Colorado Prep Round-Up

<b>Why this game?</b> <br><br> Granted, the field was not littered with top-tier division one prospects that we read about everyday on the site. What the game did have, however, was two of the premier programs in class 4A. ThunderRidge, who was knocked out in the state semi-finals last season, hoped to solidify its usual position atop the prep rankings. Ralston Valley, picked by many experts to win the 4A title, hoped to prove that the hype was warranted.

The Game:

First half:

The two teams exchanged punts to start the game, with both offenses starting out slow. One of the first things even the casual observer would notice is the sheer size of the Ralston Valley quarterback. Joe Fletcher towers over virtually every player on the field. Ralston Valley took control of the ball on its own 24 yard line with 5:16 left in the 1st quarter. Ralston Valley ran a wide receiver end around. #17, Aaron Karlstrom, a smallish wide receiver for the Mustangs, showed amazing speed in turning what should have been a short gain into a 76 yard touchdown run. 7-0 Ralston Valley with 3:39 left in the 1st quarter. ThunderRidge running back Nate Aman fumbled on their next drive, and Ralston Valley took control of the ball at their own 30 yard line. An impressive drive, highlighted by a beautiful 30 yard pass by Joe Fletcher, ended in a Ralston Valley 2 yard TD run. 14-0 Ralston Valley with 9:43 left in the second quarter. The two teams then exchanged punts, with Ralston Valley unable to land a knockout punch. With 2:30 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Ralston Valley attempted a punt from their own 25 yard line. The punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown. ThunderRidge got a temporary reprieve, as the score moved to 14-7 with 47 seconds left in the half. The score would remain the same as the two teams headed to the locker room.

Second half:

The third period saw the defenses exert dominance, as neither team was able to move the ball. ThunderRidge received and drove to the 47 yard line before punting. This was followed by three straight punts, as the 3rd period saw little action for people other than punt fans. At the end of the third quarter, ThunderRidge started to get their offense in gear. They completed a 45 yard pass to bring the ball inside the Ralston Valley 30 yard line. With the ball deep in Ralston Valley territory, and the 4th quarter just getting underway, ThunderRidge needed a score to stay in the game. They didn't get it. ThunderRidge was stopped on four consecutive downs. Ralston Valley and star quarterback Joe Fletcher took control of the game. Ralston Valley took over on their own 30 yard line with 11:00 to play. Fletcher was brilliant during this drive. He completed a perfectly thrown 15 yard pass to Aaron Karlstrom. He then executed a perfect option pitch to running back Matt Padilla for a 12 yard gain. Fletcher made play after play, as Ralston Valley was able to score their third touchdown of the game with 5:12 remaining in the game. Ralston Valley 21, ThunderRidge 7. ThunderRidge was able to punch in a touchdown with 54 seconds left in the game. With the ThunderRidge trailing 21-14, they lined up for an onside kick. What ensued was one of the worst onside kicks in the history of football. The kick went a total of 2 yards. With the ball back, Ralston Valley then ran a series of running plays designed to run out the clock. What they did, instead, was lead the fourth touchdown of the game. Joe Fletcher, further solidifying his status as the player of the game, ran a routine option keeper 40 yards for a touchdown.

Final score: Ralston Valley 28, ThunderRidge 14

The Stars:

In a game devoid of stars, Joe Fletcher was by far the biggest name recruit on the field. He's currently ranked #25 in the Buff Country Colorado Top 25, and if tonight is any indication, we're soon to see that ranking rise. Simply put, Fletcher was awesome. He's a legit 6'5 with speed and strength to match. What impressed me most about Fletcher was his conditioning. He played basically every play of the game. He's the starting quarterback, middle linebacker, and punter. I watched to see whether he would get fatigued in the 4th quarter. Especially considering ThunderRidge plays so few guys both ways. Fletcher did not get tired, and instead played some of his best ball in the fourth quarter. I had a chance to speak with a coach from Ralston Valley after the game about Fletcher. I was told that he was an offer on the table from Wyoming. Also, in the past few weeks, he's received calls from Purdue, Utah, Oregon and Nebraska. The coach told me Fletcher's favorite is Wyoming. Why?

"Because of Joe Glenn. He has so much respect for Coach Glenn."

Fletcher has a great arm, but I project him on the defensive side of the ball in the college. He has size and a big frame that lends itself to linebacker or end play. Overall, he's a superb athlete (he punted 40 yards!)

Other Ralston Valley players to watch: FB/DE Deno Pacello (#4). I was told by the same coach that he has offers from division two schools and has been receiving interest from smaller programs. If Deno keeps playing like he did tonight, he'll get D1 attention. Also, lineman Lenni Bierbrauer, 6'2, 251 (#58) is a big, solid performer. He wrecked havoc for ThundeRidge all night. Although slightly undersized, I project him to be a guy who gets some D1 attention.

ThunderRidge players to watch: the school that gave us all-state performers Jesse Nading(CSU) and Tanner Rodgers definitely has some capable replacements. No player really left me speechless though. As in years past, they have some huge lineman, including Kyle Manhart, 6'1, 270, Evan Long, 6'1, 250 and Scott Aldridge, 6'4, 240. In addition, running back Nate Aman is one of the best in the state. I'm just not sure his talents would translate to the division 1 level.

The Verdict:

Believe the hype. Ralston Valley showed this evening that they're for real. The Mustangs have to be considered a possible threat to compete with defending state champion Monarch High School. The only obstacle I see with Ralston Valley is their pass defense. There were numerous times when the ThunderRidge receivers had their man beat, but the ThunderRidge QB could not get them ball. If they face a team like Golden, who put on a passing circus last year, they could be in trouble. For ThunderRidge, it'll be interesting to see how they bounce back. This is not a position ThundeRidge is used to. If they lose a game, it's usually deep into the playoffs. This was a huge game tonight, as evident by the virtual who's who of high school coaches in attendance. We'll see how the teams react to the outcome.

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