Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
The road to the Class 2A state championship game runs through the Patriot League – again.
That’s no secret to the 11-0 Bayfield Wolverines, head coach Gary Heide or anyone else in the world of Colorado high school football.
The Wolverines, in fact, might be considered honorary members of the power conference when they take on Platte Valley (9-2) of the Patriot League this afternoon in Kersey in the 2012 Class 2A state semifinals.
The game will mark the fifth Bayfield playoff game against a Patriot League opponent in the last three years.
“The Patriot League is an extremely strong league with a lot of football tradition,” Heide said.
“They have a series of great competitions with great coaches. Their regular-season games are like playoff games,” he said with the Wolverines poised to take on the Patriot League’s runner-up, the No. 7 seed in the CHSAA Class 2A Boys Football State Championships.
The Platte Valley Broncos avenged their regular-season loss (49-30) to league champ Eaton with a 23-21 playoff upset over the second-seeded Reds last weekend in an Eaton blizzard. Platte Valley’s other loss this year came in the season opener at unbeaten No. 1 Kent Denver 46-14.
But after that loss, Broncos’ quarterback Logan Sitzman stepped in and led Platte Valley to nine wins in the next 10 games, including last week’s state-quarterfinal upset.
“I think he is, by far, the best quarterback combination we’ve seen this year,” Heide said of Sitzman, a 5-11, 145-pounder who’s rushed for 1,301 yards and passed for 1,932 yards this season. He’s accounted for 39 touchdowns – 20 passing and 19 rushing.
“He can make something out of nothing. He runs the zone-read option, and he can ... just take off. He’s very quick, and he’s going to be tough to contain,” the first-year BHS head coach said.
“They run a very wide-open offense,” Heide said of the Broncos, who average 43 points a game. They scored at least 38 points in all nine victories this season.
“That will be one of the keys to the game ... our ability to limit the number of big plays.”
“They are very physical on defense,” Heide said.
Fourteen players on the Platte Valley roster are listed at 200 pounds or bigger, led by 6-3, 265-pound all-stater Raul Rios, one of the defensive leaders (10 tackles per game).
“And they are playing with a lot of passion,” he said of Platte Valley’s emotional victory last week at rival Eaton that earned the Broncos a home date for today’s semifinal against Bayfield, which enjoyed two consecutive home playoff games.
No. 4 Florence (10-1), the defending state champion, will play at No. 1 Kent Denver (11-0) in the other Class 2A state semifinal.
“Platte Valley was able to capitalize on turnovers (last week). They were ready. They certainly know what to expect in big games,” Heide said.
The Broncos can expect to see a Bayfield team coming off two pressure-packed playoff victories: last weekend’s tense 18-13 win over Faith Christian, and a week earlier, the Wolverines survived another tight test in a 21-12 win over Trinidad with the help of an opportunistic defense and key turnovers.
The Wolverines will offer their familiar triple-option look on offense against the Broncos, led by 1,200-yard rusher TJ Pazell.
Starting quarterback Matthew Knickerbocker is expected back in the lineup after missing most of last week’s game when he fell ill after scoring Bayfield’s first touchdown against Faith Christian.
Allec Rodriguez stepped in at quarterback and threw a key touchdown pass to Colton McMenimen to help the Wolverines advance to the state semifinals for the second consecutive year.
Drake Rhodes, moving from his regular split end job, scored a touchdown as a slotback last week after taking a pitch from Rodriguez to extend Bayfield’s winning streak to 11 in a row.
The Wolverines have won 23 of their last 24 games.
In 2011, the Wolverines ran the gauntlet of three consecutive Patriot League playoff teams to reach the state championship game. Bayfield beat, in order, Strasburg, Eaton and Brush (at Brush).
To play in the 2012 state championship game, the Wolverines will have to clear one more Patriot League hurdle.