ARVADA — Ralston Valley got an early jump on the rest of the Class 5A football playoff field Thursday night at the North Area Athletic Complex.
The No. 6-seeded Mustangs was the first team to punch its ticket to the state quarterfinals. Ralston Valley dominated No. 11 Cherokee Trail 52-0 in the first and only second-round matchup on the docket Thursday night.
“It’s huge for us,” Ralston Valley junior Ben Takata said about being the first 5A team to advance to the state quarterfinals. “We get that extra day of rest and extra day to prepare for the next team. We are going to need that.”
Ralston Valley (9-2 record) has the chance now to head to Stutler Bowl on Friday night to scout No. 14 Castle View against No. 3 Cherry Creek. The winner of that game faces the Mustangs next week in the 5A quarterfinals.
It very well could be a revenge game next week for Ralston Valley. The Bruins have eliminated the Mustangs from the playoffs the previous two seasons.
The Mustangs had the luxury of getting a bye week after closing out the regular season Oct. 26 with a big victory over defending 5A state champion and No. 7 seed Pomona.
“Everyone was kind of banged up after Pomona. The rest helped a lot,” said Ralston Valley senior Brad Roberts, who ran for three touchdown against Cherokee Trail. “Everyone knows it’s playoffs, one-and-done. We came out ready to play.”
Ralston Valley’s defense and offense were clicking on all cylinders against the Cougars. Takata and senior Thomas Harries both had first-half interceptions for the Mustangs. Senior defensive end Isaac Townsend and the rest of the Mustangs’ front-seven harassed Cherokee Trail quarterback Jayden LaVigne on a number of occasions.
“You have to give the defensive line a lot of credit for that,” Takata said of the interceptions. “They make us (defensive backs) look good.”
The offense was effective on the ground and took advantage of good field position provided by the Mustangs’ defense. Roberts had a pair of short touchdown runs to cap off drives in the first half. Senior Mason Miller kicked a 41-yard field goal to help out the cause.
Takata finished off the dominating half by the Mustangs with a 2-yard touchdown run in the final minute to give Ralston Valley a 24-0 halftime lead.
“The offense was good, but I’m telling you, it’s a lot easier to play offense when the defense gives you the ball in the other team’s territory,” Ralston Valley coach Matt Loyd said. “I hope we can continue that.”
Ralston Valley opened the second half taking advantage of Cherokee Trail trying an onside kick. The Mustangs recovered the kick and took advantage of the short field. Ralston Valley drove 56 yards in six plays. Junior Chase Wilson got into the scoring action with a 12-yard touchdown run.
The Mustangs all but put the game out of reach with Roberts — Air Force Academy commit — scoring his third touchdown with 5:38 left in the third quarter to put Ralston Valley up 38-0.
“It feels awesome. Everyone is rested and we’re ready to go,” Roberts said. “We couldn’t have asked for anything better than 52-0.”
The game went into running clock in the third quarter when Ralston Valley quarterback Walker Brickle connected with senior AJ Jergensen on a 20-yard touchdown pass. Senior Nick Pastore finished of the scoring with a 10-yard touchdown run in the final minutes.
“I like the bye week,” Loyd said of the new 24-team format where the top-8 seeds get byes in the opening round. “It was nice to have a few days off to have guys heal.”
Cherokee Trail (8-4) got off to a soaring 6-0 start this season, but the Cougars had a tough final stretch of the regular season losing 3 of 4 before entering the playoffs. Cherokee Trail suffered double-digit losses against a trio of Top-5 seeded playoff teams — No. 5 Grandview, No. 3 Cherry Creek and No. 4 Eaglecrest — before edging Poudre in double-overtime last week in the opening round of the playoffs.