Now that the last three state football champions have been crowned, we can take a full look back at the title winners and other clubs that made some noise during the 2021 season. Overall, it was a tremendous season as for the most part, the COVID issue was in the rear view mirror and coaches, fans and players could focus directly on the action on the field.
Even though Cherry Creek won a third consecutive crown in Class 5A and Eaton went back-to-back in Class 2A, the fall playoff schedule featured quite a few clubs that ended long championship dry spells and others who claimed their first ever crown.
Leading the first-timers is Cheyenne Wells. The Tigers had battled injuries and narrow semifinal losses in the past but got the job done in November; downing Stratton for the six-man championship. It was their third visit to the finals but first-ever win in the final game of the year.
Centauri joined Cheyenne Wells in exercising past demons. Not many programs had gone through the recent frustrations like the Falcons. They lost in the 2017 state championship game to Strasburg and then were bounced by the Indians in the semifinals in 18, 19 and 20. They beat Strasburg in the regular season but didn’t have to face them in the postseason before beating three-time champion Limon in the championship game. A late field goal gave them their first title as a consolidated school. The town of La Jara had won a six-man crown in 1950.
Haxtun has great football tradition but their championship shutout of Mancos in eight man gave the Bulldogs their first title since 2004. The senior class enjoyed the unbeaten season and top trophy after not even making the playoffs any of their three prior seasons.
Fort Morgan’s championship win over Mead last Saturday gave the Mustangs their first crown since 1999 but it was far from easy. Their four wins were by a total of 27 points and after beating Green Mountain 14-0 in the opening round, won their next three contests by 7, 2 and 4 points. They also ended a two-game losing streak in championship games after falling to Glenwood Springs in 2008 and Alamosa in 2001.
Probably no team had a more exciting playoff run than Chatfield. The Chargers entered the playoffs seeded seventh after dropping three regular season games. They avenged two of those losses in the postseason by beating Dakota Ridge in the quarterfinals and Pine Creek in the semifinals. The Chargers then stunned Erie in a great 4A final by scoring on virtually the last play of the game. They also rallied from an early 13-0 in the finals and also found a way to beat Dakota Ridge after trailing the Eagles 24-7 in the first half.
Eaton trailed Brush 14-13 going to the fourth quarter in the 2A final but used strength and depth to get by the Beetdiggers for a second straight championship. Credit to coach Zac Lemon as he’s taken the Reds to the next level. They had reached the semifinals in 2017 and 2014 but were unable to get past that round before winning the last two crowns.
Despite winning the last two state championships in Class 5A, Cherry Creek actually entered the title game with Valor Christian as the underdog. The outcome though was never in doubt as the Bruins blanked the Eagles and for the second straight year, the final score was 21-0. It was the 12th title for the Bruins in school history. That number is second all-time to Limon’s 20.
OTHER TEAMS HAVE EXCELLENT SEASONS
One note that players, coaches, athletic directors and fans must remember that winning a state championship is not the only gauge in determining whether a season is successful or not. There are MANY other programs that had strong runs in 2021 and hope to build on the momentum in the future from such success.
- Stratton just keeps coming. The Eagles were in the finals for a fifth consecutive year and despite winning just one title in that stretch (2018), the Eagles keep battling back the following year to make another run.
- From 2000-2010, Idalia made nine state championship game appearances; winning seven titles in that span. But the Wolves had not won a playoff game since 2010 until this year where they grabbed two wins to reach the state semifinals.
- Sierra Grande easily had their best season since reaching the state championship game in 1985 (8man). Since that appearance, the Panthers were 0-6 in postseason games but beat Kim/Branson in the first round this year. They narrowly missed a trip to the state semifinals in a 47-44 loss to Granada where the Bobcats scored the winning touchdown in the final 10 seconds.
- The season did not finish the way they wanted, but kudos to Mancos for reaching their first-ever state championship game. The Bluejays had just four playoff wins in school history before this season and nearly doubled that total with three victories this season.
- Quite a playoff for Sanford after a regular season filled with injuries to key players. A pre-season favorite after reaching the championship game in 2020, the Indians limped through the regular season but made the playoffs as an 11th seed. They avenged two regular season losses by beating Sedgwick County and Vail Christian in the first two rounds before falling to Mancos in the semifinals
- Holly had a tremendous year. The Wildcats experienced a crazy COVID season in 2020 but with most of their top players returning for another run, they won their conference race by two games and then reached the state semifinals before a loss to Haxtun ended their season.
- Byers won a conference championship and made the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The Bulldogs finished 6-4; earning their most wins since going 6-3 in 2014.
- Vail Christian won 10 games for the second time in three years and won just the fourth playoff game in school history by beating Pikes Peak Christian 46-14 in round one.
- Limon came up short to Centauri in a great 1A championship game and the loss prevented the Badgers from winning a fourth consecutive state championship. The senior class closed their high school careers with an overall record of 43-3 and did so while playing Class 1A football with an 8man enrollment.
- Wray put together another great season (9-3) with two losses to state finalist Limon and a third loss to state champion Centauri. Their second half regular season run and two playoff wins were led by a freshman QB.
- Can’t imagine how difficult the summer and preseason workouts were for North Fork as coach Curtis Hintz was trusted with getting local rivals Hotchkiss and Paonia together as one school. Putting two programs together can be difficult but the Miners responded with a second place finish to Meeker in the Western Slope and a playoff win over Wiggins. Numbers may push them up to Class 2A in the future but the Miners had a good first run-through in 1A.
- Gunnison did not field a varsity football team in either 2018 or 2019 but the focus on rebuilding the program paid off in 2021 as the Cowboys earned their first postseason berth since 2015.
- Entering the 2021 season, Brush had won five state championships with 71 playoff wins in school history but had not made a postseason appearance since 2015. And after a 1-2 start, prospects to end that streak were not promising but a nine-game winning streak got them to the state finals where they led Eaton going to the fourth quarter. It was good to see the tradition rich Beetdiggers back in the title mix.
- Severance was on the teams that Brush moved past in the playoffs (semifinals) but despite that loss, the Silver Knights took the first step to becoming a major player on the football scene. In just their third varsity season, the Silver Knights won two playoff games and will continue to build under the direction of Jeff Van Winkle.
- University had their best season in school history. The Bulldogs had just two playoff wins in school history but matched that total with a semifinal run this season. They also played well against state champion Eaton in two narrow losses.
- Elizabeth won the school’s only state football championship in 2010 but had not won a playoff game since. They ended that dry spell by beating Bayfield 17-0 in the opening round this year. The win also snapped a four-game losing streak in the postseason.
- Mead earned their first visit to the state final football finals since reopening the school in 2009. They also won at least 10 games for the third time in five years.
- Durango entered the season as defending state champions and lost a tremendous senior class from that group. Despite the few returnees, the Demons dominated their conference and earned a return trip to the playoffs. After rolling past Evergreen in round one, the Demons lost a tough one point game to eventual state finalist Mead in the quarterfinals.
- Frederick was among the hardest hit teams by COVID during the 2020 season and won just one game. The Warriors though kept confident and rolled to a nine win season this year. The run ended with a 21-14 quarterfinal loss to state champion Fort Morgan.
- Thomas Jefferson won the 4A spring championship and used the fall season to prove that title was not a fluke. The Spartans captured their league title to earn another playoff berth but lost to Roosevelt in the opening round
- Northridge earned their first postseason berth since 2014 and their seven wins were the most for the Grizzlies since 2013. They were also very young this season with sophomores and juniors filling most positions so expectations will be higher in 2022.
- Niwot missed the playoffs in 2021 but their 4-6 record gave the Cougars their most wins since the 2008 season when they ended up 7-4.
- Summit barely missed a playoff berth this year as they finished second to Palisade in conference play. But the Tigers finished 7-3 to earn their most wins since the 2008 season when they recorded 10 victories.
- Tough championship loss for Erie last Saturday but this remains a program on the rise as Coach Jeff Giger finished just his first season with the Tigers. He has a state championship pedigree; winning back-to-back 1A crowns with Strasburg in 2016-17 and with key returnees back next year, the Tigers should again be in the title chase.
- Cheyenne Mountain continues their climb back. A few years ago, the Red-Tailed Hawks struggled with getting enough players for a 4A program but this past season they won a league championship and earned a playoff berth.
- Aurora Central went 8-3 and earned a playoff bid. It was just their fourth winning season in the MaxPreps era (since 2004) and tied them with the 2015 squad for most wins during that time frame.
- We like what Jake Novotny is doing with Fountain Fort Carson as he follows in the footsteps of long-time coach Mitch Johnson there. Coach Johnson was able to win every year despite entering each season not knowing what the roster would look like due to turnover at the local army base. The Trojans did not play well in a season ending quarterfinal loss at Montrose but are again a solid program with playoff bids every year.
- Montrose had that difficult loss to Erie in the state semifinals but we hope it doesn’t take them away from a tremendous season. The Indians played one of the more difficult schedules in any class this year and were unbeaten until the Final Four loss.
- Players and coaches change, but the strategy stays the same and the success continues at Loveland. The defending state champions were again back in the title chase this Fall and had a great run before a tough loss to Pine Creek ended their back-to-back hopes. The program has 69 wins since the start of the 2015 season.
- The playoff run didn’t go as planned but Arapahoe still put together an amazing season. The Warriors ended up as the only in-state team to beat three-time state champion Cherry Creek and also earned a share of the Centennial league championship.
- Same with ThunderRidge as the Grizzlies returned from a COVID ravaged 2020 season to win nine games in 2021. It was just their second nine-win season since 2012.
- Rock Canyon began the 2021 season with an all-time playoff record of 0-6 but they finally broke through in the postseason with a wild 52-49 win over Smoky Hill in the opening round. They also played well the following week in a 28-14 loss to eventual state semifinalist Legend.
- Legend reached the semifinals for a second straight year as they beat Rock Canyon and Arapahoe in their first two postseason games. The Titans had just two playoff wins in program history before this season but doubled that number in 2021.
- Fort Collins won their first playoff game since 2014 as they downed Chaparral in the opening round. It was also their first postseason victory in Class 5A since 2012.