LAFAYETTE — It took plenty of work to get there, but the Monarch football team is back in familiar territory.
After going an uncharacteristic 6-14 over the past two seasons in Class 5A, the Coyotes on Friday night clinched a league title in their first season back in 4A by defeating Fort Collins 42-14 at Centaurus High School.
The win gave 4A No. 8-ranked Monarch a 4-0 mark in the Northern League (along with a 6-3 record overall). Second place Windsor is 3-1 with one game remaining, but lost to the Coyotes earlier.
It's Monarch's sixth league title in the last eight seasons but first since 2013. The Coyotes have won won a remarkable 39 consecutive 4A league games dating back to the middle of the 2008 season. But in 2014 and '15, they went a combined 3-11 in 5A league contests.
Fittingly, one of the people that congratulated Monarch coach Phil Bravo on the title after the game was University of Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre, whose son Stone starts at quarterback for the Coyotes and whose Buffs have made quite a turnaround of their own this season.
Cliniching a league championship "just shows how hard our team has worked to wipe clean the slate after the last two years," said senior captain Alex Bradfield, who rushed for 188 yards and three touchdowns on Friday. "It's awesome. I like winning a lot more than I like losing."
Indeed, Friday's victory — MHS' fourth straight — guaranteed Monarch a winning record for the first time since 2013.
"It feels rewarding," said Bravo, now in his 19th season at the MHS helm. "Our kids have worked really, really hard. There was a point in the year where we were (2-3) and there was an easy path to fall back into the doldrums of defeat. But the kids have persevered and battled back. I'm so proud of them."
On Friday, the Coyotes racked up 404 yards rushing, with three senior backs have triple-digit nights. In addition to Bradfield's 188 yards, Zach Bastres had 117 and Noah Snyder 112. Two of them averaged double-digit yards per carry, with Snyder having a 14.0 norm and Bradfield a 10.4.
The game was close for the entire first half, but after a back-and-forth first 23 minutes, Monarch came up big in the final minute before intermission. First, the Coyotes stopped Fort Collins on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line, forcing an incomplete pass that could have led to a tie game. Then after a 75-yard run by Bradfield from MHS' 3, Stone MacIntyre hit Ben Cole with a 22-yard TD pass with 28.6 seconds left before the halftime horn sounded.
In the course of about half a minute of game time, Monarch went from a possible tie game to a 14-point halftime lead.
"We just continue to make big plays, especially our defense," Bradfield said. "They had some big fourth-down stops in the red zone. That sealed the game for us. The offense was able to do what we do, but our defense comes up big for us every week.
"We're clicking on all cylinders now. We're getting better every week and that's awesome to see. We're having fun again, which is the biggest change from the last two years."
After being up 28-14 at half, the Coyotes didn't let up, scoring after long time-consuming drives each of the first two times they had the ball after intermission.
Though the Coyotes couldn't stop Fort Collins QB Jonathan Erickson in the first half -- he had 133 yards rushing and 89 passing before intermission -- Monarch's defense buckled down in the second half. The Lambkins (2-7, 1-3) were shut out after halftime and Erickson added just 2 yards rushing and 11 passing in the final 24 minutes.
"As we're growing together we're peaking, which is the greatest feeling to see," Bravo said. "It's a fun journey. It's a really fun team to coach."
Monarch will close out the regular season with a home contest next Friday against Greeley Central at Centaurus.
Monarch 42, Fort Collins 14
At Centaurus H.S.Fort Collins (2-7, 1-3) 7 7 0 0 — 14
FC — Jake Leone 7 pass from Jonathan Erickson (Colby Shade kick). Monarch — Alex Bradfield 12 run (kick fail). Monarch — Stone MacIntyre 1 run (Bradfield run)
FC — Leone 14 pass from Erickson (Shade kick). Monarch — Bradfield 36 run (Trevor Elser kick). Monarch — Ben Cole 22 pass from MacIntyre (Bradfield kick)
Monarch — Bradfield 6 run (Elser kick).
Monarch- — Snyder 34 run (Elser kick).
RUSHING — Fort Collins: Erickson 15-135, McGraw 16-43, Lange 3-16, Remmers 3-3, Maguire 1-(-3); Monarch: Bradfield 18-188, Bastres 24-117, Snyder 8-112, MacIntyre 2-5, Waldmann 4-5, Plott 1-3, Elser 1-(-26).
PASSING — Fort Collins: Erickson 13-18-1-100; Monarch: MacIntyre 3-5-0-41
RECEIVING — Fort Collins: Leone 6-40, Burgos 4-34, Schoor 2-13; Monarch: Cole 2-33, Hall 1-8.