Choosing the right team at defense and special teams might get your fantasy football team into the playoffs.
For Coronado (11-1) and The Classical Academy (10-2), those two facets have been major contributors to fantasy seasons, for which one will continue after their 1 p.m. Saturday 3A semifinal clash and rematch at Garry Berry Stadium.
On Aug. 29, Coronado claimed a 16-6 nonconference win at TCA.
"Offense sells tickets, and everyone wants to see touchdowns," Coronado coach Bobby Lizarraga said. "But in my mind, special teams will be the difference in the outcome, and the better defense will win a right to go to the finals."
Both teams reached the semifinals with two victories by the slimmest of margins, and both have defense and special teams to thank. Two weeks ago, TCA senior kicker Kyle Jacobs booted two extra points, and his defense blocked one and stopped a late, two-point conversion in a 14-12 Titans victory over Conifer.
Also in the first round, Coronado linebacker Zeb Foster returned an interception for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter in a 34-31 win over Rifle. It got even bigger Nov. 16 for the Cougars when Sam Smith returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and Joseph Hunt later blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety in a 29-27 win at Roosevelt.
Jacobs has knocked through 36 of 37 extra points and five of eight field goals. His first-half field goal Nov. 16 at Palisade accounted for the eventual winning margin in a 24-21 road victory in the quarterfinals.
"It's been pretty amazing how it's all worked out," Jacobs said. "Our coaches always emphasize the little details, and that's what wins ball games. Those little things count, and I think our coaches emphasize special teams more than others, and that's helped us this year."
TCA has been the master of the close victory. In addition to the two, nail-biting playoff wins, the Titans also nipped Pueblo East 21-20 on Oct. 11 in a game that ultimately decided the league title and a first-round home playoff game.
Conversely, Coronado saw the ill effects of poor special-teams play. In the regular-season finale at Discovery Canyon on Nov. 2, the Cougars missed a short field goal, an extra point and allowed a punt return for a touchdown in a 24-20 loss.
It was the perfect time for a wakeup call in a non-elimination game. Since then, the Cougars have leaned on defense and special teams in two come-from-behind victories.
"We hadn't had many close games, and our ability to come back says a lot about the team," Foster said. "We came back from two double-digit deficits, and that's the kind of mentality we have on our team. We hope this week it doesn't have to be like that again, but we know we have guys who can make plays if it comes to that."
Defensively, both teams have made a living by taking the ball away. Although the Titans have turned the ball over 29 times, its defense found a way to cancel that out with 17 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries. Coronado has 28 takeaways, the product of 16 interceptions and 12 recovered fumbles.
Plus, the teams have combined for nine defensive or special teams touchdowns.
That's a perfect boost to win that fantasy championship. But to the Titans and Cougars, that dream season would end in style with a first state football trophy to put on display.
"It's one in a million that it all comes down to how many kick points you beat the other team by in three close wins in a row," Jacobs said. "It's just a kick, right? If it comes down to a kick to win the game, I know the team has my back. This is what I've been waiting for all my life."