The Mead football team is travelling through relatively uncharted waters this season, but the Mavericks are handling it like savvy veterans.
After making a surprise run to the 3A semifinals last season, Mead entered the 2017 campaign considered a legitimate contender to win the championship this year.
And, along the way to the school's first undefeated season, the Mavericks earned the No. 1 ranking in the polls and the top seed in the playoffs for the first time.
But Mead is no overnight sensation — it has been building toward this for several years. And so when the Mavericks (11-0) opened up the postseason Saturday afternoon against visiting No. 16 seed Harrison, they simply took care of business, pounding the Panthers 56-19 with a workmanlike mentality.
"It comes down to all the seniors that we have," senior running back Nathan Mackey said. "They've been working hard for four years. We got to the playoffs our sophomore year and got a little taste. Got to the playoffs junior year and got a little taste.
"So that's just the experience we have and it's the maturity of all grade levels. That's what helped us out."
It also helps out to have a back with the talent of Mackey, who was close to unstoppable against the Panthers (8-3), racking up 279 yards of total offense and four TDs despite only touching the ball twice in the second half.
"He was awesome today and he's been awesome for three years," Mead coach Jason Klatt said about Mackey. "He's just kind of our workhorse and the guy we turn to in crunch time, and he did it again today."
Mackey wasted little time in exerting his dominance, breaking off a 71 yard the first time he touched the ball. That set up his 2-yard touchdown run on the very next play, his first of three scores in the first half.
Mackey added a 6-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter, and then scored on a 48-yard wheel route on a perfect play call and perfect pass from quarterback Tyler Keys just before the half that pushed the lead to 42-13.
Mackey struck again on his first touch of the second half, this time going 58 yards for the score two plays in to the third quarter.
"It feels good, but it just happens every other week," said Mackey, who finished with 231 yards rushing. "We'll switch off. Derek (Edwards) will go off, Tyler will go off, I'll go off. It was just my turn."
Keys and Edwards did have their moments as well, with Keys throwing two touchdown passes and running for one more, and Edwards scoring on a 37-yard run midway through the third that led to a 56-13 lead and a running clock.
The Mavericks were making plays on special teams and defense as well. Twice in the first quarter Mead came up with turnovers on kickoffs, as Harrison muffed the game's initial kick and then had a returner stripped of the ball after the Mavericks' second touchdown. Freshman Nathan Bailey came up with the recovery on both of those plays.
And they picked up Panthers' quarterback Orlando Westbrook three times, with Ryan Lavanchy making an athletic interception near midfield before dancing through a mess of Harrison players for a 50-yard return for a touchdown.
"It was just a matter of playing the coverage right," Lavanchy said. "Everybody did their jobs and the ball happened to come to my side and I saw an opportunity. I just broke on the ball."
The Panthers were able to find some success in the passing game against Mead, however. Westbrook finished with 354 yards passing and three scores, hooking up with talented wideout David Barrow 11 times for 235 yards. Westbrook completed six passes of 20 or more yards, including strikes of 66 and 64 yards to Barrow.
"They've got some really good players," Klatt said. "We got confused on some coverages and those are some things we're going to have to clean up this week."
The Mavericks will host crosstown rival Longmont in the quarterfinals next week. Mead beat the Trojans 38-14 on Sept. 22, but Longmont (8-3) has reeled off seven consecutive wins since then and the Mavericks are expecting a completely different game.
"It's definitely going to be a battle," Lavanchy said. "Crosstown rivalry. I'm excited. Bring them on."
John Rosa: 303-473-1315, email@example.com
Mead 56, Harrison 19
At Mead H.S.Harrison (8-3)7606—19Mead (11-0)2121140—56
Mead — Nathan Mackey 2 run (Taylor Kamigaki kick). Harrison — David Barrow 64 pass from Orlando Westbrook (Hunter Diego kick). Mead — Tyelr Keys 4 run (Kamigaki kick). Mead — Brady Veltien 28 pass from Keys (Taylor Kamigaki kick).
Mead — Mackey 6 run (Kamigaki kick). Mead — Ryan Lavanchey 50 interception return (Kamigaki kick). Harrison — Barrow 66 pass from Westbrook (run fail). Mead — Mackey 48 pass from Keys (Kamigaki kick).
Mead — Mackey 58 run (Kamigaki kick). Mead — Derek Edwards 37 run (Kamigaki kick).
Harrison — Barrow 23 pass from Westbrook (kick fail).
RUSHING — Harrison: Orlando Westbrook 14-51, Daymion Richard 6-17, Aumiere Shedrick 6-12, Tristan White 3-5, David Barrow 1-0. Mead: Nathan Mackey 14-231, Derek Edwards 7-81, Tyler Keys 7-60, Ryan Bullock 6-29, Landin Miyake 2-5, Izeah Escobedo 1-1.
PASSING — Harrison: Westbrook 21-29-3-354. Mead: Keys 3-6-0-76.
RECEIVING — Harrison: Barrow 11-235, Shedrick 6-91, Seth Fuller 3-33, Richard 1-(-5). Mead: Mackey 1-48, Brady Veltien 1-28, Dominic Esters 1-0.