The first matchup between Loveland and Skyline this year was a one-sided affair that went in favor of the Indians. Saturday the two teams will meet again, but this time the winner will be crowned the Class 4A football champion.
Ahead of Saturday's looming showdown, BoCo Preps' Brad Cochi, The Loveland Reporter-Herald's Mike Brohard and CHSAANow's Dan Mohrmann and Ryan Casey gave their thoughts on how things will play out at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
How much is the result of the regular season finale between these teams going to come into play on Saturday?
Brohard: The first game has to be a factor, because both sides have a better idea of what each is capable of doing. It also leads to a chess game, because both sides know there will be tweaks made by the other side, and they have to be ready to make the in-game adjustments.
Cochi: Every game is a different game and it's often said that beating a team twice is a difficult thing to do. But I also believe it would be foolish not to think that Loveland’s convincing 42-14 win over Skyline on Nov. 2 shouldn’t at the very least give the Indians confidence.
Mohrmann: It has to, right? During pregame warmups and really everything leading up to the opening kick, the Loveland players can look to the other end of the field and know that they have the ability to beat that other team because they've proven it. And that's a one-way perspective.
Brohard: Loveland ran for 466 yards in the game, which is what the Indians do. They'll stick with that plan unless Skyline proves it can stop it. The Falcons do get back three players on the defensive side that will help. I'd also expect Skyline to explore the passing game a bit more after that first game.
Cochi: It’s also worth noting that game was in Loveland and the Falcons were missing some of their best players, including 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive end Austin Robison. The Falcons have also played more of their studs on both sides of the ball since the postseason began and that has led to their three best games of the past several seasons, with each playoff week seemingly stronger than the last. So while I think having won that game for the Longs Peak League title should give the Indians a mental edge over the Falcons, the Skyline boys have been playing with a different mentality the past three weeks and I’m expecting a much closer game.
If Weinmaster runs for his average of 145 yards what kind of outcome does that point to?
Brohard: Exactly what Loveland wants it to point to, another strong running performance by the team, an undefeated team and a state championship. If Weinmaster has his normal day, it also means the Indians will have other options open up in the running game, with quarterback Riley Kinney and Cody Rakowsky adding to the damage.
Cochi: Honestly, I don’t think Weinmaster hitting his average will be much of an indicator in terms of the game’s outcome. I saw Weinmaster put up 197 yards and four touchdowns against Broomfield in the season opener and he leads all of 4A in rushing for a reason. He’s an outstanding back and I expect him to get his stats. He had 182 yards and two touchdowns against Skyline a month ago, and I would say matching or exceeding that performance would be more indicative of a one-sided game in Loveland’s favor.
Weinmaster is the focal point, no doubt, but Loveland has other weapons to use. Skyline will want to slow Weinmaster down, but they can't ignore the rest of the group who can do damage.
Casey: Listen, I'm not in the prediction business, but if Loveland's offense is clicking at the pace it has been all season, that is only good news for Loveland.
Cochi: I will be more interested to see two things: 1. How Weinmaster’s stats compare to those of Skyline running back Jeremy Hollingsworth, who is second in 4A in rushing and averages 135.5 yards per game; 2. Can get Loveland get solid production and a few big plays from the other key guys in its single-wing offense, guys like Riley Kinney and Cody Rakowski? I’ve got to believe that both Weinmaster and Hollingsworth will get their yards despite both defenses focusing on them, and I’ll be watching to see how either team can differentiate itself based on the performances of other players.
Does Skyline's ability to throw the ball give it more of an edge or will Loveland's defense be able to withstand anything thrown its way?
Brohard: It gives them balance if they use it well. When Jeremy Hollingsworth busted off that long touchdown run in the regular season, Skyline's offense kept trying to find that same magic, and without real success.
Cochi: The Indians have only faced three quarterbacks who have attempted more than 17 passes against them this season, so at least a more pass-oriented attack is something they haven’t seen as much. But even in those games, one of which was the aforementioned 42-14 win over Skyline, the Indians defense averaged 2.3 interceptions and allowed an average of just 138 passing yards against.
Brohard: The Falcons have two talented wideouts, and Chase Silva has thrown for nearly 2,700 yards. My guess is they'll try to attack with balance, because they did find some success with it late. However, balance is more effective when the game is close.
Cochi: I do think that Skyline’s ability to pass gives might be more of an advantage in that it gives the Falcons offense balance. Skyline sophomore Chase Silva (leads 4A in passing) being able to incorporate receivers like Kyle West (leads 4A in receiving yards), Jack Wathen (leads 4A in receiving touchdowns) and Nate McGregor gives Skyline a big-play dynamic to complement Hollingsworth. But I don’t think it gives Skyline an advantage, necessarily. How the Loveland secondary and the Skyline passing attack execute against one another, however, could be a determining factor in the outcome.
Casey: This is one of the coolest parts about this matchup: One of the state's best rushing attacks versus one of the state's best passing attacks. But the passing attack also does help open things up for Hollingsworth, as Brad alludes to. I guess one big question mark for Saturday: How cold will it be? We've seen passing attacks get grounded due to cold weather in the playoffs. Then again, it was about the worst weather imaginable in the semifinals, and Skyline's offense still put up 32 points.
With each team shutting out their opponents last week, is this going to be more of a defensive battle than it was the first time they played?
Brohard: That was Loveland's sixth shutout of the season, and that side of the ball thinks every game is a defensive battle, even if there's a 21-point lead. That's the mentality Loveland plays defense with, and it leads to very complimentary football.
Cochi: No. Both teams' defenses are playing at an incredibly high level right now and maybe the fact that they’re familiar with the opposing offenses from facing them just four weeks ago makes them even better, but I just don’t see a defensive battle tomorrow.
Mohrmann: Really? I saw Montrose put up some solid offensive numbers earlier in the year and it seems like Loveland went into shutdown mode last week. The same with Ponderosa. The Mustangs were playing very well up until last week so I have to think that the defensive trend carries over from a week ago.
Brohard: The offense controls the clock, and the defense remains aggressive. Skyline is going to need a different plan than last time to make this a defensive game.
Cochi: Skyline head coach Mike Silva was on the BoCoPreps Podcast this week and he was confident that Saturday’s championship is more likely to be a “first team to 24 wins” type of affair. I think the way Loveland executes its relatively low-risk, single-wing offense gives the Indians a high floor and the team’s multitude of talented players with big-play ability provide the potential to score 40 or more points, which they have done 10 times this season. If Skyline can match the Indians’ execution, I tend to agree with Silva that there will be plenty of points scored. I think the state championship is more likely to be decided by a big defensive play or two.
What’s more dangerous, a team seemingly playing with house money and like it has nothing to lose (Skyline) or a team that has been the perceived favorite all years and has looked like it every step of the way (Loveland)?
Brohard: How about a third option — a team that feels it was screwed out of the playoffs two years ago at 9-1 and then was upset in the first round of the playoffs last year and has unfinished business? That's how Loveland sees this run they're on this year.
Casey: Oh, snap!
Cochi: Well, Pueblo South was the No. 6 seed and beat No. 1 Pine Creek for last year’s 4A championship and there have been two other upsets according to seeding in the past six title games. So there’s something to be said for the boost a team can get from embracing the underdog role, but Loveland has been one of two clear favorites since day one of this season and seems to have gotten better with every passing week.
Mohrmann: Didn't Skyline take down the other of those two favorites? I understand that it came with one of Pine Creek's best players on the shelf, but overall the Eagles were a very talented team. Following that upset they rolled against Ponderosa and you're right, Brad. They're just getting better each week.
Brohard: Skyline's story is really intriguing. They didn't look like a contender at 7-3, but the Falcons have strung together three really impressive victories. Others may be doubting them, but coach Mike Silva said his team finally believes, which it didn't the first time it played Loveland.
Cochi: I do think that the Falcons are a bit more dangerous than your typical underdog since they have put a proud program back on the map after a long streak of irrelevance and on Saturday they’ll be playing to end a 32-year streak without a championship. So if there was a year in which the underdog role carries a bit more weight than usual, I think it’s 2018.