Making the playoffs in Class 4A will be quite a bit easier this year. The field, like all other divisions, was reduced to just eight teams in both the fall and spring seasons last year but now the 2021 playoff format calls for 24 teams to qualify. Loveland is the defending state champion from the Fall and will again be in the mix along with several traditional powers.
Colorado Preps takes an in-depth look at the division with a short capsule on each team. Games can begin a week from today (August 26th) and our Scoreboard Show coverage launches the next night from 9:30-11:00pm on the Colorado Preps Network.
BRIGHTON BULLDOGS: Opening losses to Longmont and Broomfield by a combined 11 points kept the Bulldogs out of the eight-team playoff bracket but they finished strong; winning their final four games including an impressive 14-12 decision to Windsor to close the year. Christopher Flynn takes over the program and his first year will be boosted by the return of QB Nathaniel Griffeth. He threw for 693 yards last season and completed 61 percent of his attempts. Noah Canale is another key returnee as he was second in both rushing and receiving yards as a junior. Max Cisernos (31 tackles) is the lone player back from the top six tacklers a year ago.
BROOMFIELD EAGLES: Despite a reduced playoff field of just eight teams, Broomfield kept their status as a regular visitor to the post-season by winning all five regular season games in 2020. They were eliminated in the opening round by eventual state champion Loveland (28-7). Junior QB Cole Lacrue is among the top returnees statewide and he’s coming off a sophomore season where he threw for 1,017 yards and 10 TDs in just six games. He also generated 167 yards in the running game. Receiver wise, the Eagles get back two very good ones in Josh Dunn and Dom Bustamante who combined for 45 catches and over 530 yards as juniors. The defense was very young in 2020 as four of the top five tacklers were underclassmen including Miles Dondelinger (37), Xavier Schmidt (24), Holden Potter (19) and Ryland Boehmer (19). That group will attempt to replace the graduated Hall Edmonds who registered 64 stops.
ERIE TIGERS: Jeff Giger moves from Brighton to Erie and is now in charge of the Tigers. They’re coming off a 4-2 season and have developed into one of the more consistent programs in Northern Colorado. A key for thier success this year could be the health of sophomore QB Blake Barnett. As the starter as a freshman, Barnett threw for six touchdowns and ran for 324 yards in just three games before injury ended his season. Caleb Theisen (272 yards) will be asked to pick up the rushing slack left by the graduation of Mason Veve (775). Aidan Achtziger also returns after pacing the Tigers with 18 catches. Theisen and CJ Reeves are back defensively after tying for second in tackles with 33 apiece a year ago. John Pastore (22 tackles) also returns on defense.
GREELEY WEST SPARTANS: It was a tough 2020 stretch for the Spartans as they failed to grab a win in the five games played. So now the Spartans will look to build some confidence during early season games against Belen FL, Bear Creek and Northridge. Ben Colgate seems to be the top returnee on offense as he caught 10 passes for 135 yards and also added 21 yards on the ground which is the most of any player back on the roster. Alexi Irizarry (20) and Jose Salas (19) combined for 39 tackles and both return for 2021.
SILVER CREEK RAPTORS: Positive vibes are also needed at Silver Creek where the Raptors ended last season at 0-7. They return a good group of receivers in Eli Hubert (30-468) and Rodrigo Ordonez-Enriquez (17) but must find someone to get them the ball as last year’s passing leader, Logan Veeder, has graduated. Ordonez-Enriquez (67 tackles) also had a solid year defensively and will also be a leader on defense. Tanner Stevens picked up 44 tackles and was fourth on the team a year ago.
WINDSOR WIZARDS: After opening strong with four straight victories, the Wizards missed the playoffs due to narrow losses to Broomfield (17-14) and Brighton (14-12) to finish up the year. The running game churned out 273 yards a game and the Wizards should again be strong in that area this year. That’s because the top three rushers from a year ago all return. Dax Polka (578 yards) led the group followed by Jaden Thomas (426) and Cason Kingsbury (136). Adam Lieber likely steps in at quarterback after backing up the talented Jake Coakley last year. Connor Krzyzanowski was third in tackles (36) and Jackson Lewis (35) fourth.
GRAND JUNCTION CENTRAL WARRIORS: Despite a winless season in 2020, the future has some promise for the Warriors as they return Devin Hickey. He threw for 522 yards as the freshman starter and now gets a full season to continue his development. Returning receivers include Justin Blanton (9 catches) and Santana Martinez (6). Underclassmen headlined the defense as all the top five tacklers from a year ago return. Heading up that group are juniors Jaysten Sanchez (39) and Martinez (33). Senior William Sfat (30) also returns along with sophomore Camren Redding (13) and Abram Morrison (13).
GREELEY CENTRAL WILDCATS: COVID limited the Wildcats just four games last Fall and even though they failed to get a win, a young group gained some valuable varsity experience. Topping that list is Zjhonah Trujillo who threw for 296 yards and two TDs as a freshman. Yahir Chairez-Salazar picked up 126 yards rushing as a junior and also led the defense with 48 tackles.
LONGMONT TROJANS: Coach Doug Johnson’s group always plays a difficult schedule and 2020 was no different. A 4-0 start was stunted with late losses from state champion Loveland (50-21) and playoff entrant Ponderosa (40-13) and those two decisions left the Trojans outside the playoff bracket. Getting to the postseason is likely this year as the Trojans will be led by Keegan Patterson who in just six games, threw for 1,968 yards and 14 TDs and added another 282 on the ground. Top target Caleb Johnson also returns after grabbing 77 passes for 832 yards. Fellow receivers Justice Lillie (33 receptions) and Jack Moll (23) also return for what should be a very explosive offense. Kale Derksen (37 tackles) and Jack Moll (33) headline the defensive returnees. Lillie had three interceptions and Moll two.
LOVELAND RED WOLVES: The Red Wolves dominated most opponents on their way to grabbing the Class 4A Fall football championship. In those nine wins, they outscored opponents 339-113 including a 42-6 defeat of Palmer Ridge in the finals. The program gets new direction as Allan Jeffries succeeds Jeff Mauck as head coach but there shouldn’t be much of a fall off. On offense, the Red Wolves return Garrett Harstad and Tyson Williams. Harstad generated over 1,000 yards of offense and Williams gained 386 yards rushing but both will be asked to do even more to help fill the gap left with the graduation of Zac Ratowksy (1,393 yards). The defense could again be stout as leading tackler Ian Loomis returns after collecting 105 tackles. Other returnees are Hudson Voggesser (65 stops) and Luke Penny (57). Williams also picked off five passes for a defense that forced 26 turnovers in just nine games.
MONARCH COYOTES: The Coyotes to look to end a playoff dry spell that stretches back to 2017. And to get there, they may need a big season out of Cole Carlucci who led the Coyotes with 625 yards a year ago. He also led the defense with 80 tackles. Griffyn Weber was third with 37 tackles and also contributed offensively with 121 yards as a sophomore. He likely will get more chances on both sides of the ball.
SKYLINE FALCONS: A senior dominated team from a year ago barely missed a playoff berth as the one-point loss to eventual state champion likely kept them out of the eight-team bracket. Quite a bit of offensive talent has graduated including Chase Silva (1,196 yards passing), Grayden Bridwell (1,263 rushing) and Nick Peterson (351 receiving). Logan Miller is one new name to watch. He caught 17 passes as a sophomore and also generated 55 yards passing and 51 rushing. Dilan Bridwell is also back after topping the Falcons with 42 tackles as a sophomore.
NORTH CENTRAL 3
BEAR CREEK BEARS: With several three and even four-year starters, this may be the year the Bears crack through and earn a winning record. They were 2-5 last year including a very nice win over Chatfield (28-21) in week three. Jaeden Minter is a three-year starter at QB and is coming off a 929-yard nine touchdown season as a junior. Minter is joined in backfield by Richie Caballero (373 yards rushing – 10 catches), Richie Segovia (134 yards rushing) and Joael Fernandez (9 receptions). The top five returning tacklers from last year were all juniors including Caballero (54) and Segovia (42). Colton Henderson collected 45 tackles, Caleb Sauseda (35) and Trey Benavidez (35).
CHATFIELD CHARGERS: The Chargers could never get into a groove last season as their longest winning streak was two games. Otherwise, they traded wins and losses each week. Some of the inconsistency can be blamed on youth. Mason Lowe ran for 460 yards, threw for 193 and caught a team best 18 catches during his sophomore season and he again will be heavily involved in the offense this year. Other returning runners are Logan Shipman (224 yards) and Jake Marschall (179). Mason Cowgill caught 16 passes as a junior and also returns. Junior Cade Thomas was second in tackles last year (62) and senior Caden Logan was third (53). Senior Campbell Packebush, with 38, also cracked the top five.
DAKOTA RIDGE EAGLES: A great season came very close to reaching the state finals as the Eagles were unbeaten until falling to eventual champion Loveland 20-14 in the semifinals. A case could be made they were the second-best team in the state as the played the champions closer than any other playoff team. The Eagles scored 398 points in just eight games last year but much of that firepower graduated last Spring. Noah Triplett ran for 412 yards as a sophomore backup to Charlie Offerdahl but becomes the first option in 2021. It’s the same story defensively as the top six spots in tackles were held by seniors. Matthew Orr is the top returnee with 24 stops.
GOLDEN DEMONS: After scoring eight wins and earning a playoff berth in 2019, the Demons slid back to a 2-5 record. Dejour Dubois returns after leading the Demons with 224 yards rushing and Josh Torrey should add to his ten receptions as a junior. A new quarterback must step forward to succeed Joey Mancuso who threw for 23-hundred yards and 21 TDs over the past two years. There are also two strong returnees on defense in Eddie O’Sullivan (63) and Dalton Summers (41) who were third and fourth in tackles. O’Sullivan also caused two fumbles.
STANDLEY LAKE GATORS: Other than the 42-0 loss to state semifinalist Dakota Ridge, the Gators were involved in tight games the entire year. Three wins came by a total of 12 points and two losses by just 24 points. And they put that season together while relying on two sophomore running backs, Blake Stout and Cannon Frost, who combined for 428 yards. Dylan Graham also caught 10 passes including a touchdown as a junior. Logan Thille recorded 40 tackles; good enough for second on the team last year and Max Stout was fourth with 29. Evan Shanks was next with 27 and also led the team with two interceptions.
WHEAT RIDGE FARMERS: The Farmers were winless in 2020 but developed a couple of building blocks for the program. At the top of that group is senior running back Francisco Munoz who managed 306 yards rushing in five games a year ago. Bryant Siravo also caught six passes as a sophomore. Senior Luciano Vecchiarelli was the top tackler with 33.
AIR ACADEMY KADETS: Playing in such a rugged conference where three and sometimes four teams earn trips to the postseason, it’s difficult for the Kadets to show improvement in the win column. They won their opening game with Liberty last year but then dropped five straight against traditional powers such as Pueblo West, Fountain Fort Carson and Palmer Ridge. One highlight is Sam Beers. The sophomore followed up a tremendous freshman season with 476 yards in just five games and against high level defenses. Defensively, the Kadets have some holes to fill as the top eight tacklers all graduated.
HERITAGE EAGLES: The Eagles avoided a winless 2020 season by downing SIlver Creek 28-17 in their season finale. The overall record was a bit deceiving as they dropped tight games with Broomfield (26-13) and Erie (15-13) and also opened the season against state champion Loveland (49-23). QB Zane Pavelko shared time at the spot last year but still threw for 502 yards as a junior. He will direct the offense this year but the Eagles must find him a new receiving group as the top five pass catchers were all seniors. The defense also graduated their top four tacklers.
MONTROSE INDIANS: Not many programs played the schedule that the Indians faced in 2020 as they lost to playoff teams Palmer Ridge, Ponderosa and Dakota Ridge. The Indians of course will run the football and they return Tayne Illa (453 yards) and Austin Griffin (329) to the backfield. Ethan Hartman (235) and Blake Griffin (211) are two others that finished the shorter season with at least 200 yards rushing. Bode Greiner recorded a team high 92 tackles as a junior and should be the defensive leader again in 2021. He will get help from Austin Griffin (37 tackles), Illa (30) and Hartman (24).
PALMER RIDGE BEARS: After rolling to three consecutive state championships in Class 3A, the Bears missed by just one game in their state title quest in year one as a 4A program. They were bounced by Loveland 42-6 in the championship game and that lopsided loss will serve as great motivation for this year’s group. The strength could be the offensive line as cornerstones Connor Jones and Alec Falk are back for senior campaigns. Their experience should quicken the development of sophomore QB Derrick Hester. Nate Robinson led the team with 420 yards rushing as a sophomore and Anthony Costanzo (18) was third on the team in receptions a year ago.
PONDEROSA MUSTANGS: A perfect regular season and a dynamic effort in a wild 41-38 loss to Fountain Fort Carson marked a very good 2020 campaign for the Mustangs. There will be some rebuild at the skill positions as the Mustangs graduated QB Jack Hanenburg, top runner Cael Porter and top receivers Kolton Miller and Carter Mochika. Some of those that could be asked to step up are Alex Tongren (9 receptions), Zack Pekarek (84 yards rushing) and Malcolm Kinzer (44 yards passing). Brady Porter (60 tackles), Brant Jarvis (51) and Haegun Hoffschneider (41) give the defense plenty of experience and talent.
VISTA RIDGE WOLVES: Plenty of excitement in the Wolves camp this year as talented Brayden Dormann returns for his junior year. He threw for 1,829 yards and 24 TDs in just five games last year and is already over 37-hundred yards with 37 TDs in his career. Brandon Hills caught 32 passes last year and averaged 19 yards per catch. There is depth at that spot as Isaiah Garcia (15 receptions), Christian Cruz (13) and Kyshawn Bridges (10) also return. Up front is a top lineman in Justis Laulu who picked up second team honors on the all-state team last Fall. Five of the top six tacklers from last year’s defense also return and that includes Garcia, Damion Gomez, Justis Laulu, AJ Jordan and Neal Young.
CORONADO COUGARS: Four straight wins to close the 2020 season gives the Cougars plenty of confidence going into the Fall. The first order of business is to find a successor to Mason Micci who ran for a team high 764 yards last year. He has graduated and now Ross Woods enters the 2021 season as the player with the most returning rushing yards (53). Jayden Rempel is the top returning tackler as he was fifth on the Cougars with 17 stops last year.
FOUNTAIN FORT CARSON TROJANS: It’s been 16 straight playoff years for the Trojans who reached the 4A Final Four a year ago; falling to Palmer Ridge 28-12 in that round. Even with the graduation of Q Jones and his 1,853 rushing yards, the Trojans return plenty of talent as they look to extend the postseason streak to 17 years. Tai Faavee (317 yards) averaged over 10 yards a carry as a sophomore last year and should easily get more than 29 attempts this year. Tavian Tull also returns at QB after tossing nine TD passes as a sophomore. Outside, Malik McClarity (10 receptions) is the top returner. On defense, Curtis Jackson collected five interceptions in just six games and Faavee topped all Trojans with 67 tackles.
FRUITA MONUMENT WILDCATS: The Wildcats ended 2020 with a balanced record of 3-3 and return Armory Trujillo so a playoff spot is very likely. He led Fruita with 789 yards rushing and 66 tackles a year ago. 10.5 of those stops were behind the line of scrimmage as he’s a big-time playmaker on both sides of the ball. Otherwise, there are holes to fill on both offense and defense but the Wildcats and their tradition always seem to churn out a good roster.
MESA RIDGE GRIZZLIES: Jeremi Calip takes over the program and hopes to increase the win total from las year where the Grizzlies managed just one victory. Noah Ramirez (188 yards passing) and Cash Cheeks (181) both saw time at QB so that competition could continue into 2021. Nikarius Allgood (147 yards) is the top returning rusher and Trei Ginn the top returning receiver (6 catches). Elijah Davis (60) and Cheeks (47) were one-two in tackles as juniors last season.
PUEBLO WEST CYCLONES: Playing a long list of underclassmen, the Cyclones finished at 3-1 last year but just missed out on the playoffs. Now that group become juniors and seniors so the expectations are high for 2021. Cole Brinkley (390 yards passing) is a returning starter at QB and he was also third on the team in rushing with 274 yards. The top two, Jeremiah Sanchez and Hunter Johnson, both return as well as they combined for nearly 750 yards in four games. Leading receiver Ethan Crapeau (10 receptions) is also back. It’s the same story on defense where six of the top 10 tacklers were juniors. Topping that list are Lamaine Arrington (19), Tyler Cullen (15) and Jayden Sandoval (12).
RAMPART RAMS: Cale Cormaney finished off his tremendous high school career leading the Rams to a 5-2 record while topping the Rams in both rushing and passing yards. His absence is a big one and the Rams may turn to Rand Butler and Dominic Vialpando to establish the running game. They combined for 385 yards on just 42 carries as juniors. Butler is also the top returning tackler; he was seventh with 20 tackles a year ago.
AURORA CENTRAL TROJANS: Despite leaning heavily on their sophomore class, the Trojans scored three wins during the Spring season. They qualified for the 4A playoffs but had to forfeit their first-round game to Thomas Jefferson due to COVID. Cai’Reis Curby is the top returnee as he led the Trojans with 638 yards passing and 628 rushing in his sophomore season. Classmate Simeon Veasley gained at least 100 yards in three games and totaled 594 for the year. Veasley also led the defense with 26 tackles followed by Marcus Howard (23) who returns for his senior campaign.
CENTAURUS WARRIORS: The Warriors snapped a ten-year playoff drought by reaching the 4A bracket last Spring. That run ended in a first round loss to Harrison (34-6) but even with that loss, the Warriors have higher expectations for 2021. Success could hinge on the play of Coleman Teasdale who combined for over 1,000 yards of offense on the season. Top receiving targets, Angus Reichert (19) and Nathen Rodriguez (18) return after combining for 37 catches and 420 yards a year ago. Not as much experience returns on the defensive side. Top tackler Bryan Serrano (23) is back but the next six on the list have graduated.
DENVER SOUTH RAVENS: After rolling to six straight wins in regular season play, the Ravens were the top seed in the 4A bracket but were stunned by Denver East (21-14) in the quarterfinals. They had beaten the Angels 35-21 during the regular season. In looking to this year, the Ravens may turn to Joseph Capra as quarterback. He completed 18 of 24 attempts for 236 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore. Rashad Caldwell may be his favorite target as Caldwell caught 25 passes for 454 yards as a sophomore. The top six and seven of the top eight tacklers from last year graduated so over half the defense must be replaced.
GRAND JUNCTION TIGERS: With a talented quarterback returning and a few other key returnees, the Tigers should be able to improve on their one-win season from last season. It’s also the second year for coach Landon McKee so the system should be more engrained among the players. Peyton Brock is the returning starter at QB. He threw for 509 yards as a junior and will again work with leading receivers Braden Prettymen and Chayton Moffitt. They each averaged over 14 yards per catch while combining for 20 receptions. Cole Atkinson returns defensively after topping the Tigers with 52 tackles last season.
GATEWAY OLYMPIANS: It will be fun to watch the Olympians this year as they look to build on last year’s trip to the 4A state championship game. Their run to the title fell one point short in an exciting 27-26 loss to Thomas Jefferson. Much of the key skill talent from that club graduated so new coach Earnest Collins must find replacements for Erick Covington (1,700 total yards), RJ Webster (570 yards rushing) and Sh’marre Johnson (15 catches). Gabe Broussard does return after collecting ten receptions as a junior. Herbie Martin and Ethan Brennesholtz are the top returning tackles as each recorded 14 stops last Spring.
VISTA PEAK BISON: It’s a transition year for the Bison as they begin a new era with first-year coach DeVaughn Thornton. He succeeds John Sullivan who led the program to playoff appearances each of the previous two years. Another transition occurs in the backfield as the Bison graduated both Ja’Derris Carr and Victor Owens. They rushed for 1,256 yards in seven games last year. Carr ended his career with 3,234 yards and 45 TDs on the ground. Owens totaled 2,280 yards and 22 TDs through the air and another 1,055 and 14 scores rushing. Jordy Ruiz is the successor at QB as he threw for 276 yards and five scores in a backup role last season. His development will be assisted with the return of receivers Christopher Marquez (17 catches) and Anthony Sotelo-Lares (13). The defense seems to be in good hands with Kyvae Stuart (45), Bryson Torrie (43) and Ruiz (35) all returning after ending last year 1-2-3 in tackles.
CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN RED-TAILED HAWKS: Five wins against two losses marked a very successful season for the Red-Tailed Hawks and now they look to challenge for a league title and playoff berth. To do so, they will need good seasons from the running tandem of Grant Kunkel and Nico Gagliardi. Each ran for over 250 yards but will need to increase that number to offset the graduation loss of Daymond Hill (778 yards). Quarterbacks Patrik O’Donnell (177 yards) and Zach Johnson (174) were 1-2 in passing yards last year and each return for 2021. Gagliardi, with 45 tackles, was second on that list in 2020 and returns to lead the lead the defense along with Hayden Kuppenheimer (40). They are the only two of the top seven tacklers expected back on the roster.
FALCON FALCONS: The Falcons went 5-3 last Spring and reached the semifinals of the 4A playoffs before a loss to Thomas Jefferson (35-21) ended the run. The offense was very good as it scored at least 29 points in each of the first six games and then totaled 38 over the last two. From that group, Dante McFarland returns after leading the Falcons with 775 yards rushing. He averaged almost 11 yards per carry with 11 TDs. Jacob Nelms, Bruce Reinland and Hayden Whitaker all finished in the top five of tackles and all return in 2020.
LIBERTY LANCERS: During the 2-4 season last Fall, the Lancers averaged 23 points a game in wins and only 6.5 in losses. They did feature great balance with 951 yards passing compared to 912 on the ground but those numbers may tilt a bit more to the air this year as both Aidan Swanson (495 yards) and Alex Brown (456) both return at quarterback. Plus leading rusher Bryson Williams (551) also graduated. Receivers William Winters (15) and Luiz Alamo (12) combined for 27 catches. On defense, 11 players reached double figures in tackles and four return including Joe Shaver who led the club with 67.
PALMER TERRORS: Seniors led the team in passing, rushing and receiving yards during a 2-3 spring season so the Terrors will need new players to step up if they wish to continue the climb. Melvin Safford is the top returner on offense as the gathered in 12 receptions for 104 yards. Both numbers were second on the team. Joe Naple returns after pacing the defense with 48 tackles. Caiden Maes (24), Antonio Montoya (17) and Saffold (16) were also in the top six.
THORNTON TROJANS: The Trojans went winless (0-5) but showed improvement throughout the season; nearing beating both Liberty (29-27) and Niwot (26-20) to close the schedule. Nick Trombetta’s club could throw the ball more this year as QB Isaiah Reese threw for 568 yards and four TDs in his junior season. Leading receiver Isacc Gomez is also back after catching 27 passes for 433 yards. On defense, top returnees include seniors Miles Poole and Leonel Uribe along with Gomez.
WIDEFIELD GLADIATORS: COVID limited the Gladiators to just four games last year. They finished 0-4 but all four losses were by 15 points or less; including a one-point overtime stunner to Cheyenne Mountain. Junior Gabriel Sagura may become the offensive leader. He topped the Gladiators with 127 yards rushing last year and also threw for 120 yards and a score. DJ Allen and Nathaniel Hoyt both return after catching six passes with Allen averaging nearly 27 yards per catch. Underclassmen held nine of the top 10 tackle spots from a year ago so that group should be improved. Brayden Demattos-Burrows was second on the list with 33 and Walker Matthews third with 28.