Columbine (Littleton, Colo.)
football team gathered in the end zone after its big win against three-time defending state champion Mullen (Denver)
last week in the regular-season finale for both teams, Rebels coach Andy Lowry delivered a message that undoubtedly was echoed by many of his counterparts during the past few days.
"Enjoy this one, but remember that from here on out we are all 0-0 right now," Lowry said in the post-game huddle. "And we aren't backing down from no one."
The clean-slate message coincides with the start of the 32-team Class 5A state football playoffs. Class A, 8-Man and 6-Man also begin postseason play in Colorado this week. MaxPreps Colorado high school football playoff brackets
In the big-school bracket that begins play Thursday, Columbine (9-0) earned the state's top seed by virtue of its win against Mullen. The Rebels play host to No. 32 Fort Collins (4-5) in the first round.
Columbine, now ranked No. 106 nationally, boasts a stingy defense that allows only 12.2 points an outing, but it's the favorite because it lines up the state's top running back tandem in senior Cameron McDondle
and his sophomore brother Bernard McDondle
Together they have combined for 1,976 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, although Cameron is the workhorse. A returning All-Colorado player, the 5-foot-8, 187-pound Cameron is 5A's third-leading rusher at 1,451 yards.
"Coach Lowry always makes sure we are calm and ready to go (for the big games)," Cameron said. "We need to fix the little things that have been off, and we will be ready to go."
The Rebels figure to have little problem against Fort Collins, even though they will be without starting quarterback Justin Brown
and leading tackler Jaxon Mohr
. Brown suffered a knee injury late in the win against Mullen, while Mohr is still nursing a collarbone injury he sustained against Bear Creek on Oct. 20.
"This is a tough team," Lowry said. "If someone goes down, the next man in line knows it's their turn. These guys step up, are ready to play and they make plays."
Despite the injuries, Lowry likes his team's position, especially after the impressive win against Mullen.
"We feel good," said Lowry, noting the Mullen victory was one his program's best in recent years. "Just heart and guts-wise against a great opponent like that, I would say it was (one of our best). I don't remember feeling like this very many times. This was big."
While Lowry will be attempting to lead Columbine to its fifth state title, Mullen will regroup for a run at its fourth in a row. The Mustangs (7-2) are seeded sixth and open against 27th-seeded Mountain Vista (4-5).
The season-finale loss notwithstanding, Mullen quarterback and Washington recruit Cyler Miles
believes the Mustangs are well-equipped to repeat.
"We feel great, honestly. We lost two in the regular season, but that's the regular season," Miles said. "We are going to come with a lot of fire in the playoffs. We've got heart, we've got fight, and we are going to try to do this thing."
Mullen is not the overwhelming favorite it has been in previous seasons when it was ranked among the nation's elite, but the Mustangs are among a handful of teams state followers think have a legitimate claim on the title.
Also mentioned prominently is No. 2 seed Grand Junction
(9-0), which has the classification's second-best rusher in Jerreon Dennis
(1,591 yards) and dual-threat quarterback and Division I recruit Sean Rubalcaba
(1,024 passing yards, 941 rushing yards). The Tigers are averaging a state-best 43.7 points a game.
Third-seeded Pomona (Arvada)
(8-1) and Ralston Valley (Arvada)
(8-1) and Grandview (Aurora)
(8-1), the fourth and fifth seeds respectively, also figure to assert themselves in the brackets.
The state championship is scheduled for Dec. 3 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.