Raptors, Bears have risen to the top of the class
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Rifle head coach Damon Wells fully understands the magnitude of the feat. That’s because his Bears did it back in 2004 and 2005.
No matter the classification, making a title game two years in a row with a football program is no pedestrian task.
That’s precisely where Silver Creek is at right now. A year removed from losing to Windsor, 14-7, in the 2011 3A title game, the 10th-seeded Raptors (11-2) are back. This time, they’ll face top-seeded Rifle, which enters with a 13-0 record.
A drastically different cast of characters litters the Silver Creek roster this time around. Raptors coach Mike Apodaca has seen his 2012 team slowly develop into something special after losing more than 20 seniors from last year’s squad.
“I would say we knew we had a good group coming back,” the veteran coach said. “We didn’t have a ton of varsity experience coming back, but we knew we had some young kids coming who were real talented. It’d just be a matter of how it would come together. They’ve done a nice job of doing that.”
Apodaca is clearly doing something right at the Longmont school, which opened its doors in 2001. He’s been with the program since the beginning and has been its head coach for all but the first two seasons.
Silver Creek football and the Apodaca name have grown synonymous as the program has risen to its present powerhouse state.
Apodaca’s oldest son, Austin, graduated in the spring and is now a quarterback at Washington State University. His youngest son, Andre, is a junior linebacker for this year’s squad.
And then there’s the rest of the talent-packed Raptors’ roster, which hopes to bring a trophy home from Legacy Stadium in Aurora this weekend.
“They’re incredibly talented,” Wells said. “They’ll definitely be the best team we’ve played so far this season. They have everything going for them. They have incredible facilities and talented kids. They made a deep playoff run last year. As far as I’m concerned, they have a lot of advantages right now.”
Rifle has its advantages, too. Like an offense that’s averaging 44.5 points a game and a defense that has surrendered a mere 75 points all season. Almost half those points were given up in one game – a 48-34 win over Roosevelt in the state quarterfinals.
“I think they’re a really good team,” Coach Apodaca said. “I would emphasize the team thing. I think everyone knows they’ve got one of the most dynamic players in 3A [in Ryan Moeller]. And, by now, everybody knows they’re not a one-trick pony. You better be able to defend it all.”
Moeller is Class 3A’s leading rusher with 2,857 yards and 41 touchdowns. Junior Kellin Leigh surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in Rifle’s 56-6 semifinal victory over Pueblo East at Dutch Clark Stadium last weekend. Leigh is up to 1,057 yards, and sophomore Isaac Rider has chipped in with 451 yards on just 51 carries.
For Silver Creek, running back Josh Quiroz has 1,231 yards and 11 TDs on the ground.
Quarterback Ben Sjobakken is 177-for-286 passing (61 percent) with 24 TDs and just two interceptions. Zane Lindsey (49 catches), Trey Fleming (57), Eric Machmueller (33) and Brock Ricks (40) have all seen substantial targets.
Inside linebacker Andre Apodaca (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) headlines the Raptors on defense and has a team-high 144 tackles this season.
Rifle’s defense is led by inside linebacker Cody Beauford (5-9, 180) and his team-best 122 tackles.
Whatever happens on Saturday, both programs have risen to the top of their class after rough patches.
The Bears rebounded after missing the playoffs three straight years from 2008 to 2010. A 13-year playoff streak preceded the dry spell.
For Silver Creek, it has been a gradual rise from the school’s infancy.
“Any time you start up a new school, it takes a while,” Coach Apodaca said. “Like all the new schools around this area, you start young with a freshman and sophomore class and you take your beatings.”
Come Saturday evening, one will have risen all the way to the title of state champion.
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Burning Mountain Park in New Castle will illuminate Saturday evening at the town’s Holiday Tree Lighting and Chili Cook-off between 5 and 7 p.m.