AURORA | On the whole, the recently completed 2016 football season different, but successful for Aurora teams, though local championship hopes were extinguished with Regis Jesuit’s loss in the Class 5A state semifinals Nov. 26.
Only five teams in all of 5A will finish in double digits in victories and three of them hail from the city in Eaglecrest and Regis Jesuit — which registered 11 wins apiece — while Grandview posted 10 wins. The Raptors remained the only undefeated team in the classification until it took another city team, Regis Jesuit, to deal them their first defeat.
One-fourth of the reduced 16-team playoff field hailed from Aurora and three of those four qualifiers (Eaglecrest, Grandview, Regis Jesuit and Cherokee Trail) made it into the final eight.
Individually, Grandview senior running back Hayden Blubaugh racked up 1,911 yards and scored 182 points to lead 5A in both categories — and the Wolves currently lead 5A in points scored though finalists Valor Christian and Pomona could pass them in the state final — while Vista PEAK junior quarterback Derrick Smashum led the state regardless of classification with 40 touchdown passes and led 3A in passing with 2,889 yards until Palmer Ridge’s Ty Evans passed him with one more game played.
Regis Jesuit junior defensive end Jake Heimlicher paced the state with 22 sacks.
Here’s a quick look back at the 2016 season for each Aurora football team in order of final record:
• Regis Jesuit pushed furthest into the 5A state playoffs as it advanced to the semifinals before a 24-7 loss to top-seeded Pomona on Nov. 26 ended the season. Coach Danny Filleman’s Raiders opened with an impressive win over Cherry Creek, then got shut out by Mullen 17-0 on Sept. 9, following that with a 10-game winning streak that landed them the inaugural Mount Antero League championship and carried them through two rounds of the playoffs (with wins over Fairview and Eaglecrest) until their semifinal defeat. Statistical standouts: An outstanding defense featured four triple-digit tacklers in LBs Alec Hamilton, Will Kulick, Tama Tuitele and DE Jake Heimlicher and forced 32 turnovers. Heimlicher led the state with 22 sacks and junior DB Patrick Roe topped the team with seven interceptions. Offensively, the Raiders thrived with a ground game of RBs DJ Jackson, Alfred Jones and Kiahn Martinez, who tallied a combined 2,300-plus yards and 36 touchdowns.
• Just 4-6 and outside of the then-32-team 5A playoff picture in 2015, Eaglecrest made a major splash in 2016 with a win over rival Grandview, the inaugural Mount Wilson League championship and an 11-game run that ended with a 10-point loss to Regis Jesuit in the state quarterfinals. Coach Mike Schmitt’s Raptors made a massive improvement on defense, as this season’s blue collar unit yielded 71 fewer points than last season (173 in 2016 vs. 244 in 2015) in two more games. Eaglecrest also gave up four more points than it scored in 2015, but this season tallied 429 to 173 given up, a margin of plus-256. Statistical standouts: Junior QB Jalen Mergerson had an effective and efficient season under center with 1,461 yards passing and 19 touchdowns against just two interceptions and rushed for 11 scores. Junior RB Victor Garnes dazzled in every phase and scored his 21 total touchdowns in a wide variety of ways on offense, defense and special teams. Garnes also led the Eaglecrest defense with seven interceptions.
• Grandview’s season ended 10-2 after a disappointing 5A state quarterfinal loss at Valor Christian, with the only losses for coach John Schultz‘s Mount Massive League champions coming by seven points to Eaglecrest (undefeated into the quarterfinals) and the Eagles, who advanced to the 5A state championship game for the fifth straight season. Grandview’s offense piled up 484 points per game and even managed to score a combined 64 points in its two defeats. Grandview was younger than usual across the board on defense, but posted two shutouts and held two other foes to single digits, though allowing 66 to Valor Christian inflated its season total of points allowed to 255. Statistical standouts: Senior RB Hayden Blubaugh fell short of a second straight 2,000-yard rushing season, but racked up 1,911 yards and scored 30 touchdowns (23 rushing, 7 receiving) as he hit home runs and made hard yards behind an outstanding offensive line. Senior QB Gunnar Lamphere threw for nearly 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns and junior WR Gunner Gentry caught passes for 823 yards and 10 scores.
• Cherokee Trail made the 5A state playoffs in the first season under new coach Dain Mangnall, though the Cougars finished the regular season .500 and came in third in the inaugural season in the Mount Evans League. The postseason became possible with a three-game winning streak against Rock Canyon, Hinkley and Mountain Vista, while Cherokee Trail (5-6) lost to Pomona in the regular season finale and then to Valor Christian in the first round of the playoffs. Defensively, the Cougars allowed 74 more points than in 2015, despite not playing in the Centennial League. Statistical standouts: Senior RB Brenden Holt proved to be the Cougars’ most effective offensive weapon — especially with senior WR KJ Sapp injured for the final five games — as he rushed for just over 1,000 yards and scored 10 times. Junior QB Ethan Leisge managed the game well in his first season as the starter under center and sophomore RB Dylan James showed himself to be an emerging weapon.
• Among Aurora’s non-playoff qualifiers, Vista PEAK finished with the best record at 6-4 and a third-place finish in the 3A East Metro League standings. Coach John Sullivan’s Bison suffered a crucial one-point loss to Thomas Jefferson late in the season (a game in which Vista PEAK’s kicker got injured in pregame warmups), then fell on the road to league champion Palmer Ridge to see the program’s best chance at its first playoff appearance slip away. The Bison didn’t go quietly in any game, however, as they tallied 395 points on the season and scored 32 points or more in every game save putting up three points in a season-opening loss to Mead. Vista PEAK’s defense yielded 49 or more points in three of its four losses. Statistical standouts: Junior QB Derrick Smashum put up video game passing numbers with 2,889 yards and a state-best 40 touchdowns vs. eight interceptions, while he also led the team in rushing with 644 yards and seven more scores. Four Bison receivers had 500 or more receiving yards, led by sophomore WR J.J. Augustus with 837 yards and 13 TDs and senior WR Dylan Holt with 647 yards and 11 scores.
• Aurora Central (which moved up from 4A to 5A) got off to a 5-0 start, but then ran into tough going in the Mount Antero League and dropped five league contests to finish 5-5 and out of the postseason. First-year head coach Jamarr Kerney’s Trojans found points touch to come by in league play, as they scored in double figures only once in five tries (putting up 17 in a 41-17 loss to Bear Creek) after putting up nearly 26 points per game in non-league play. Aurora Central had the spotlight on it during the season when several team members chose to kneel for the playing of the National Anthem, following suit with the social protest of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Trojans backed up their actions by performing a variety of acts of public service, including visits to a local elementary school to read to children. Statistical standout: Senior RB Fransisco Aranda led the team in rushing and receiving.
• Rangeview was one of the most exciting teams to watch in 2016 — as Raiders’ games averaged a combined 63 points — but coach Justin Hoffman’s team dropped two games by eight points or less to finish 3-7 and come in last place in the inaugural season of the Mount Wilson League. Rangeview came up one point short in a loss to Rocky Mountain and also dropped a four-point decision against Arvada West, while its victories included a rout of rival Gateway to win the Anvil traveling trophy and an eight-point win against Overland for local Aurora neighborhood bragging rights. Statistical standouts: Senior RB AJ Thomas racked up 1,198 yards rushing and scored 15 total touchdowns (12 rushing, 3 receiving), while junior QB Jaelin Odegard and junior WR Josh Hollins formed one of the most effective connections in the state. Odegard found Hollins for 920 yards and nine touchdowns (including four in the first half against Gateway) through the air and he threw for 2,421 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing for seven more.
• Overland expected the move from the dissolved powerhouse Centennial League into the new Mount Massive League — due to the approved realignment before the season — would be positive, yet the Trailblazers finished at 2-8 with its fewest wins since the 2011 season. With three games left in the regular season, head coach Seth Replogle notified the school administration that he would step down after five seasons at the end of the campaign for health reasons, though he didn’t let players know until the final week. Overland’s two wins came back-to-back against Boulder and Smoky Hill as it finished fourth in the Mount Massive League standings. Statistical standouts: The Trailblazers rode the tireless efforts of juniors Jaion Colbert and Donavan Carver, who rarely left the field on either side of the football for a team that had less than a handful of starters back from the previous season. Colbert piled up 1,305 yards rushing and scored eight times, while Carver picked up 655 yards and hammered home six touchdowns. Junior DB Cameron Murray went over 100 tackles and sophomore LB D.J. Reid racked up nine sacks.
• Gateway had an outstanding debut after dropping into 4A with a 31-2 victory over Littleton in its season opener, but coach Shane Ward’s team had to wait eight more weeks for another win as it capped a 2-8 season by beating Golden in the regular season finale. The Olys stayed out of the cellar in the 4A Plains League standings with their victory over the Demons. Injuries plagued Gateway from early in the season and it forced shuffling of roles as three different players took significant snaps at quarterback during the season. Defensively, Gateway yielded more than 50 points in back-to-back games against Vista PEAK and Rangeview, the latter resulting in losing a chance to win the Anvil traveling trophy. Statistical standouts: Junior RB Kevin Traylor Jr. was effective carrying the football with 791 yards rushing and five touchdowns, while junior WR Ajonte Manlove and senior WR Tyreeh Bell caught plenty of passes.
• Smoky Hill played a nine-game slate in its second season under coach John Trahan, but the Buffaloes were unable to find their way into the win column. Opponents averaged nearly 40 points per game against Smoky Hill, which allowed 31 points or more against every foe. The Buffaloes came closest to victory against Aurora Central, but dropped a 36-31 decision. Statistical standouts: Senior QB Karson Avila had a strong statistical season with 2,304 yards passing and 15 touchdowns against nine interceptions, with four receivers going over 450 yards in receptions. Senior WR Maurice Wyatt had a significant highlight reel from his 53 catches for 638 yards and eight touchdowns, all team highs.
• Hinkley welcomed in a new coach in Michael Farda, who came in from Texas, but couldn’t get its new leader in the victory column during an 0-10 2016 season. The Thunderbirds struggled on offense in particular, as they scored a combined 19 points in 10 games (a decline from 145 points scored in 2015) with single scores coming in games against Thornton, Aurora Central and Cherokee Trail. In five games of Mount Evans League play, Hinkley was outscored 255-7. Defensively, the Thunderbirds yielded an average of 46 points per game. Statistical standouts: Senior QB Ramzee Howard had a hand in two of his team’s three scores with a touchdown pass to senior WR Omari Walker along with a rushing score.