The Silver Creek football team wasn't supposed to be here, playing Thanksgiving weekend in 2012.
How could it?
The Raptors lost to graduation from last year's Class 3A runner-up squad a Division-I quarterback, their top four pass catchers and two of the nastiest defensive linemen around, among many others.
Yet the Raptors, 10-2 and seeded 10th in the playoffs, are squaring off with No. 6 Conifer on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Trailblazer Stadium in the state semifinals.
You want the blueprint for reloading? The Raptors have drawn it up this fall, thanks to a small but dedicated senior class and a large and talented junior class that went 9-1 in junior varsity play last year as sophomores.
"It was just a matter of the growth they put in ... and how they've come together," said SCHS coach Mike Apodaca, whose squad overcame its share of growing pains this fall.
Here's a look at how the Raptors have done it, plugging in standout replacements at nearly every position:
QUARTERBACK: Graduated is Austin Apodaca, now a freshman at Washington State who piled up 3,849 yards and 44 touchdown passes as a senior. While not quite as prolific, junior Ben Sjobakken has been a more-than-capable replacement, throwing for 2,298 yards and 23 touchdowns -- versus just one interception.
RUNNING BACK: Out is Ian McNabb, who rushed for 1,230 yards and 14 touchdowns during the Raptors' 12-2 campaign a year ago. In is junior Josh Quiroz, who so far has 1,103 yards and seven scores.
RECEIVER/TIGHT END: Goodbye receivers Ryan Rankin, Greg Reynolds and KC Lord, and tight end Wyatt Knechtel, who accounted for nearly all of Silver Creeks receiving yardage. Hello receivers Trey Fleming, Brock Ricks and Eric Machmuller, and tight end Zane Lindsey. Fleming, a key defensive back a year ago, took on an offensive role this fall and leads the team with 53 catches for 739 yards and six touchdowns.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Austin Miller, Garrett Howard and Luis Granados might have graduated. But junior Isaac Miller and senior Hayden Smith returned at left tackle and center to keep the SCHS front five excelling.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Trace Gray and Ben Woo Ching were forces to be reckoned with for the last three years for the Raptors, with Gray amassing nine sacks last year. But junior Jeremy Metivier has 7.5 sacks, and juniors Jared Jacobson and Levi Cecil are among the team leaders in tackles.
LINEBACKER: Defensive ringleader Nate Dunlavy moved on, but Andre Apodaca has stepped into the quarterback of the defense role while continuing to lead the team in tackles, while Anthony Emberley has proven to be a solid sidekick with his 82 stops.
DEFENSIVE BACK: Gone is turnover machine Stephan White, who racked up five interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries a year ago. But in his place stands junior safety Ross Fitzgerald, who leads Class 3A with seven interceptions.
KICKER: Ryan Templeton booted 67 extra points and a pair of field goals last year. But junior Ryan Charles is closing in on that point total this year with 34 PATs and nine field goals, including a pair during last week's quarterfinal win over Pueblo Central.
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