The Poudre High School football team is on an upward trend.
Poudre (5-4, 2-2 Mt. Lincoln Conference) has its most wins since 2008, which is also the last time the Impalas were one of the last 16 teams standing in 5A.
Now the Impalas are trying to crack the top 16 again.
Even though Poudre made the playoffs last season, it was under the former 32-team format. The Impalas are hoping a win in Thursday’s 6 p.m. game against Highlands Ranch (6-3, 3-1 Mt. Lincoln) could get them into the new 16-team playoff bracket.
Here’s a look at what to watch in Thursday’s key game.
Playoff picture: Sitting at No. 9 in Class 5A’s RPI standings, Highlands Ranch is in a strong spot to make the postseason. The Eagles are also ranked No. 10 in 5A in this week’s CHSAANow.com coaches and media poll.
Poudre is on the outside at No. 26, but a win over a top-10 RPI team could help push the Impalas onto the bubble before postseason brackets are released Sunday. A loss would almost surely eliminate Poudre.
Sixteen teams make the playoffs, with seven conference winners earning automatic bids and nine at-large bids handed out based on RPI standings.
Running back battle: Two of the top running backs in 5A will be on the field Thursday. Highlands Ranch senior Kobe Eller ranks fourth in 5A with 1,146 rushing yards (127 per game), while Poudre junior JT Erickson ranks sixth with 976 yards (108 per game).
Eller is first with 17 rushing touchdowns and Erickson is second with 15.
Eller has five games with more than 100 rush yards, including a high of 277 against Chaparral. Erickson has had four games with more than 100 yards; his rushing high this season is 180 in a game, but he hasn’t passed the century mark since the fourth game of the season. Erickson has scored at least one touchdown in each game.
Whichever running back has the better game could go a long way in determining who wins Thursday.
Follow sports reporter Kevin Lytle at twitter.com/Kevin_Lytle and at facebook.com/KevinSLytle.
Highlands Ranch at Poudre, 6 p.m. Thursday at French Field
Twitter updates: @Kevin_Lytle