juggernaut that is Ralston Valley’s offense and their 39.5 points per game average takes on Cherokee Trail’s elite defense that has given up 14 or less points in eight of their 12 games this season. The Mustangs feature the most balanced offense attack left in the tournament using an average of 223 passing yards per game and 195 more rushing yards to overwhelm their opposition with 418 yards of total offense.
Cherokee Trail’s offense features a three-headed monster of running backs Cameron Smith, Cameron Currington and Aric Johnson. All three backs have recorded at least seven touchdowns each this season and Smith has rushed for over 800 yards on the season averaging 90 yards per game.
Defensively, Cherokee Trail is one of the most complete units in the state. Their defense has seven different players who have recorded at least 40 tackles this season and Evan White leads the team with six interceptions.
Extra point: If Ralston Valley can generate early offense and force Cherokee Trail to throw the ball and play catch up that will play into their hands and potentially set them up to pull away in the second half.
However, if Cherokee Trail can bring their brand of defensive intensity and control the tempo of the game it sets up for a low scoring affair which they would love to steal at the end.