Fairview hosts ThunderRidge in a Class 5A conference battle that could be the volta for each team’s season

Wednesday, 11 October 2017, 07:34:27 PM. An inside look at Fairview and ThunderRidge ahead of their Mount Cameron showdown on Friday at 7 p.m. at Recht Field in the Post Preps Game of the Week. The action will be live streamed on the Denv…

The following is an inside look at Fairview and ThunderRidge ahead of their Mount Cameron showdown Friday at 7 p.m. at Recht Field in the Post Preps Game of the Week. The action will be live streamed on The Denver Post website as well as the Denver Post Preps Facebook page.

Fairview (5-1, 0-1 Mount Cameron)

For the second straight season, the Knights’ 5-0 start was ruined by a decisive defeat at the hands of Columbine to open league play.

In last Friday’s 35-14 loss, No. 10 Fairview’s normally high-powered offense was limited to just six possessions, which stifled sophomore quarterback Aidan Atkinson’s ability to get in a groove and also limited senior running back Mariano Kemp to 25 yards on seven carries.

Fairview digested the loss, 25th-year coach Tom McCartney said, then quickly moved on in anticipation of another physical test against ThunderRidge.

“When you get knocked down, you’ve got to get back up, and Columbine did a great job and we tip our hats to them,” McCartney said. “We prepared — we just didn’t get the job done. So now we’ve got to regroup because the sign of a good team is if you can get up off the ground and get ready for your next opponent.”

Making that mental reset easier is the team’s confidence in Atkinson, who ranks first in 5A in passing yards (1,680) and second in passing touchdowns (14).

“With two senior quarterbacks last year, that (position) was a question mark going into this year,” McCartney said. “But he’s done a tremendous job, obviously. He’s poised, confident, he protects the football and he’s a good student in the classroom and that translates to his decision making on the field.”

And while Atkinson is the Knights’ pleasant sophomore surprise, Kemp is their heartbeat.

The younger brother of 2015 Gold Helmet winner Carlo Kemp (now at Michigan) and the nephew of NFL coaches Chuck Pagano and John Pagano, McCartney calls him “a complete back” who, in addition to his abilities with the ball, is crucial to Fairview’s pass protection against stunts and blitzes.

“As a sophomore, he was starting on our defensive line, and he’s very quick off the ball — he’s got some suddenness to him,” McCartney said. “He’s always done a tremendous job in the offseason in the weight room, and so as he came into his senior year, we knew he did a lot of things that don’t always show up on film or when people are watching from afar.”

As for keys against the Grizzlies — whom the Knights beat 35-21 last year in Highlands Ranch — McCartney emphasized his offensive line needs to always know where the ThunderRidge pressure is coming from, while defensively, his players can’t forget to talk to each other.

“Their tailback is someone who will have our full attention, but they have a variety of (packages) they like to run, so our defense has to be sharp and do a good job of communicating,” McCartney said. “Some of that fell short a little bit last week.”

ThunderRidge (2-4, 0-1 Mount Cameron)

ThunderRidge, too, is in need of a momentum boost heading into Friday’s game, although the Grizzlies have a lot more at stake than the Knights.

First-year coach Doug Nisenson’s squad is ranked 21st in the latest 5A RPI, meaning the Grizzlies have some work to do — and signature wins to earn — in order to make the 16-team state playoff bracket.

Losses to 4A No. 2 Pine Creek and 5A No. 3 Eaglecrest to open the season put the program in an early hole, but Nisenson said those defeats — plus the four games since then — proved the Grizzlies have the pieces to compete.

“We have some talent and we have some ability, but our margin for error is small,” Nisenson said. “We’re not exceptionally deep and we’re not a big team. But we do have some speed at the skill spots, and we’re able to do things through the air, as we passed for over 250 yards on Pine Creek and Eaglecrest, and I think they’re both pretty good defensive units.”

Senior quarterback Taylor White is one ThunderRidge centerpiece, but it’s junior running back Spencer Lambert who is the Grizzlies’ primary catalyst on an offense that has only accounted for one touchdown over the last two games.

“We’ve had a season marked by missed opportunities,” Nisenson said. “We’ve really struggled in the red zone, because when you look at the yardage we’ve put up, I get kind of shocked by the point total. We’ve found a way to hurt ourselves in the red zone, whether it’s a holding penalty or taking a sack, and that’s put us behind the chains in those situations and it’s not resulting in points right now.”

If the Grizzlies’ offense can finish drives on Friday night, it’d be an effective compliment to a stout ThunderRidge defense that’s been nearly impenetrable the last couple weeks with junior linebacker Ethan Frasier and senior linebacker Jaret Strasheim leading the way.

ThunderRidge needs to bring that same defensive intensity against Kemp and a Knights’ offense that can do more than air it out.

“They’ve got good balance even though they’re a heavy pass team,” Nisenson said. “They make you respect the run, and they get in those double-tight, double-wing sets in the short yardage and make you change your defensive philosophy against them, which is hard to do when you’re trying to defend a spread team that throws a lot.”

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