GYPSUM - A year ago, this really didn't seem possible.
Eagle Valley football was wrapping a 1-8 season and had won three games in the previous two campaigns.
Playoffs? (You may go all Jim Mora now.)
In one of the more remarkable turnarounds in the storied program's history, Eagle Valley went 7-3 this fall and is making its first playoff appearance since 2005 today at 2 p.m. at Frederick High School.
"It is such a great feeling," Eagle Valley coach John Ramunno said. "You can feel it in the whole school. There's a positive energy. The kids have worked their hearts out for a common goal."
Eagle Valley is the 13th seed, one of four Western Slope teams in the 16-team tournament, while the host Warriors are No. 4.
Meet the Warriors (or the Bulldogs?)
The difference in seed shouldn't be a huge concern for the Devils. After all, Frederick was No. 16 last year and toppled No. 1 Canon City in the first round. The Warriors also took down No. 8 D'Evelyn, which came back to beat Battle Mountain in the first round.
That was just a small part of major bracket destruction in the 2011 tournament. Only one top-four seed survived. No. 2 Kennedy barely advanced in the first round and got crushed by No. 10 Palisade, 47-7, the next week. No. 3 Rifle also went out to No. 5 Windsor, the eventual champion. Windsor beat No. 3 Silver Creek in the final.
Frederick went 8-2 overall with losses to Pueblo East (this year's No. 5) and Silver Creek (No. 10). The Warriors ran the table with a 5-0 record in the Northern League. Their biggest win of the year was 21-7 victory over Holy Family (No. 12).
Since the Devils played Friday last week, Ramunno and his staff hoofed it down to Denver to see the Warriors beat Thomas Jefferson, 37-13, Saturday.
Ramunno said the Warriors are comparable in style, but better in talent, than Moffat County. Eagle Valley dispatched the Bulldogs, 48-14, in Week 6.
The Warriors run the option with a very mobile quarterback in Jaron Balmon, who has likely been renamed Bubba Ivers in practice this week in Gypsum. Balmon pitches to Jacob Sleeth, who averages 120 yards per game and Ryan Miller (439 yards on 5.5 yards per carry.) Balmon's main passing targets are Michael Broz and Joe Wise.
Look for the Eagle Valley defense to play Frederick just like it did Ivers and the Bulldogs, by hitting the quarterback early and often and reading the pitch well.
The Slope effect
Eagle Valley (7-3 overall and 5-3 in the Slope) is coming off the toughest part of its schedule and a two-game losing streak with losses to Rifle and Palisade. The Bears are the top seed in the tournament and host Erie today.
Palisade is the No. 9 seed in the field. The Bulldogs have Roosevelt and could play Rifle in the second round at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction. (Yes, Palisade would be the home team, and Rifle is rightly upset about this.) And Delta (No. 13) just might be the darkhorse in the first round, playing No. 4 The Classical Academy. Pass-happy TCA lost its starting quarterback to injury.
Emerging from the Slope is badge of honor. As an example, Steamboat Springs (4-6) beat Lutheran, 21-20, in Week 9. The Lights (7-3) finished second in the Metro West Conference behind Conifer. CHSAA only took Conifer from that league and is taking four squads from the Slope.
"We play in a physical league," Ramunno said. "Steamboat's at the bottom of our league and they can go down there and beat a team that's contending for a league championship. I'm glad we're on the other side of the bracket from Rifle, Palisade and Delta."
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.