The Fútbol Fall Classic returns to the Flatirons, a lengthy tradition that ended last school year when the season fluxed to the spring and teams were thrown into a slate constricted in both time and by restrictions around the pandemic.
Back in play is Fairview, the spring 5A champs, one of 14 local teams across the four classifications to make it into its respective postseason field.
The Knights are the 24 seed in 5A’s 32-team bracket. They are accompanied by Front Range League teams in No. 1 Boulder, No. 7 Legacy, No. 10 Broomfield and 5A/4A NCAC-undefeated Silver Creek, which is sixth.
In 4A, No. 17 Holy Family, No. 18 Mead, No. 19 Niwot, No. 24 Centaurus and No. 28 Erie will all play on the road in the opening round.
In 3A, Jefferson Academy is the top seed, while Peak to Peak is 15th and Prospect Ridge Academy is 27th.
Dawson is 11th in 3A.
Let’s take a look at each of their first-round matchups (Wednesday-Friday) as well as a potential difference-maker who could lead their team into the tournaments’ second rounds next week.
No. 1 Boulder vs. No. 32 Hinkley
Details: Wednesday 7 p.m. at Christian Recht Field
Forecast: The Panthers lost just twice during the season despite a rigid schedule that included five of the season’s final top-10 teams in the classification. They finished atop the Front Range League behind an offense that was held to less than two goals just once in 15 games. Following a draw two weeks ago against Fort Collins, which finished with an identical 8-1-1 record in league, they outscored their final four opponents 14-4. Hinkley, on the other hand, finished the season 7-8, but rode a six-game winning streak into the postseason.
Difference-maker: Historically it hasn’t been easy for FRL players to be among the 5A goal leaders, a product of the league’s overall competitiveness and the lack of the kind of games you can just pile on. But this season, the FRL finished with three players inside the top five in 5A scoring. Among them is Calvin Pielke, the Boulder senior who scored 20 goals in 12 games. With his elite talent, that could further tick up during Boulder’s playoff run.
No. 6 Silver Creek vs. No. 27 Gateway
Details: Wednesday 4 p.m. at Everly-Montgomery Field
Forecast: Silver Creek played three FRL schools in nonconference play, swept the 5A/4A NCAC, and finished the year perfect at 15-0. A season after being snubbed from the postseason despite a 9-1 record, the Raptors are back in the fold after outscoring teams 49-14. Along the way, they shut out eight of them. Gateway, at 10-4-1, hasn’t lost since its four-game skid earlier in the year.
Difference-maker: Silver Creek goalie Alex Larner hasn’t been tested a whole lot during the season, stopping 76 shots in 15 games. But the junior’s been really good when his moment has arrived, allowing just 11 goals while posting seven shutouts in 1,135 minutes in net.
No. 7 Legacy vs. No. 26 Ralston Valley
Details: Wednesday 5 p.m. at North Stadium
Forecast: It’d been logical to think Legacy would take a step back after bringing back just four starters from the previous season. But that hasn’t been the case. The Lightning won their first nine games of the fall — one against each Broomfield and Boulder — and have been a mainstay among the top teams in the state ever since. Coach Tony Romano’s group is plus-47 in goal differential this season (56-9). Its opponent, Ralston Valley, won eight games and has scored 38 goals this season.
Difference-maker: Legacy junior Cooper Stephens has 20 goals, tied for third in 5A with Boulder’s Pielke. Coming off a sophomore campaign where he had four goals in 10 games, the forward/midfielder has had three games with six or more points and two with four goals.
No. 10 Broomfield vs. No. 23 Columbine
Details: Wednesday 6 p.m. at Broomfield
Forecast: It’s fall in Colorado, and that means the temperatures are dropping, the leaves are changing and Broomfield is about to hit its stride. The Eagles, winners of a state-most eight titles under coach Jim Davidson, have long played their best soccer late in the year, and especially in the postseason. After missing the condensed playoff bracket last year, a first for Davidson at Broomfield, the Eagles are right back in the mix after going 10-4-1 this fall. Columbine (10-5) comes in on a four-game winning streak.
Difference-maker: Broomfield senior Russell Tuccio is a playmaking veteran. As a sophomore, he was the solid, young player that helped the Eagles clinch the title. Now, more seasoned, he could again be pivotal as the team that always seems to have a late run in them, tries to make another.
No. 24 Fairview vs. No. 9 Liberty
Details: Wednesday 6 p.m. at District 20 Stadium (Colorado Springs)
Forecast: Fairview lost quite a few pieces from its state championship team from the spring. Yet despite a 6-6-3 record, the Knights closed the year strong, drawing even with Legacy before beating No. 25 Poudre. A first-round matchup against Liberty brings back recent memories. Fairview beat the Lancers in overtime last season to punch its ticket into the finals, where it eventually beat Cherry Creek for the program’s first state title.
Difference-maker: Fairview goalie Shane Williams. He was the sophomore on the backend of the state-title team from the spring. Now he’s back, and he’s arguably still one of the top keepers in the state.
Holy Family senior Garrett Havens (10) head the ball during a game against Windsor on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Broomfield, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)
No. 17 Holy Family vs. No. 16 George Washington
Details: Thursday 5 p.m. at George Washington High School
Forecast: The Tigers, finishing second only to 5A Silver Creek in the 5A/4A NCAC, have an impressive resumé to showcase coming into the bracket. In October, they beat other local playoff teams Erie and Centaurus by a pair of goals apiece, and also drew with 3A No. 1 Jefferson Academy. And since losing to Silver Creek on Sept. 13, they’ve gone 7-2-1. Their first-round opponent George Washington (9-6), meanwhile, has lost three times this month — but one was against No. 1 Northfield, and another came to No. 4 Denver North.
Difference-maker: Mr. Holy Family himself, Jackson Ward. A BoCoPreps first-teamer soccer player and second-teamer basketball player last spring tied for sixth in 4A points this fall, tallying 18 goals and 16 assists.
No. 18 Mead vs. No. 15 Fort Morgan
Details: Thursday 3:30 p.m. at Pioneer Elementary School
Forecast: Mead (10-3-2) hasn’t lost since Sept. 27, going 4-0-2 since. Its three losses this season came on the road against Holy Family and 5A’s Silver Creek and Skyline as it finished third in the 5A/4A NCAC. This postseason trip is Mead’s second in three seasons following its two-win campaign in 2018. Fort Morgan won the 4A/3A Longs Peak League and rolls into the playoffs on a six-game winning streak.
Difference-maker: Mead defender Brody Foote. At the backend, Foote leads the team in assists with 11 in 15 games. The Mavs defense, meanwhile, has allowed just 22 goals this season.
No. 19 Niwot vs. No. 14 Regis Groff
Details: Thursday 6 p.m. at Evie Dennis Campus (Denver)
Forecast: Niwot allowed just two goals inside its nine wins this season, finished the regular season 9-5-1 and was fourth in the 4A/3A Longs Peak League at 7-2. Behind it, Azael Marrufo had a hand in 24 of the team’s 38 goals this season, with 16 goals and eight helpers. The Cougars have beaten Regis Groff in the each of the past two postseasons.
Difference-maker: Marrufo. The Niwot star will likely finish as the team leader in scoring for a second straight season. He has scored in each of the team’s nine wins.
No. 24 Centaurus vs. No. 9 Golden
Details: Thursday 6 p.m. at NAAC (Arvada)
Forecast: Centaurus won just twice in 10 games during the condensed spring season but has responded months later with an 8-7 record and a spot back in the postseason. Led by seniors Juan Ramirez, who led the team with 10 goals and three assists, and Griffin Meere, who in reverse has 10 assists and three goals, the Warriors won four of their first five league games and survived a late losing skid. Against Golden earlier in the year, they fell 3-1.
Difference-maker: Centaurus goalkeeper Garrett Pugh averages almost six saves per game and has had two games with more than 10. The sophomore will likely be tested more than a few times against Golden, which has scored in each of its last 13 games.
No. 28 Erie vs. No. 5 Durango
Details: Thursday 5 p.m. at Durango
Forecast: Erie traded wins, losses and draws for the better part of the season. Its only repeat result was consecutive wins back in September. But now is the postseason, where the Tigers have advanced out of the first round in each of the past two seasons. It faces a Durango team that outscored teams by a combined 61 goals this fall.
Difference-maker: Erie senior Evan Hutson hasn’t had the scoring output he had in the spring season, but with four goals this year, the striker could be in position to add to that count with the season on the line.
No. 1 Jefferson Academy vs. No. 32 Salida
Details: Wednesday 6 p.m. at Jefferson Academy
Forecast: The top seed in 3A ran through its schedule with 14 wins and a draw against 4A Holy Family. The sensational fall campaign comes after the Jags were hit with late-season quarantine issues in the spring and were one-and-done in the ensuing postseason. Their first opponent is Salida, which won just four games this fall.
Difference-maker: Chyler Ward helps lead an offense that outscored 11 opponents this fall by at least three goals. He currently has 19 goals and 10 assists.
No. 15 Peak to Peak vs. No. 18 Pagosa Springs
Details: Wednesday 6 p.m. at Peak to Peak
Forecast: The Pumas have been going in the right direction under second-year coach James Wagenshutz. He turned the team from 6-10 to 5-3 in his first year, and now has them hosting a postseason game. The Pumas head into the game winners of three of their last four, while Pagosa Springs, winners of the 3A Southwest League, have won five in a row.
Difference-maker: Peak to Peak sophomore Ethan Wang. After scoring just once in the month of September, Wang has scored four times over four games in October.
No. 27 Prospect Ridge Academy vs. No. 6 Coal Ridge
Details: Wednesday TBD at Coal Ridge
Forecast: The Miners’ season can be grouped into two parts. The latter was tough as they lost seven of their final eight games. But the start was very good, going 6-1, and that was enough to punch their playoff ticket. Host Coal Ridge comes in on a six-game winning streak where it has outscored teams 37-2.
Difference-maker: PRA sophomore Parker Brown. The midfielder has recorded a point in seven games and is second on the team to Caleb Perruzza’s 20 points with 17 of his own (six goals, five assists).
No. 11 Dawson vs. No. 6 Fountain Valley
Details: Friday noon at Thomas MacLaren School (Colorado Springs)
Forecast: Dawson underwent a massive transition after the spring season, losing eight seniors and its coach, David Criswell. And at first this fall, things looked rough and a postseason bid seemed distant with the team dropping five of its first seven games. Thanks to some timely wins since then, though, the Mustangs are back where they’ve been so successful of late. They visit Fountain Valley, which outscored teams by 51 goals this fall.
Difference-maker: Dawson senior Nick Knobel. The four-year varsity mainstay and second-year captain will lead a young team back to a place where over the past two seasons it has advanced to the finals (2019) and semifinals (spring).