Discovery Canyon will take a superior record and RPI ranking into Friday’s Class 3A Central league game against Palmer Ridge at Don Breese Stadium, but Thunder coach Shawn Mitchell is playing the role of underdog.
“They’re the big dog,” Mitchell said Wednesday. “They’re the ones who have the undefeated state championship.”
The big dogs, or Bears (7-2, 4-0), have big guns in Colorado-committed quarterback Ty Evans, who has spread his 1,700 passing yards and 23 touchdowns mostly to his trio of top receivers: Deuce Roberson, Kaden Dudley and Charles Deeds. Junior running back Raef Ruel is over 650 yards rushing behind a line that features another Division I prospect in Aidan Cullen, a Colorado State pledge.
“Obviously, they have a lot of weapons,” Mitchell said. “We’re evaluating which weapon we think we can take away and give it our best shot.”
The Thunder’s best shot at slowing the Palmer Ridge offense might its offense.
Discovery Canyon (8-1, 3-1) boasts a run-heavy scheme that’s accumulated an excess of 3,000 yards on the ground the season. Junior Marshall Pike is sitting on 1,134 rushing yards with 14 touchdowns, and 6-foot-7 quarterback Zack Anderson isn’t far behind with 713 yards and 12 scores.
"They’re very good at what they do. They’re disciplined," Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said.
"It will be critical for our defense to get off the field when they have opportunities to do so."
The recipe for a Discovery Canyon victory Friday, and the league title that would come with an upset of the defending champs, includes adding another couple of hundred yards onto that total.
“To be honest with you, our offense needs to produce. We need to hold on to the ball. We need to have our offense on the field more than their offense,” the Thunder coach said.
“I think that might be the best way to limit their offensive production, if there is a way to limit their offensive production.”
Last year’s attempt to slow that powerful Palmer Ridge offense down didn’t go so well. Evans passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns — 245 yards and two scores to Roberson — while Ruel rushed for two scores in a 49-28 Bears victory.
“They gave it to us last year,” Mitchell said.
This year the Thunder look different with most of the starting offense returning to familiar roles from a season ago.
There was a 7-0 start that had the Thunder feeling good, possibly too good. A 30-27 loss to Lewis-Palmer, something the Thunder coach called a “wake-up game,” quieted the Thunder, but Discovery Canyon kept its league title hopes alive with a win over Lutheran a week ago behind Anderson’s 198 rushing yards and a score.
“He’s matured as a quarterback with his decision-making process,” Mitchell said. “Marshall Pike is a kid who worked really hard in the offseason. He had some really good, raw natural abilities and he was in a learning process last year. He’s matured this year. I can say that about the whole offense. We just kind of matured as an offense, because all these guys that play this year were mostly starters last year.”
The Thunder also have the luxury of a No. 4 RPI, presumably making them a safe bet to make the field of 16 regardless of the result Friday against the Bears, who sit ninth.
“They’re the big dog,” Mitchell said. “You gotta hope that we can have a little bit of that spoiler, underdog. Who knows on Friday night.”
Pulford hopes his Bears won't be caught napping Friday night, as a win would go a long ways towards hosting a first-round playoff game. They've looked pretty sharp after a 1-2 start, outscoring opponents 285-35 in six consecutive wins.
"We learned some things through that adversity," Pulford said.
"I think it put us in a better situation where we are right now in Week 10."