Grand Valley to battle Brush
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
BRUSH, Colorado ” Going into the season, the Grand Valley Cardinals had their sights set on the playoffs, just like every other team. But they hit a bump in the road part way into the season. They lost head coach Mike Johnson to an appendectomy and defensive coordinator Jeremy Tanner had to take the reins.
The change in coaching scenery didn’t slow the Cardinals down, and now they’re looking at a first-round matchup with the Brush Beetdiggers. The Cardinals enter the 2A playoffs as a No. 10 seed and will face the No. 7 seed from the 2A Patriot League at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
“This group of kids, they are very intrinsically motivated,” Tanner said. “I think they’re disappointed more for him because they like him a lot and want him to be part of it. But they realize we need to get the job done anyway.”
Johnson was in the coach’s booth the last two games and, depending how he feels, may be on the sidelines in Brush, Tanner said. Both teams bring 8-2 overall records and 6-1 league records into the playoffs and both teams can put points on the board. Grand Valley has scored 387 points this year while surrendering 142 points. Brush has scored 336 points and given up just 114.
The Beetdiggers are riding a three-game winning streak after big wins over Greeley-based University 49-6, Strasburg 69-18, and Estes Park 52-14.
Most of their offense is based on a balanced running game with three backs over 500 yards this season and as a team has pounded out 2,647 rushing yards and 35 rushing touchdowns. Tyler Booth leads them with 893 yards and 14 touchdowns, Skyler Seewald has 553 yards and four touchdowns and Isaac Brost has 542 yards and six touchdowns.
“Probably the most important thing is to stop their fullbacks with our nose guard and middle linebacker,” Tanner said. “(Booth) accounts for a majority of their running game. He’s a hard, downhill runner. We’ve watched film and nailed down some tendencies that will really help us out. I’m pleased, excited, going into this game. I feel like we are where we need to be at this point in the season, and I’m looking forward to making a run at the title.”
In Grand Valley’s last game, a 36-14 loss to Olathe to decide the 2A Western Slope League champion, the coaches and players didn’t think they played very well, Tanner said.
They seem to have it figured it out though, and know what they want to do against the Beetdigger defense. Brush runs a 4-3 defense, with four linemen and three linebackers.
“That’s our favorite D (defense) to run our offense against,” Tanner said. “We’re going to go back to the things we do well. Our center, and the key to beating the 4-3 D, is for him to control their middle linebacker. The last few weeks we’ve played teams with a 3-5 defense. That’s the same thing we run. The nature of that D takes us out of what we want to do.”
Last week’s showing against Olathe’s defensive front wasn’t that good; the team had two fumbles in the fourth quarter that led to scores.
“We need to learn from the mistakes we made there,” Tanner said. “We can’t win games in the playoffs by putting the ball on the ground. On defense, we’ve got some blitzing schemes that I think are going to work well. The nice thing about the 3-5 is that you can bring pressure from a lot of different places and catch the offensive line off guard.”
Brush may have an edge in size, at least up front, but Tanner said he thinks the Cardinals have better team speed.
“It’s an awfully even matchup,” he added. “This is going to be a really good game.”
This week in practice the Cardinals will be getting back to the basics.
“There’s a few things that really exposed us against Olathe, which I’m happy for,” Tanner said. “It gives us the chance to see what we really need to work on.”
The defensive line’s technique dropped off last week and the offensive line will work on blocking holes, Tanner said.
The Cardinals are also taking measures to make sure the center-to-quarterback exchange won’t be an issue in the Brush matchup.
The winner of the game will go against either No. 2 Faith Christian (10-0) or No. 15 Classical Academy (8-2) next weekend.
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Amid hundreds of cleat-footed little leaguers casually gathered along the first baseline, the glare of parents’ sunglasses deflecting the early morning sun, coach Troy Phillips began a trip down memory lane.