Game of the Week: Air Academy, Widefield football battle for first conference win

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Photo - The Air Academy Kadet football team practices the field goals on Wednesday October 11, 2017 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).
The Air Academy Kadet football team practices the field goals on Wednesday October 11, 2017 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

When you look at this week’s Gazette Preps Game of the Week matchup, you’ll find two squads entering Week 7 at 4-2.

Two teams coming off a Week 6 loss.

And two 4A programs ranked in the top 25.

But when you dive deeper, you’ll find two vastly different teams.

Friday, Widefield hosts Air Academy in The Gazette Preps Game of the Week as both programs search for their first 4A Southern Football Conference win.

Widefield, which has lost two straight after starting the season 4-0, hopes to start fast against the Kadets on Senior Night, rather than fall victim to another 11-point halftime deficit like their 2016 clash.

“The kids are really dedicated and focused at the task at hand,” Widefield coach Nic Olney said. “Last year we had issues right out of the gate against Air Academy and I think that’s in their heads right now; we don’t want to come out flat and we want to come out hard.”

The Gladiator offense should help, as quarterback TJ Davis has solidified his place as one of the area’s top dual threats, leading his team on the ground, and is ranked in the top five in 4A quarterbacks with 438 rushing yards.

MESA RIDGE WIDEFIELD FOOTBALL
Mesa Ridge took on Widefield in football at CA Forster Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado on October 7, 2017. Mesa Ridge won the rivalry by a score of 42-30. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

“It’s almost impossible to simulate a guy with that kind of ability,” Air Academy coach Scott Grinde said. “We pride ourselves on defense and running to the football, but the plan for us is really not that complicated. We have to block and tackle. (Davis) is one of those guys where you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him, and we are going to try to do that.”

Although Air Academy quarterback Bo Powers has a .617 completion percentage, a majority of Air Academy’s damage is done on the ground. The Kadets have formidable running backs in Zach Martin and Kyle Pope, who enter Week 7 with 551 and 330 rushing yards, respectively. Powers averages just 47 passing yards, and has 7 total rushing yards.

“Our passing game is getting better, but we are not going to pull any punches this week,” Grinde said. “We are going to run the ball, and Zach and Kyle have been workhorses for us.”

Two senior captains will emerge as the Gladiators work to stop the Air Academy run game in John Underwood and Sam Reed, who have 42 and 36 total tackles, respectively. Underwood is tied for second in the stat with 10 sacks.

“In our league everyone likes to play smash-mouth football,” Olney said. “But they’re a little different with their Wing-T, but they are big up front and they are physical. Our defense is the backbone of our team right now, and seeing what they do week after week, it doesn’t matter what we’re up against, those kids will be ready to play.”

Grinde said the Kadets’ Week 6 loss to conference leader Pueblo West will help heading into CA Foster Stadium.

“I think it helps our confidence,” Grinde said. “Our kids know we were right there through halftime, and last year they were able to get a running clock on us in the first half. Our kids are playing better and they’re playing harder and right in there competing. That will give us confidence this week.”

KADETS-GLADIATORS AT A GLANCE

Game data: Air Academy Kadets vs. Widefield Gladiators … Friday at 7 p.m. at CA Foster Stadium … 4A Southern Football Conference game.

Media: Follow @LindseySquints and @HughJohnson707 on Twitter for updates, and follow GazettePreps on Snapchat for exclusive Game of the Week content.

Teams: Both teams are coming off a Week 6 loss in their respective conference openers and will look to get back on the winning side. Widefield fell to rival Mesa Ridge 42-30 in Week 6, while Air Academy is fresh off a 34-7 defeat by the hands of undefeated Pueblo West.

Stat leaders: Although Air Academy’s offense is not as prolific as Widefield's, the Kadets bost solid running talent in Zach Martin and Kyle Pope, who combine for nearly 75 percent of Air Academy’s yardage. Michael Midkiff is the Kadets’ top receiver with 90 yards. … Widefield quarterback TJ Davis has more rushing yards than the Gladiators' top three running backs combined with 438 yards, plus 936 yards passing. Myreik Goodwin is Davis’ top receiver with 337 yards, followed by Joquez Addison with 223 receiving yards.