If the Poudre High School football team is going to break its slump this week, it will have to earn it.
The Impalas (3-4, 1-4 Front Range League) host conference-leading Horizon (6-1, 5-0 FRL) at 6 p.m. Thursday at French Field.
The Hawks are receiving votes in the Associated Press media poll and have the best defense in Class 5A. Here are keys to Thursday’s game and what big-picture impact it will have.
Why it matters: Horizon holds a one-game lead atop the Front Range League standings over both Legacy and Fairview, but the Hawks have beaten both teams. The only way Horizon doesn’t win the league is by losing both its remaining games.
Poudre is sitting in a precarious position. In the first edition of wild card points that determine the 32-team Class 5A playoff field, Poudre sits 31st. The Impalas have a winnable final game against FRL bottom feeder Mountain Range, but victories in the final two games would ensure a playoff berth. Toppling FRL-leading Horizon would do wonders for Poudre’s resume.
To win, Horizon must: Score three touchdowns. Look at the numbers. Horizon’s offense doesn’t have to be amazing for the Hawks to win. Horizon has the best defense in 5A, allowing less than 10 points per game.
Only once has an opponent scored more than 14 points and five have been held to seven or less. This late in the season, that type of defensive dominance isn’t misleading. If Horizon scores a few touchdowns, they won’t be beat.
To win, Poudre must: Fix the turnover margin. It’s not hard to find one big difference in Poudre’s first three games when the Impalas started 3-0 and the last four where they’ve gone winless.
“In our first three games we were turning them over and taking care of the ball ourselves,” coach Marty McVicker said last week after the Impalas turned it over three times in a loss to Rocky Mountain. “It’s a tough thing, but you have to battle through and get out of it.”
Poudre was a plus-five in the first three games combined. In the last four, the Impalas have turned the ball over at least twice in each game. To beat Horizon, Poudre needs to win the turnover battle.
Follow sports reporter Kevin Lytle at twitter.com/Kevin_Lytle and at facebook.com/KevinSLytle.
Local Week 8 football schedule
Thursday: Horizon at Poudre, 6 p.m. at French Field. Twitter updates: @Kevin_Lytle. Watch: Coloradoan.com
Thursday: Windsor at Loveland, 6:30 p.m. at Ray Patterson Field. Twitter updates: @QSickafoose
Thursday: Fort Collins at Silver Creek, 7 p.m. at Everly Montgomery Field. Twitter updates: @ColoradoanSpts
Friday: Mountain Range at Rocky Mountain, 7 p.m. Twitter updates: @Kevin_Lytle. Watch: Coloradoan.com
Friday: Fossil Ridge at Fairview, 7 p.m. at Recht Field. Twitter updates: @ColoradoanSpts
Saturday: Resurrection Christian at Cornerstone Christian, 7 p.m. Twitter updates: @ColoradoanSpts