LONGMONT -- Less than a year removed from living through a sort of football fantasy, 2012 could provide a harsh reality check for the Silver Creek football program.

All that was missing from the Raptors' 2011 campaign was the storybook ending, as Silver Creek's state title dreams were dashed in a bitter 14-7 loss against Windsor in the Class 3A championship game. Gone from that squad is a senior class of almost two dozen that not only provided the bulk of the Raptors' production, but also evolved into a group that inspired hard work on and off the field.

There are huge voids to fill throughout the Raptors' program. However, engage head coach Mike Apodaca in a conversation, and the word "rebuilding" is never uttered. Yes, Silver Creek will sport a different look, particularly without quarterback Austin Apodaca leading the high-flying offense that left him among Colorado's all-time leaders in almost every major passing category.

Yet thanks to a strong, though inexperienced, junior class and a small but dedicated group of holdovers from last year's state runner-up squad, coach Apodaca is confident his club once again will challenge for league crown.

"The interesting thing about the whole thing is that while it may have been a great year, even though we didn't finish on the last day the way we wanted to, in a weird way, it was never about just that game," Mike Apodaca said. "We knew that group of kids could take us to that upper echelon. Until you have a group like that that allows you to experience it, it's too hard to get other kids to buy in and believe.

"I think what's going to be unique and different this year is going from a (senior) class of 21, 22, to nine seniors. We have a ton of juniors and will probably start 14 to 16 juniors. But they are very good juniors. What we'll be lacking is varsity experience. We're hoping the legacy of that last class carries on."

Taking over the Silver Creek offense will be junior Ben Sjobakken, who attempted just four passes last year in limited duty. In addition to 1,200-yard rusher Ian McNabb, the Raptors also lost their top four pass catchers. Tight end Wyatt Knecthel and receivers KC Lord, Greg Reynolds, and Ryan Rankin accounted for nearly 3,500 yards and 41 touchdowns receiving.

This year, Silver Creek expects to use a more "thunder-and-lightning" approach out of the backfield, with 165-pound junior Josh Quiroz and 230-pound junior Kyle Kent sharing the load.

"I don't see my play-calling will be any different," Apodaca said. "We have two really good running backs that can be game-changing types of backs. Josh is more of a slasher and Kent is more of a bruiser. We're not going into a double-wing sort of thing, but at the same time we'll be able to run the ball pretty effectively."

As the new-look Silver Creek offense jells, the onus perhaps will be on the team's defense to hold opponents in place. No longer able to rely on up to five touchdowns a game from the offense, a strong defensive start -- particularly with the Raptors' early start to the season on Thursday at Fernley (Nev.) -- could help carry the club through a demanding non-conference slate.

"We've got a good, solid senior class and we've been playing together since we were in sixth grade," said senior Trey Fleming, a returning defensive back expected to fill one of the voids at receiver. "We have a good junior class coming up behind us and we should have a good season."

Follow Pat Rooney on Twitter: @prooney07