AURORA | Another outstanding, though state title-less, prep football season is in the books as the 2019 campaign came to an end for local programs with Class 5A state quarterfinal losses by Regis Jesuit (to Pomona) and Eaglecrest (to Ralston Valley).
Though it ended up short of a championship, there was improvement nearly across the board as five of Aurora’s 11 programs boosted their record by at least one victory, three won league championships — Regis Jesuit, Smoky Hill and Vista PEAK — seven teams finished above .500 and seven qualified for postseason play, the most locally since 2014.
Here’s a brief overview of how the 2019 season played out for each Aurora program:
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
AURORA CENTRAL: Coach Austin Able’s team tasted the thrill of victory in their season opener — a 22-12 win over Northfield — but spent the rest of the season on the other side of the ledger to finish 1-9 for a second straight season. Freshman CaiReis Curby filled all sorts of roles for the Trojans, from wide receiver to quarterback. When taking into account passing, rushing and receiving, he accounted for more than 1,300 yards and five total touchdowns. Senior Laquan Bowie finished as the leading receiver and also spent some time at quarterback. …Aurora Central dropped all 10 of its games in Class 4A Metro League play over the past two seasons and moves on to the new Metro 2 conference (along with Aurora Public Schools rivals Gateway and Vista PEAK plus Centaurus, Denver South and Grand Junction).
CHEROKEE TRAIL: Coach Joe Johnson’s team had an outstanding season that eventually came to an end with a last-second road loss to Fairview in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs. The Cougars — who finished 8-4 for the second year in a row — ruled the Cherry Creek Schools teams in Aurora with victories over Eaglecrest (which included a rally from a 29-point deficit in the second half), Grandview and Overland after going 1-2 against those three in 2018 and were competitive in every game save one, a 38-7 loss to Cherry Creek, the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Cougars lost by two points to Fairview, by three to Arapahoe and by seven to Poudre in overtime. A broken arm suffered by senior Matty Bartels took away a key player for Cherokee Trail late in the season, but they picked up in his absence. Junior Jayden Lavigne proved the most effective of three quarterbacks to see significant time under center, senior Julian Williams was a force carrying the ball late in the season and senior Torrey Sanders and junior Sam Hart were dangerous weapons for the offense. Williams racked up 112 tackles and nearly double-digit sacks to lead the defense, senior Austin Jandik set a tone in the trenches and Bartels made 41 stops and keyed a strong defensive backfield before he went down. …Cherokee Trail finished 5-5 in two seasons in the Metro East conference and next year will be part of the old/new Centennial League — which again includes Arapahoe, Cherry Creek, Eaglecrest and Grandview — plus Smoky Hill.
EAGLECREST: The Raptors played for a fourth head coach in the past three seasons and Shawn Marsh kept the recent tradition going strong after his arrival from Grand Junction Central, as the program finished 9-4, won twice in the playoffs and played in the 5A state quarterfinals for a fourth straight season before its run was ended by undefeated Ralston Valley. Two of Eaglecrest’s losses were by four points or less, a 36-32 defeat to a Cherokee Trail team it led 29-0 at one point and a three-point loss to Grandview (which it avenged with a win in the rematch in the second round of the playoffs), while two double-digit losses came to teams in the semifinals who remain unbeaten (Cherry Creek and Ralston Valley). University of Michigan offensive line recruit Reece Atteberry set the tone for Eaglecrest in his fourth varsity season, while dual-threat senior quarterback Max Marsh helped his dad bring over a wide-open offense and made use of the talents of a slew of players such as crazy athletic junior Ty Robinson and sure-handed senior Jalen Stewart, while senior David Creal got going in the running game, especially in the key part of the season. On a defense that will return almost entirely intact next season, junior Seyi Oladipo loomed as a central figure, junior Adrian Cordova made a variety of plays when needed and swift junior Langston Williams became a walking big play in all phases of the game. …Eaglecrest finished 6-4 in two seasons in the Metro East conference and next year will be part of the old/new Centennial League — which again includes Arapahoe, Cherokee Trail, Cherry Creek and Grandview — plus Smoky Hill.
GATEWAY: The Olympians improved tremendously in both points scored and points against from the previous season, but they gained just one more victory as it finished 2-8 in 2019. Gateway — which parted ways with head coach Taylor Calvert after the season — dropped a two-point contest early in the season to Aurora Public Schools rival Hinkley in a game it controlled the majority of the way and had some strong performances in defeat at the end of the season against 4A quarterfinalist Montrose as well as Denver South. Quarterback Erick Covington and running back RJ Webster — both transfers — were huge additions in their junior seasons, as an offense that scored just 81 points in 2018 tallied 282 in 2019 (including five efforts of 21 or more points). Covington accounted for nearly 30 total touchdowns and both he and Webster rushed for nearly 900 yards apiece to make the Olys significantly more dangerous. Senior Lanier De Ruso made an impact on both sides of the ball and had a handful of interceptions on defense, while senior Isaiah Abbey played a big role in the trenches on both sides of the line and junior Antwuan Smith contributed significantly in a variety of roles. …Gateway finished 2-8 in the 4A Metro League over the past two seasons and next season shifts into the new Metro 2 conference, which includes Aurora Public Schools rivals Aurora Central and Vista PEAK along with Centaurus, Denver South and Grand Junction.
GRANDVIEW: The Wolves had another outstanding regular season, winning eight games or more for the sixth straight season and earning a first round bye in the Class 5A state playoffs. Coach John Schultz’s Grandview team (8-3) went no further, however, as it lost in the second round to Eaglecrest to fall short of making the state quarterfinals for the first time in nine seasons. The Wolves got off to a great start offensively as they piled up 35 points or more against all five of their non-league opponents, but found the going tougher in league play as they scored 14 or fewer three times in five games and ended with an average of a touchdown less per game than in 2018. With the graduation of a near-2,000-yard rusher in Jordan Billingsley, junior Noah Schmidt took over the workhorse role and fell just shy of 2,000 yards of total offense, despite struggling with nagging injuries in the middle portion of the season. Junior quarterback Jacob Burr had a few less targets in the passing game, but still made plenty of use of the hands of senior Jordan Smith and emerging junior Noah Salazar. Senior linebacker Cade Bruckman and junior Colton Martin were both good for plenty of impact plays and the Wolves were strong again on defense as they allowed on average just about the same number of points as the previous season, just with fewer takeaways. …Grandview posted a 7-3 mark over two seasons in the Metro East conference and next year will be part of the old/new Centennial League — which again includes Arapahoe, Cherokee Trail, Cherry Creek and Eaglecrest — plus Smoky Hill.
HINKLEY: The Thunderbirds went undefeated on the non-league portion of their schedule, dropped three straight to open Pioneer League play and then finished with back-to-back victories over Centaurus and Thornton. It wasn’t quite enough for coach Michael Farda’s club to break into the 4A playoff bracket, however, as Hinkley finished 18th in RPI standings with 16 teams advancing to the postseason. The Thunderbirds (7-3) made a five-win improvement from 2017 to 2018 and added one more victory this season for the program’s best record in at least the past 16 seasons. Hinkley was significantly more potent offensively as it scored 102 more points than the previous season. Junior running back Ty’ren Draper piled up more than 1,500 yards on the ground as one of four rushers with more than 100 yards on the season and he totaled a team-best 15 touchdowns, while senior quarterback Xavier Starks rushed for eight and threw for 13, including six to big-play senior wide receiver Jerry Taylor. Senior linebacker Leon Parham (the Pioneer League’s Defensive Player of the Year) had a team-high 86 tackles for a Hinkley defense that allowed 61 more points than the previous season, understandable with so many players playing both ways. …Hinkley finished 4-6 in two seasons in the Pioneer League and next season not only moves up to a new classification (going from 4A to 5A), but joins the Metro 2 conference that includes Aurora Public Schools rival Rangeview, another Aurora entry in Overland as well as Denver East, Far Northeast and Prairie View.
OVERLAND: The Trailblazers worked hard in the offseason for DaVaughn Thornton Sr. after he took over as interim head coach and though he didn’t finish the season on the sideline, they added one more win than the previous season with a 3-7 finish (avenging losses a year ago to Fossil Ridge and Fountain-Fort Carson). Thanks to a schedule in which eight of its 10 opponents qualified for the expanded 5A state playoffs, Overland had an RPI high enough to make the postseason for the first time since 2015 with a loss to rival Smoky Hill in the first round. The Trailblazers were significantly better on the offensive side of the ball as they rang up 72 more points than in 2018 (in one more game) with senior quarterback Mark Thrower (who passed for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns) running an effective spread attack. Senior Jawan Lacour and junior Kamari Brown were favorite targets in the passing game, junior Jaheim Roper made explosive plays as a rusher and receiver and senior Stephone Smiley ran the ball hard, while freshman receiver Ismael Cisse provided a glimpse of a bright future as a playmaker. Defensively, Overland yielded three points less per game, in part because of its ability to generate turnovers. Senior defensive back Camwrin Harris was among the state leaders in interceptions all season and finished with eight of the team’s 14 interceptions. …Overland went winless in two seasons in the loaded Metro East conference and makes a big move into the newly-created Metro 2 division of the Metro 10 conference, which includes two other Aurora teams — Hinkley and Rangeview — in addition to Denver East, Far Northeast and Prairie View.
RANGEVIEW: The Raiders made the second-largest jump in terms of win improvement among Aurora teams, as they won four games in 2019 after a one-win 2018 campaign. Coach Brandon Alconcel’s team was statistically much better on both offense (scoring 91 more points) and defense (allowing 121 points less) and it led to wins against Boulder, Mountain Range and Northglenn, teams that Rangeview lost to a year ago. The Raiders’ win-loss record might have been even better if not for a four-point loss to Prairie View, a six-point defeat to the Far Northeast Warriors and seven-point loss to Denver East, teams they lost to by a minimum of 17 points last season. Senior Davon Desmond turned into a super weapon for Rangeview as the team’s leading rusher and second-leading receiver with 12 total touchdowns (including a punt return score). Junior Reece Berkey settled into the quarterback role and threw for nearly 100 yards more than the previous season, while Trey Rogers and Jahvon Lee were also key figures on the offense. Junior Angel Rodriguez had the most tackles on a defense that allowed 12.1 points per game less than in 2018, including four games in which it allowed single digits. Senior placekicker Braidon Nourse made an Aurora-best five field goal attempts on the season. …Rangeview finished 5-13 in two seasons in the Metro 10 and remains in the conference — which has been split into two divisions — as part of the Metro 2 along with Hinkley and Overland from Aurora along with Denver East, Far Northeast and Prairie View.
REGIS JESUIT: The Raiders had to scratch and claw from a bad start in 2018 just to make the 5A state playoffs, but it was decidedly different this year for coach Danny Filleman’s team, which sailed through an undefeated season and won their second round playoff game before they were stopped in the quarterfinals by Pomona. That ended Regis Jesuit’s season with 11 wins, its most since 2016 and four more than last season, the biggest rise among Aurora teams. The Raiders avenged non-conference losses to Highlands Ranch, Mullen and Horizon from last season during a campaign in which they scored 62 more points and allowed 27 fewer than 2018. Sophomore quarterback Nicco Marchiol continued to develop and threw for 900 yards and nine more touchdowns than in his debut season as he finished with 2,552 yards and 27 scores and only one more interception (8) than he had last season in nearly 100 more attempts. Four receivers (Bryce Sloan, Jackson Connelly and Ty McGuire and sophomore Dallas Macias) had 381 yards or more receiving and combined for 22 touchdowns, while junior David Dody rushed for 1,200-plus yards and 13 touchdowns for an offense that averaged 35.4 points per contest. Junior linebacker Bryan Mottram had 123 tackles to lead the way for a Regis Jesuit defense that ceded just 15.1 points per game. Juniors Matthew Baer and Clay Nanke formed an accomplished pass rush duo that registered a combined 22 sacks, while Macias and sophomore Pyreese Miller each had three of the Raiders’ 17 interceptions as a team. The Raiders were quite good at completing drives in the end zone, but junior placekicker Jordi De la Torre made a 43-yard kick among a 4-for-4 performance on field goals and more than 90 percent accuracy rate on PATs. …Regis Jesuit went an unbeaten 10-0 in claiming the South League title for two straight seasons and remains in the same conference with the same teams (Chaparral, Doherty, Douglas County and Legend) along with a powerhouse 4A team in newcomer Pine Creek.
SMOKY HILL: The Buffaloes picked up right where they left off last season and got even better, as coach Tom Thenell’s team recorded a second straight 10-0 regular season, won back-to-back league titles in the Metro 10 and were rewarded with a home game for the first round of the state playoff. Smoky Hill earned Thenell his 200th career win during the season and then picked up the program’s first postseason victory since 1991 when it beat rival Overland in impressive fashion before powerhouse Columbine stopped its season in the second round. The Buffaloes had several close games during their undefeated 2018 season, but put plenty of space between themselves and their opponents this season with an average margin of victory of 24 points. Smoky Hill’s offense was high-powered a year ago and it became even more prolific this season with 93 more points scored, though four touchdowns came from the defense and two more on special teams. Senior running back Obie Sanni took back a kickoff for a touchdown against Columbine for his 31st touchdown of the season, which included 29 rushing along with 1,603 yards, while junior quarterback Leslie Richardson III came near the 3,000-yard mark in passing — which ranked him second in 5A — and threw for 28 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Senior Ryan Hollingsworth had a breakout season that put him easily atop all tight ends in the state regardless of classification as he had more than 1,000 yards in receiving and 10 touchdowns. The defense was a bit more generous this season as it allowed four more points per game than a year ago, but held half of its opponents to single digits. Senior linebacker Vincent King fell just shy of 100 tackles on the season, senior K’hari Upshaw picked up 20 sacks, senior Travon Holmes added 11 and senior Chase Lyons had nine as the Buffaloes were prolific at rushing the passer and also amassed 26 takeaways. …Smoky Hill won all 18 of its Metro 10 conference games over the past two seasons and makes a big move into the old/new Centennial League, which includes Arapahoe, Cherokee Trail, Cherry Creek, Eaglecrest and Grandview, all 5A playoff qualifiers.
VISTA PEAK: The Bison posted a better record for a third consecutive season and also jumped three wins for a second straight season, going from seven to 10 during an outstanding undefeated regular season that came with the program’s first league championship and first appearance in the Class 4A state playoffs. Coach John Sullivan’s team fell to Heritage in the opening round, but that didn’t diminish the accomplishments of a group that came into the season with internal belief that it would dominate and then went out and did it on the field. Vista PEAK avenged losses to Dakota Ridge, Standley Lake and Fruita Monument (the latter coming in the regular season finale on the road with the Pioneer League title at stake) and won all 10 of its games by an average margin victory of 29 points. The Bison’s ground game found little resistance during the season, as juniors Ja’Derris Carr-Kersh and Montral Hamrick and senior Gene Sledge Jr. took turns making big plays and piling up yards behind a line that provided plenty of seams. Carr-Kersh was the lone 1,000-yard rusher as he racked up 1,445 yards and 23 touchdowns (he also led the team in receiving with four more scores) while Hamrick had 13 scores and Sledge seven, while junior quarterback Victor Owens ran for nine scores and passed for 10 and more than 1,000 yards as five players had triple-digit receiving yards. Defensively, the Bison yielded about three points more per game than a year ago, but generated more than 20 takeaways with senior Zack Whitworth leading the way in interceptions (four), sacks (5.0) and tackles (69). …Vista PEAK finished 8-2 in two seasons in the 4A Pioneer League and shifts to the 4A Metro 2 conference that includes Aurora Public Schools rivals Aurora Central and Gateway, plus Centaurus, Denver South and Grand Junction.